FROM THE ACCESSION OF GEORGE I. TO THE LEGISLATIVE UNION OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND.
ACCESSION OF GEORGE I.—SWIFT’S LEADERSHIP.
The last years of Queen Anne had been years of intrigue and preparation with the Jacobite leaders throughout the three kingdoms. At their head stood Ormond, the second and last Duke of his name, and with him were associated at one stage or another of his design, Bolingbroke, Orrery, Bishop Atterbury, and other influential persons. It was thought that had this party acted promptly on the death of the Queen, and proclaimed James III. (or “the Pretender,” as he was called by the partisans of the new dynasty), the Act of Succession might have remained a dead letter, and the Stuarts recovered their ancient sovereignty. But the partisans of the elector were the first in the field, and King George was accordingly proclaimed, on the 1st of August, at London, and on the 6th of August, at Dublin.
In Dublin, where serious apprehensions of a Jacobite rising were entertained, the proclamation was made by the glare of torches at the extraordinary hour of midnight. Two or three arrests of insignificant persons were made, and letters to Swift being found on one of them, the Dean was thought by his friends to be in some danger. But it was not correct to say, as many writers have done, that he found it necessary to retire from Dublin. The only inconvenience he suffered was from the hootings and revilings of the Protestant rabble in the street, and a brutal threat of personal violence from a young nobleman, upon whom he revenged himself in a characteristic petition to the House of Lords “for protection against the said lord.” Pretending not to be quite sure of his assailant, he proceeds to explain: “Your petitioner is informed that the person who spoke the words above mentioned is of your Lordships’ House, under the style and title of Lord Blaney; whom your petitioner remembers to have introduced to Mr. Secretary Addison, in the Earl of Wharton’s government, and to have done him other good offices at that time, because he was represented as a young man of some hopes and a broken fortune.” The entire document is a curious picture of the insolence of the ascendancy party of that day, even towards dignitaries of their own church who refused to go all lengths in the only politics they permitted or tolerated.
It was while smarting under these public indignities, and excluded from the society of the highest class in his own country, with two or three exceptions, that Swift laid the foundations of his own and his country’s patriotism, among the educated middle class of the Irish capital. From the college and the clergy he drew Dr. Sheridan—ancestor of six generations of men and women of genius! Doctors Delaney, Jackson, Helsham, Walmsley, Stopford (afterwards Bishop of Cloyne), and the three reverend brothers Grattan. In the city he selected as his friends and companions four other Grattans, one of whom was Lord-Mayor, another physician to the castle, one a schoolmaster, the other a merchant. “Do you know the Grattans?” he wrote to the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Carteret; “then pray obtain their acquaintance. The Grattans, my lord, can raise 10,000 men.” Among the class represented by this admirable family of seven brothers, and in that of the tradesmen immediately below them, of which we may take his printers, Waters and Faulkner for types, Swift’s haughty and indignant denunciations of the oligarchy of the hour produced striking effects. The humblest of the community began to raise their heads, and to fix their eyes steadily on public affairs and public characters. Questions of currency, of trade, of the administration of justice and of patronage, were earnestly discussed in the press and in society, and thus by slow but gradually ascending steps, a spirit of independence was promoted where hitherto only servility had reigned.
The obligations of his cotemporaries to Swift are not to be counted simply by what he was able to originate or to advocate in their behalf—for not much could be done in that way, in such times, and in such a position as his —but rather in regard to the enemies and maligners of that people, whom he exposed and punished. To understand the value of his example and inspiration, we must read over again his castigations of Wharton, of Burnet, of Boulter, of Whitshed, of Allan, and all the leaders of the oligarchy, in the Irish Parliament. When we have done so, we shall see at once how his imperial reputation, his personal position, and every faculty of his powerful mind were employed alike to combat injustice and proscription, to promote freedom of opinion and of trade, to punish the abuses of judicial power, and to cultivate and foster a spirit of self reliance and economy among all classes—especially the humblest. In his times, and in his position, with a cassock “entangling his course,” what more could have been expected of him?
The Irish Parliament met in 1715—elected, according to the then usage, for the lifetime of the King—commenced its career by an act of attainder against the Pretender, accompanied by a reward of 50,000 pounds for his apprehension. The Lords-Justices, the Duke of Grafton and the Earl of Galway, recommended in their speech to the Houses, that they should cultivate such unanimity among themselves as “at once to put an end to all other distinctions in Ireland, but that of Protestant and Papist.” In the same speech, and in all the debates of that reign, the Catholics were spoken of as “the common enemy,” and all who sympathized with them, as “enemies of the constitution.” But far as this Parliament was from all our ideas of what a national legislature ought to be, it was precisely at this period, when the administration could not be worse, that the foundation was laid of the great contest for legislative independence, which was to continue through three generations, and to constitute the main staple of the Irish history of this century.
In the year 1717, the English House of Lords entertained and decided, as a court of last resort, an appeal from the Irish courts, already passed on by the Irish Lords, in the famous real-estate case of Annesley versus Sherlock. The proceeding was novel, and was protested against in the English House at the time by the Duke of Leeds, and in the Irish, by the majority of the whole House. But the British Parliament, not content with claiming the power, proceeded to establish the principle, by the declaratory act—6th George I.—for securing the dependence of Ireland on the crown of Great Britain. This statute, even more objectionable than the law of Poynings, continued unrepealed till 1782, notwithstanding all the arguments and all the protests of the Irish patriot party. The Lords of Ireland, unsupported by the bigoted and unprincipled oligarchy in the Commons, were shorn of their appellate jurisdiction, and their journals for many years contain few entries of business done, beyond servile addresses to successive Viceroys, and motions of adjournment.
In their session of 1723, the ascendancy party in the Commons proceeded to their last extreme of violence against the prostrate Catholics. An act was introduced founded on eight resolutions, “further to prevent the growth of Popery.” One of these resolutions, regularly transmitted to England by the Viceroy-proposed that every priest, arrested within the realm, should suffer the penalty of castration! For the first time, a penal law was rejected with horror and indignation by the English Privy Council, and the whole elaborate edifice, overweighted with these last propositions, trembled to its base. But though badly shaken, it was yet far from coming down.
“Do not the corruptions and villainies of men,” said Swift to his friend Delaney, “eat your flesh and exhaust your spirits?” They certainly gnawed at the heart of the courageous Dean, but at the same time, they excited rather than exhausted his spirits. In 1720 he resumed his pen, as a political writer, in his famous proposal “for the universal use of Irish manufactures.” Waters, the printer of this piece, was indicted for a seditious libel, before Chief-Justice Whitshed, the immortal “coram nobis” of the Dean’s political ballads. The jury were detained eleven hours, and sent out nine times, to compel them to agree on a verdict. They at length finally declared they could not agree, and a nol. pros. was soon after entered by the crown. This trial of Swift’s printer in 1720, is the first of a long series of duels with the crown lawyers, which the Irish press has since maintained with as much firmness and self-sacrifice as any press ever exhibited. And it may be said that never, not even under martial law, was a conspicuous example of civic courage more necessary, or more dangerous. Browne, Bishop of Cork, had been in danger of deprivation for preaching a sermon against the well-known toast to the memory of King William; Swift was threatened, as we see, a few years earlier, with personal violence by a Whig lord, and pelted by a Protestant rabble, for his supposed Jacobitism; his friend, Dr. Sheridan, lost his Munster living for having accidentally chosen as his text, on the anniversary of King George’s coronation, “sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” Such was the intolerance of the oligarchy towards their own clergy. What must it have been to others!
The attempt to establish a National Bank, and the introduction of a debased copper coinage, for which a patent had been, granted to one William Wood, next employed the untiring pen of Swift. The halfpenny controversy, was not, as is often said, a small matter; it was nearly as important as the bank project itself. Of the 100,000 pounds worth coined, the intrinsic value was shown to be not more than 6,000 pounds. Such was the storm excited against the patentee, that his Dublin agents were obliged to resign their connection with him, and the royal letters-patent were unwillingly cancelled. The bank project was also rejected by Parliament, adding another to the triumphs of the invincible Dean.
During the last years of this reign, Swift was the most powerful and popular person in Ireland, and perhaps in the empire. The freedom with which he advised Carteret the Viceroy, and remonstrated with Walpole, the Premier, on the misrule of his country, was worthy of the ascendancy of his genius. No man of letters, no churchman, no statesman of any country in any age, ever showed himself more thoroughly independent, in his intercourse with men of office, than Swift. The vice of Ireland was exactly the other way, so that in this respect also, the patriot was the liberator.
Rising with the rise of public spirit, the great churchman, in his fourth letter, in the assumed character of M. B. Drapier, confronted the question of legislative independence. Alluding to the pamphlet of Molyneux, published thirty years before, he pronounced its arguments invincible, and the contrary system “the very definition of slavery.” “The remedy,” he concludes, addressing the Irish people, “is wholly in your own hands, and therefore I have digressed a little, in order to refresh and continue that spirit so seasonably raised among you, and to let you see, that, by the laws of God, of nature, of nations, and of your country, you are, and ought to be, as free a people as your brethren in England.” For this letter also, the printer, Harding, was indicted, but the Dublin grand jury, infected with the spirit of the times, unanimously ignored the bill. A reward of 300 pounds was then issued from the castle for the discovery of the author, but no informer could be found base enough to betray him. For a time, however, to escape the ovations he despised, and the excitement which tried his health, Swift retired to his friend Sheridan’s cottage on the banks of Lough Ramor, in Cavan, and there recreated himself with long rides about the country, and the composition of the Travels of the immortal Gulliver.
Sir Robert Walpole, alarmed at the exhibition of popular intelligence and determination evoked by Swift, committed the government of Ireland to his rival, Lord Carteret—whom he was besides not sorry to remove to a distance—and appointed to the See of Armagh, which fell vacant about the time of the currency dispute, Dr. Hugh Boulter, Bishop of Bristol, one of his own creatures. This prelate, a politician by taste and inclination, modelled his policy on his patron’s, as far as his more contracted sphere and inferior talents permitted. To buy members in market overt, with peerages, or secret service money, was his chief means of securing a Parliamentary majority. An Englishman by birth and education; the head of the Protestant establishment in Ireland, it was inevitable that his policy should be English and Protestant, in every particular. To resist, depress, disunite, and defeat the believers in the dangerous doctrines of Swift and Molyneux, was the sole rule of his nearly twenty years’ political supremacy in Irish affairs. (1724-1742.) The master of a princely income, endowed with strong passions, unlimited patronage, and great activity, he may be said to have reigned rather than led, even when the nominal viceroyalty was in the hands of such able and accomplished men as Lords Carteret, Dorset and Devonshire. His failure in his first state trial, against Harding the printer, nothing discouraged him; he had come into Ireland to secure the English interest, by uprooting the last vestiges of Popery and independence, and he devoted himself to those objects with persevering determination. In 1727—the year of George the First’s decease—he obtained the disfranchisement of Catholic electors by a clause quietly inserted without notice in a Bill regulating elections; and soon after he laid the foundations of those nurseries of proselytism, “the Charter Schools.”
REIGN OF GEORGE II.—GROWTH OF PUBLIC SPIRIT—THE “PATRIOT” PARTY—LORD CHESTERFIELD’S ADMINISTRATION.
The accession of King George II. in 1727, led to no considerable changes, either in England or Ireland. Sir Robert Walpole continued supreme in the one country, and Primate Boulter in the other. The Jacobites, disheartened by their ill success in 1715, and repelled rather than attracted by the austere character of him they called King James III., made no sign. The new King’s first act was to make public the declaration he had addressed to the Privy Council, of his firm resolution to uphold the existing constitution “in church and state.”
The Catholic population, beginning once more to raise their heads, thought this a suitable occasion to present a humble and loyal address of congratulation to the Lords Justices, in the absence of the Viceroy. Lord Delvin and several of their number accordingly appeared at the Castle, and delivered their address, which they begged might be forwarded to the foot of the throne. No notice whatever was taken of this document, either at Dublin or London, nor were the class who signed it permitted by law to “testify their allegiance” to the sovereign, for fifty years later—down to 1778.
The Duke of Dorset, who succeeded Lord Carteret as Viceroy in 1731, unlike his immediate predecessor, refrained from suggesting additional severities against the Catholics. His first term of office—two years—was almost entirely occupied with the fiercest controversy which had ever waged in Ireland between the Established Church and the Protestant Dissenters. The ground of the dispute was the sacramental test, imposed by law upon the members of both Houses, and all burgesses and councillors of corporate towns. By the operations of this law, when rigidly enforced, Presbyterians and other dissenters were as effectually excluded from political and municipal offices as Catholics themselves. Against this exclusion it was natural that a body so numerous, and possessed of so much property, especially in Ulster, should make a vigorous resistance. Relying on the great share they had in the revolution, they endeavoured, though ineffectually, to obtain under King William the repeal of the Test Act of King Charles II. Under Queen Anne they were equally unsuccessful, as we may still read with interest in the pages of Swift, De Foe, Tennison, Boyse, and King. Swift, especially, brought to the controversy not only the zeal of a churchman, but the prejudices of an Anglo-Irishman, against the new-comers in the north. He upbraids them in 1708, as glad to leave then—barren hills of Lochaber for the fruitful vales of Down and Antrim, for their parsimony and their clannishness. He denied to them, with bitter scorn, the title they had assumed of “Brother Protestants,” and as to the Papists, whom they affected to despise, they were, in his opinion, as much superior to the Dissenters, as a lion, though chained and clipped of its claws, is a stronger and nobler animal than an angry cat, at liberty to fly at the throats of true churchmen. The language of the Presbyterian champions was equally bold, denunciatory, and explicit. They broadly intimated, in a memorial to Parliament, that under the operation of the test, they would be unable to take up arms again, as they had done in 1688, for the maintenance of the Protestant succession; a covert menace of insurrection, which Swift and their other opponents did not fail to make the most of. Still farther to embarrass them, Swift got up a paper making out a much stronger case in favour of the Catholics than of “their brethren, the Dissenters,” and the controversy closed, for that age, in the complete triumph of the established clergy.
This iniquitous deprivation of equal civil rights, accompanied with the onerous burthen of tithes falling heaviest on the cultivators of the soil, produced the first great Irish exodus to the North American colonies. The tithe of agistment or pasturage, lately abolished, had made the tithe of tillage more unjust and unequal. Outraged in their dearest civil and religious rights, thousands of the Scoto-Irish of Ulster, and the Milesian and Anglo-Irish of the other provinces, preferred to encounter the perils of an Atlantic flitting rather than abide under the yoke and lash of such an oligarchy. In the year 1729, five thousand six hundred Irish landed at the single port of Philadelphia; in the next ten years they furnished to the Carolinas and Georgia the majority of their immigrants; before the end of this reign, several thousands of heads of families, all bred and married in Ireland, were rearing up a free posterity along the slopes of the Blue Ridge in Virginia and Maryland, and even as far north as the valleys of the Hudson and the Merrimac. In the ranks of the thirteen United Colonies, the descendants of those Nonconformists were to repeat, for the benefit of George III., the lesson and example their ancestors had taught to James II. at Enniskillen and at Derry.
Swift, with all his services to his own order, disliked, and was disliked by them. Of the bishops he has recorded his utter contempt in some of the most cutting couplets that even he ever wrote. Boulter he detested; Narcissus Marsh he despised; with Dr. King of Dublin, Dr. Bolton of Cashel, and Dr. Horte of Tuam, he barely kept up appearances. Except Sterne, Bishop of Clogher, Berkely, Bishop of Cloyne, and Stopford, his successor, he entertained neither friendship nor respect for one of that order. And on their part, the right reverend prelates cordially reciprocated his antipathy. They resisted his being made a member of the Linen Board, a Justice of the Peace, or a Visitor of Trinity College. Had he appeared amongst them in Parliament as their peer, they would have been compelled to accept him as a master, or combine against him as an enemy. No wonder, then, that successive Viceroys shrank from nominating him to any of the mitres which death had emptied; “the original sin of his birth” was aggravated in their eyes by the actual sin of his patriotism. No wonder the sheets of paper that littered his desk, before he sunk into his last sad scene of dotage, were found scribbled all over with his favourite lines—
“Better we all were in our graves,
Than live in slavery to slaves.”
But the seeds of manly thought he had so broadly sown, though for a season hidden even from the sight of the sower, were not dead, nor undergoing decay. With something of the prudence of the founder, “the Patriot party,” as the opposition to the Castle party began to be called, occupied themselves at first with questions of taxation and expenditure. In 1729, the Castle attempted to make it appear that there was a deficit—that in short “the country owed the government”—the large sum of 274,000 pounds! The Patriots met this claim, by a motion for reducing the cost of all public establishments. This was the chosen ground of both parties, and a more popularly intelligible ground could not be taken. Between retrenchment and extravagance, between high taxes and low, even the least educated of the people could easily decide; and thenceforward for upwards of twenty years, no session was held without a spirited debate on the supplies, and the whole subject of the public expenditure.
The Duke of Devonshire, who succeeded the Duke of Dorset as Viceroy in 1737, contributed by his private munificence and lavish hospitalities to throw a factitious popularity round his administration. No Dublin tradesman could find it in his heart to vote against the nominee of so liberal a nobleman, and the public opinion of Dublin was as yet the public opinion of Ireland. But the Patriot party, though unable to stem successfully the tide of corruption and seduction thus let loose, held their difficult position in the legislature with great gallantry and ability. New men had arisen during the dotage of Swift, who revered his maxims, and imitated his prudence. Henry Boyle, speaker of the House of Commons, afterwards Earl of Shannon; Anthony Malone—son of the confrere of Sir Toby Butler, and afterwards Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Edward O’Brien, member for Clare, and his son, Sir Lucius, member for Ennis, were the pillars of the party. Out of doors, the most active spirit among the Patriots was Charles Lucas, a native of Clare, who, from his apothecary’s shop in Dublin, attempted, not without both talents, zeal and energy, to play the part of Swift, at the press and among the people. His public writings, commenced in 1741, brought him at first persecution and exile, but they afterwards conducted him to the representation of the capital, and an honourable niche in his country’s history.
The great event which may be said to divide into two epochs the reign of George II. was the daring invasion of Scotland in 1745, by “the young Pretender”—Charles Edward. This brave and unfortunate Prince, whose adventures will live for ever in Scottish song and romance, was accompanied from France by Sir Thomas Sheridan, Colonel O’Sullivan, and other Irish refugees, still fondly attached to the house of Stuart. It is not to be supposed that these gentlemen would be without correspondents in Ireland, nor that the state of that country could be a matter of indifference to the astute advisers of King George. In reality, Ireland was almost as much their difficulty as Scotland, and their choice of a Viceroy, at this critical moment, showed at once their estimate of the importance of the position, and the talents of the man.
Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, a great name in the world of fashion, in letters, and in diplomacy, is especially memorable to us for his eight months’ viceroyalty over Ireland. That office had been long the object of his ambition, and he could hardly have attained it at a time better calculated to draw out his eminent administrative abilities. By temper and conviction opposed to persecution, he connived at Catholic worship under the very walls of the Castle. The sour and jaundiced bigotry of the local oligarchy he encountered with bon mots and raillery. The only “dangerous Papist” he had seen in Ireland, he declared to the King on his return, was a celebrated beauty of that religion—Miss Palmer. Relying on the magical effect of doing justice to all classes, and seeing justice done, he was enabled to spare four regiments of troops for the war in Scotland, instead of demanding additions to the Irish garrisons. But whether to diminish the influence which his brilliant administration had created in England, or through the machinations of the oligarchy, still powerful at Dublin, within ten days from the decisive battle of Culloden, he was recalled. The fruits of his policy might be already observed, as he walked on foot, his countess on his arm, to the place of embarkation, amid the acclamations of all ranks and classes of the people, and their affectionate prayers for his speedy return.
THE LAST JACOBITE MOVEMENT—THE IRISH SOLDIERS ABROAD— FRENCH EXPEDITION UNDER THUROT, OR O’FARRELL.
The mention of the Scottish insurrection of 1745 brings naturally with it another reference to the history of the Irish soldiers in the military service of France. This year was in truth the most eventful in the annals of that celebrated legion, for while it was the year of Fontenoy and victory on the one hand, it was on the other the year of Culloden and defeat.
The decisive battle of Fontenoy, in which the Franco-Irish troops bore so decisive a part, was fought on the 11th of May, 1745. The French army, commanded by Saxe, and accompanied by King Louis, leaving 18,000 men to besiege Namur, and 6,000 to guard the Scheldt, took a position between that river and the allies, having their centre at the village of Fontenoy. The British and Dutch, under the King’s favourite son, the Duke of Cumberland, were 55,000 strong; the French 45,000. After a hard day’s fighting, victory seemed to declare so clearly against France, that King Louis, who was present, prepared for flight. At this moment Marshal Saxe ordered a final charge by the seven Irish regiments under Counts Dillon and Thomond. The tide was turned, beyond expectation, to the cry of “Remember Limerick!” France was delivered, England checked, and Holland reduced from a first to a second-rate power upon that memorable day. But the victory was dearly bought. One-fourth of all the Irish officers, including Count Dillon, were killed, and one-third of all the men. The whole number slain on the side of France was set down at 7,000 by English accounts, while they admitted for themselves alone, 4,000 British and 3,300 Hanoverians and Dutch. “Foremost of all,” says the just-minded Lord Mahon, “were the gallant brigade of Irish exiles.” It was this defeat of his favourite son which wrung from King George II. the oft-quoted malediction on the laws which deprived him of such subjects.
The expedition of Prince Charles Edward was undertaken and conducted by Irish aid, quite as much as by French or Scottish. The chief parties to it, besides the old Marquis of Tullibardine and the young Duke of Perth, were the Waterses, father and son, Irish bankers at Paris, who advanced one hundred and eighty thousand livres between them; Walsh, an Irish merchant at Nantz, who put a privateer of eighteen guns into the venture; Sir Thomas Geraldine, the Pretender’s agent at Paris; Sir Thomas Sheridan, the prince’s preceptor, who, with Colonels O’Sullivan and Lynch, Captain O’Neil, and other officers of the brigade, formed the staff, on which Sir John McDonald, a Scottish officer in the Spanish service, was also placed. Fathers Kelly and O’Brien volunteered in the expedition. On the 22nd of June, 1745, with seven friends, the prince embarked in Walsh’s vessel, the Doutelle, at St. Nazaire, on the Loire, and on the 19th of July, landed on the northern coast of Scotland, near Moidart. The Scottish chiefs, little consulted or considered beforehand, came slowly and dubiously to the landing-place. Under their patriarchal control there were still in the kingdom about a hundred thousand men, and about one-twelfth of the Scottish population. Clanronald, Cameron of Lochiel, the Laird of McLeod, and a few others, having arrived, the royal standard was unfurled on the 19th of August at Glenfinin, where that evening twelve hundred men—the entire army so far—were formed into camp, under the orders of O’Sullivan. From that day until the day of Culloden, O’Sullivan seems to have manoeuvred the prince’s forces. At Perth, at Edinburgh, at Preston, at Manchester, at Culloden, he took command in the field, or in garrison; and even after the sad result, he adhered to his sovereign’s son with an honourable fidelity which defied despair.
Charles, on his part, placed full confidence in his Irish officers. In his proclamation after the battle of Preston, he declared it was not his intention to enforce on the people of England, Scotland, or Ireland, “a religion they disliked.” In a subsequent paper, he asks, “Have you found reason to love and cherish your governors as the fathers of the people of Great Britain and Ireland? Has a family upon whom a faction unlawfully bestowed the diadem of a rightful prince, retained a due sense of so great a trust and favour?” These and his other proclamations betrayed an Irish pen; probably Sir Thomas Sheridan’s. One of Charles’s English adherents, Lord Elcho, who kept a journal of the campaign, notes, complainingly, the Irish influence under which he acted. “The prince and his old governor, Sir Thomas Sheridan,” are especially objected to, and the “Irish favourites” are censured in a body. While at Edinburgh, a French ship, containing some arms, supplies, and “Irish officers,” arrived; at the same time efforts were made to recruit for the prince in Ireland; but the agents being taken in some cases, the channel narrowly watched, and the people not very eager to join the service, few recruits were obtained.
The Irish in France, as if to cover the inaction of their countrymen at home, strained every nerve. The Waterses and O’Brien of Paris were liberal bankers to the expedition. Into their hands James “exhausted his treasury” to support his gallant son. At Fontainebleau, on the 23rd of October, Colonel O’Brien, on the part of the prince, and the Marquis D’Argeusson for Louis XV., formed a treaty of “friendship and alliance,” one of the clauses of which was, that certain Irish regiments, and other French troops, should be sent to sustain the expedition. Under Lord John Drummond a thousand men were shipped from Dunkirk, and arrived at Montrose in the Highlands about the time Charles had penetrated as far south as Manchester. The officers, with the prince, here refused to advance on London with so small a force; a retreat was decided on; the sturdy defence of Carlisle, and victory of Falkirk, checked the pursuit; but the overwhelming force of the Duke of Cumberland compelled them to evacuate Edinburgh, Perth, and Glasgow—operations which consumed February, March, and the first half of April, 1746.
The next plan of operations seems to have been to concentrate in the western Highlands, with Inverness for head-quarters. The town Charles easily got, but Fort-George, a powerful fortress, built upon the site of the castle where Macbeth was said to have murdered Duncan, commanded the Loch. Stapleton and his Irish, captured it, however, as well as the neighbouring Fort-Augustus. Joined by some Highlanders, they next attempted Fort-William, the last fortress of King George in the north, but on the 3rd of April were recalled to the main body.
To cover Inverness, his head-quarters, Charles resolved to give battle. The ground chosen, flanked by the river Nairn, was spotted with marsh and very irregular; it was called Culloden, and was selected by O’Sullivan. Brigadier Stapleton and Colonel Kerr reported against it as a field of battle; but Charles adopted O’Sullivan’s opinion of its fitness for Highland warfare. When the preparations for battle began, “many voices exclaimed, ‘We’ll give Cumberland another Fontenoy!'” The Jacobites were placed in position by O’Sullivan, “at once their adjutant and quarter-master-general,” and, as the burghers of Preston thought, “a very likely fellow.” He formed two lines, the great clans being in the first, the Ogilvies, Gordons, and Murrays; the French and Irish in the second. Four pieces of cannon flanked each wing, and four occupied the centre. Lord George Murray commanded the right wing, Lord John Drummond the left, and Brigadier Stapleton the reserve. They mustered in all less than five thousand men. The British formed in three lines, ten thousand strong, with two guns between every second regiment of the first and second line. The action commenced about noon of April 16th, and before evening half the troops of Prince Charles lay dead on the field, and the rest were hopelessly broken. The retreat was pell-mell, except where “a troop of the Irish pickets, by a spirited fire, checked the pursuit, which a body of dragoons commenced after the Macdonalds, and Lord Lewis Gordon’s regiments did similar service.” Stapleton conducted the French and Irish remnant to Inverness, and obtained for them by capitulation “fair quarter and honourable treatment.”
The unhappy prince remained on the field almost to the last. “It required,” says Mr. Chambers, “all the eloquence, and, indeed, all the active exertion, of O’Sullivan to make Charles quit the field. A cornet in his service, when questioned on this subject at the point of death, declared he saw O’Sullivan, after using entreaties in vain, turn the head of the prince’s horse and drag him away.”
From that night forth, O’Sullivan, O’Neil, and a poor sedan carrier of Edinburgh, called Burke, accompanied him in all his wanderings and adventures among the Scottish islands. At Long Island they were obliged to part company, the prince proceeding alone with Miss Flora McDonald. He had not long left, when a French cutter hove in sight and took off O’Sullivan, intending to touch at another point, and take in the prince and O’Neil. The same night she was blown off the coast, and the prince, after many other adventures, was finally taken off at Badenoch, on the 15th of September, 1746, by the L’Heureux, a French armed vessel, in which Captain Sheridan (son of Sir Thomas), Mr. O’Beirne, a lieutenant in the French army, “and two other gentlemen,” had adventured in search of him. Poor O’Neil, in seeking to rejoin his master, was taken prisoner, carried to London, and is lost from the record. O’Sullivan reached France safely, where, with Stapleton, Lynch, and the Irish and Scotch officers, he was welcomed and honoured of all brave men.
Such was the last struggle of the Stuarts. For years after, the popular imagination in both countries clung fondly to Prince Charles. But the cause was dead. As if to bury it for ever, Charles, in despair, grew dissipated and desponding. In 1755, “the British Jacobites” sent Colonel McNamara, as their agent, to induce him to put away his mistress, Miss Walsingham, a demand with which he haughtily refused to comply. In 1766, when James III. died at Avignon, the French king and the Pope refused to acknowledge the prince by the title of Charles III. When the latter died, in 1788, at Rome, Cardinal York contented himself with having a medal struck, with the inscription “Henricus IX., Anglae Rex.” He was the last of the Stuarts.
Notwithstanding the utter defeat of the Scottish expedition, and the scatterment of the surviving companies of the brigade on all sorts of service from Canada to India, there were many of the exiled Irish in France, who did not yet despair of a national insurrection against the house of Hanover. In the year 1759, an imposing expedition was fitted out at Brest under Admiral Conflaus, and another at Dunkirk, under Commodore Thurot, whose real name was O’Farrell. The former, soon after putting to sea, was encountered at Quiberon by the English under Hawke, and completely defeated; but the latter entered the British channel unopposed, and proceeded to the appointed rendezvous. While cruising in search of Conflaus, the autumnal equinox drove the intrepid Thurot into the Northern ocean, and compelled him to winter among the frozen friths of Norway and the Orkneys. One of his five frigates returned to France, another was never heard of, but with the remaining three he emerged from the Scottish Islands, and entered Lough Foyle early in 1760. He did not, however, attempt a landing at Derry, but appeared suddenly before Carrickfergus, on the 21st of February, and demanded its surrender. Placing himself at the head of his marines and sailors, he attacked the town, which, after a brave resistance by the commandant, Colonel Jennings, he took by assault. Here, for the first time, this earlier Paul Jones heard of the defeat of his admiral; after levying contributions on the rich burgesses and proprietors of Carrickfergus and Belfast, he again put to sea. His ships, battered by the wintry storms which they had undergone in northern latitudes, fell in near the Isle of Man with three English frigates, just out of port, under Commodore Elliott. A gallant action ensued, in which Thurot, or O’Farrell, and three hundred of his men were killed. The survivors struck to the victors, and the French ships were towed in a sinking state, into the port of Ramsey.
The life thus lost in the joint service of France and Ireland, was a life illustrative of the Irish refugee class among whom he became a leader. Left an orphan in childhood, O’Farrell, though of a good family, had been bred in France in so menial a condition that he first visited England as a domestic servant. From that condition he rose to be a dexterous and successful captain in the contraband trade, so extensive in those times. In this capacity he visited almost every port of either channel, acquiring that accurate knowledge which, added to his admitted bravery and capacity, placed him at length at the head of a French squadron. “Throughout the expedition,” says Lord Mahon, “the honour and humanity of this brave adventurer are warmly acknowledged by his enemies.” “He fought his ship,” according to the same author, “until the hold was almost filled with water, and the deck covered with dead bodies.”
REIGN OF GEORGE II. (CONCLUDED)—MALONE’S LEADERSHIP.
The Earl of Harrington, afterwards Duke of Devonshire, succeeded Lord Chesterfield in the government, in 1746. He was provided with a prime minister in the person of the new Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. George Stone, whose character, if he was not exceedingly calumniated by his cotemporaries, might be compared to that of the worst politicians of the worst ages of Europe. Originally, the son of the jailer of Winchester, he had risen by dint of talents, and audacity, to receive from the hands of his sovereign, the illustrious dignity of Primate of Ireland. But even in this exalted office, the abominable vices of his youth accompanied him. His house at Leixlip, was at once a tavern and a brothel, and crimes, which are nameless, were said to be habitual under his roof. “May the importation of Ganymedes into Ireland, be soon discontinued,” was the public toast, which disguised under the transparent gauze of a mythological allusion, the infamies of which he was believed to be the patron. The prurient page of Churchill was not quite so scrupulous, and the readers of the satire entitled “The Times,” will need no further key to the horrible charges commonly received on both sides of the channel, against Primate Stone.
The viceroyalty of Ireland, which had become an object of ambition to the first men in the empire, was warmly contested by the Earl of Harrington and the Duke of Dorset. The former, through his Stanhope influence and connections, prevailed over his rival, and arrived in Ireland, warmly recommended by the popular Chesterfield. During his administration, Primate Stone, proceeding from one extreme to another, first put forward the dangerous theory, that all surplus revenue belonged of right to the crown, and might be paid over by the Vice-Treasurers, to his majesty’s order, without authority of Parliament. At this period, notwithstanding the vicious system of her land tenures, and her recent losses by emigration, Ireland found herself in possession of a considerable surplus revenue.
Like wounds and bruises in a healthy body, the sufferings and deprivations of the population rapidly disappeared under the appearance even of improvement in the government. The observant Chesterfield, who continued through life warmly attached to the country in which his name was remembered with so much affection, expresses to his friend, Chevenix, Bishop of Waterford, in 1751, his satisfaction at hearing “that Ireland improves daily, and that a spirit of industry spreads itself, to the great increase of trade and manufactures.” This new-born prosperity the Primate and politicians of his school would have met by an annual depletion of the treasury, instead of assisting its march by the reduction of taxes, and the promotion of necessary public works. The surplus was naturally regarded, by the Patriot party, in the light of so much national capital; they looked upon it as an improvement fund, for the construction of canals, highways, and breakwaters, for the encouragement of the linen and other manufactures, and for the adornment of the capital with edifices worthy of the chief city of a flourishing kingdom.
The leader of the Patriot party, Anthony Malone, was compared at this period, by an excellent authority, to “a great sea in a calm.” He was considered, even by the fastidious Lord Shelburne, the equal, in oratory, of Chatham and Mansfield. He seems to have at all times, however, sunk the mere orator in the statesman, and to have used his great powers of argument even more in Council than in the arena. His position at the bar, as Prime Sergeant, by which he took precedence even of the Attorney-General, gave great weight to his opinions on all questions of constitutional law. The roystering country gentlemen, who troubled their heads but little with anything besides dogs and horses, pistols and claret, felt secure in their new-fledged patriotism, under the broad aegis of the law extended over them by the most eminent lawyer of his age. The Speaker of the Commons, Henry Boyle, aided and assisted Malone, and when left free to combat on the floor, his high spirit and great fortune gave additional force to his example and confidence to his followers. Both were men too cautious to allow their adversaries any parliamentary advantage over them, but not so their intrepid coadjutor out of doors, Apothecary Lucas. He, like Swift, rising from local and municipal grievances to questions affecting the constitution of Parliament itself, was in 1749, against all the efforts of his friends in the House of Commons, declared by the majority of that House to be “an enemy to his country,” and a reward was accordingly issued for his apprehension. For a time he was compelled to retire to England; but he returned, to celebrate in his Freeman’s Journal the humiliation of the primate, and the defeat of the policy both of Lord Harrington, and his successor, the Duke of Dorset.
This nobleman, resolved to cast his predecessor into the shade by the brilliancy of his success, proceeded to take vigorous measures against the patriots. In his first speech to Parliament in 1751, he informed them his Majesty “consented” to the appropriation of the surplus revenue, by the House of Commons, and a clause was added to the annual supply bill in the English Council, containing the same obnoxious word, “consent.” On this occasion, not feeling themselves strong enough to throw out the bill, and there being no alternative but rejection or acceptance, the Patriots permitted it to pass under protest. But the next session, when a similar addition was made, the Commons rejected the supply bill altogether, by a majority of 122 to 117. This was a measure of almost revolutionary consequence, since it left every branch of the public service unprovided for, for the ensuing twelve months.
Both the advisers of the King in England, and the Viceroy in Ireland, seemed by their insane conduct as if they desired to provoke such a collision. Malone’s patent of precedence as Prime Sergeant was cancelled; the speaker was dismissed from the Privy Council, and the surplus revenue was withdrawn from the Vice-Treasurer, by a King’s letter. The indignation of the Dubliners at these outrages rose to the utmost pitch. Stone, Healy, Hutchinson, and others of the Castle party, were waylaid and menaced in the streets, and the Viceroy himself hooted wherever he appeared. Had the popular leaders been men less cautious, or less influential, the year 1753 might have witnessed a violent revolutionary movement. But they planted themselves on the authority of the constitution, they united boldness with prudence, and they triumphed. The Primate and his creatures raised against them in vain the cuckoo cry of disloyalty, both in Dublin and London. The English Whigs, long engaged themselves in a similar struggle with the overgrown power of the crown, sympathized with the Irish opposition, and defended their motives both in society and in Parliament. The enemies of the Dorset family as naturally took their part, and the duke himself was obliged to go over to protect his interest at court, leaving the odious Primate as one of the Lords-Justices. At his departure his guards were hardly able to protect him from the fury of the populace, to that waterside to which Chesterfield had walked on foot, seven years before, amid the benedictions of the same people.
The Patriots had at this crisis a great addition to their strength, in the accession of James, the twentieth Earl of Kildare, successively Marquis and Duke of Leinster. This nobleman, in the prime of life, married to the beautiful Emily Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, followed Dorset to England, and presented to the King, with his own hand, one of the boldest memorials ever addressed to a sovereign by a subject. After reciting the past services of his family in maintaining the imperial connection, he declared himself the organ of several thousands of his Majesty’s liege subjects, “as well the nobles as the clergy, the gentry, and the commonalty of the kingdom.” He dwells on the peculation and extravagance of the administration, under “the Duumvirate” of the Viceroy and the Primate, which he compares with the league of Strafford and Laud. He denounces more especially Lord George Sackville, son to Dorset, for his intermeddling in every branch of administration. He speaks of Dr. Stone as “a greedy churchman, who affects to be a second Wolsey in the senate.” This high-toned memorial struck with astonishment the English ministers, who did not hesitate to hint, that, in a reign less merciful, it would not have passed with impunity. In Ireland it raised the hardy earl to the pinnacle of popular favour. A medal was struck in his honour, representing him guarding a heap of treasure with a drawn sword, and the motto—”Touch not, says Kildare.” At the opening of the next Parliament, he was a full hour making his way among the enthusiastic crowd, from his house in Kildare street to College Green. In little more than a year, the Duke of Dorset, whom English ministers had in vain endeavoured to sustain, was removed, and the Primate, by his Majesty’s orders, was struck from the list of privy counsellors.
Lord Harrington, now Duke of Devonshire, replaced the disgraced and defeated Dorset, and at once surrounded himself with advisers from the ranks of the opposition. The Earl of Kildare was his personal and political friend, and his first visit, on arriving, was paid at Carton. The Speaker, Mr. Boyle, the Earl of Bessborough, head of the popular family of the Ponsonbys, and Mr. Malone, were called to the Privy Council. Lucas, exalted rather than injured by years of exile, was elected one of the members for the city of Dublin, and the whole face of affairs promised a complete and salutary change of administration.
After a year in office, Devonshire returned to England in ill-health, leaving Lord Kildare as one of the Justices, an office which he continued to fill, till the arrival in September, 1756, of John, fourth Duke of Bedford, as Lord-Lieutenant, with Mr. Rigby, “a good four bottle man,” as chief secretary.
The instructions of the Duke of Bedford, dictated by the genius and wisdom of Chatham, were, to employ “all softening and healing arts of government.” His own desire, as a Whig, at the head of the Whig families of England, was to unite and consolidate the same party in Ireland, so as to make them a powerful auxiliary force to the English Whigs. Consistently with this design, lie wished well to the country he was sent to rule, and was sincerely desirous of promoting measures of toleration. But he found the Patriots distracted by success, and disorganized by the possession of power. The Speaker, who had struggled so successfully against his predecessors, was in the Upper House as Earl of Shannon, and the chair of the Commons was filled by John Ponsonby, of the Bessborough family. The Ponsonby following, and the Earl of Kildare’s friends were at this period almost as much divided from each other in their views of public policy, as either were from the party of the Primate. The Ponsonby party, still directed by Malone, wished to follow up the recent victory on the money bills, by a measure of Catholic relief, a tax upon absentees, and a reduction of the pension list, shamelessly burthened beyond all former proportion. Lord Kildare and his friends were not then prepared to go such lengths, though that high spirited nobleman afterwards came into most of these measures. After endeavouring in vain to unite, these two interests, the Duke of Bedford found, or fancied himself compelled, in order to secure a parliamentary majority, to listen to the overtures of the, obsequious Primate, to restore him to the Council, and to leave him, together with his old enemy, Lord Shannon, in the situation of joint administrators, during his journey to England, in 1758. The Earl of Kildare, it should be remarked, firmly refused to be associated with Stone, on any terms, or for any time, long or short.
The closing of this important reign is notable for the first Catholic meeting held since the reign of Queen Anne. In the spring of 1757, four hundred respectable gentlemen attended by mutual agreement, at Dublin, among whom were Lords Devlin, Taafe, and Fingal, the antiquary, Charles O’Conor, of Balanagar, the historian of the Civil Wars, Dr. Curry, and Mr. Wyse, a merchant of Waterford, the ancestor of a still better known labourer in the same cause. The then recent persecution of Mr. Saul, a Dublin merchant, of their faith, for having harboured a young lady whose friends wished to coerce her into a change of religion, gave particular significance to this assembly. It is true the proceedings were characterized by caution amounting almost to timidity, but the unanimous declaration of their loyal attachment to the throne, at a moment when French invasion was imminent, produced the best effect, and greatly strengthened the hands of the Clanbrassils, Ponsonbys, Malones, Dalys, and other advocates of an enlarged toleration in both Houses. It is true no immediate legislation followed, but the way was prepared for future ameliorations by the discretion and tact of the Catholic delegates of 1757. They were thenceforth allowed at least the right of meeting and petitioning, of which they had long been deprived, and the restoration of which marks the first step in their gradual recovery of their civil liberties.
In 1759 a rumour broke out in Dublin that a legislative union was in contemplation by the Primate and his faction. On the 3rd of December, the citizens rose en masse, and surrounded the Houses of Parliament. They stopped the carriages of members, and obliged them to swear opposition to such a measure. Some of the Protestant bishops, and the Lord Chancellor were roughly handled; a privy counsellor was thrown into the river; the Attorney General was wounded and obliged to take refuge in the college; Lord Inchiquin was abused till he said his name was O’Brien, when the rage of the people “was turned into acclamations.” The Speaker, Mr. Ponsonby, and the Chief Secretary, Mr. Rigby, had to appear in the porch of the House of Commons, solemnly to assure the citizens that no union was dreamed of, and if it was proposed, that they would be the first to resist it. Public spirit had evidently grown bold and confident, and we can well believe Secretary Rigby when he writes to the elder Pitt, that “the mob” declared, “since they have no chance of numbers in the House, they must have recourse to numbers out of doors.”
ACCESSION OF GEORGE III.—FLOOD’S LEADERSHIP— OCTENNIAL PARLIAMENTS ESTABLISHED.
George III., grandson of the late king, commenced, in October, 1760, at the age of two and twenty, the longest reign in British history. Including the period of the regency, he reigned over his empire nearly sixty years —an extraordinary term of royal power, and quite as extraordinary for its events as for its extreme length.
The great movement of the Irish mind, at the beginning of this reign, was the limitation of the duration of Parliament, hitherto elected for the King’s life. This reform, long advocated out of doors, and by the more progressive members within the House, was reserved for the new Parliament under the new reign. To this Parliament were returned several men of great promise, men of a new generation, nurtured in the school of Swift and Malone, but going even beyond their masters in their determination to liberate the legislature of their country from the undue influence of the crown and the castle. Among those new members were three destined to national celebrity, Dr. Lucas, Mr. Hussey Burgh, and Mr. Dennis Bowes Daly; and one destined to universal reputation—Henry Flood. This gentleman, the son of a former Chief Justice, intermarried into the powerful oligarchical family of the Beresfords, was only in his 28th year when first elected member for Kilkenny; but, in point of genius and acquirements, he was even then the first man in Ireland, and one of the first in the empire. For a session or two he silently observed the forms of the House, preparing himself for the great contest to come; but when at last he obtained the ear of his party he was heard to some purpose. Though far from advocating extreme measures, he had abundant boldness; he was not open to the objection levelled against the leader of the past generation, Mr. Malone, of whom Grattan said, “he was a colony-bred man, and he feared to bring down England upon Ireland.”
The Duke of Bedford vacated the viceroyalty in 1761, and Lord Halifax took his place. In the first parliamentary session, Dr. Lucas introduced his resolutions limiting the duration of Parliament to seven years, a project which Flood afterwards adopted and mainly contributed to carry. The heads of the bill embodying these resolutions were transmitted to London by the Lord-Lieutenant, but never returned. In 1763, under the government of the Marquis of Hertford, similar resolutions were introduced and carried, but a similar fate awaited them. Again they were passed, and again rejected, the popular dissatisfaction rising higher and higher with every delay of the reform. At length, in the session of 1767, “the Septennial Bill,” as it was called, was returned from England, changed to octennial, and with this alteration it passed into law, in February, 1768. A new Parliament the same year was elected under the new act, to which all the friends of the measure were triumphantly returned. The faithful Lucas, however, survived his success little better than two years; he died amid the very sincere regrets of all men who were not enemies of their country. At his funeral the pall was borne by the Marquis of Kildare, Lord Charlemont, Mr. Flood, Mr. Hussey Burgh, Sir Lucius O’Brien, and Mr. Ponsonby.
Lord Halifax, and his chief secretary, Mr. Hamilton (known to us as “the single-speech Hamilton,” of literary history), received very graciously the loyal addresses presented by the Catholics, soon after his Majesty’s accession. In a speech from the throne, the Viceroy proposed, but was obliged to abandon the proposition, to raise six regiments of Catholics, under their own officers, to be taken into the service of Portugal, the ally of Great Britain. His administration was otherwise remarkable neither for its length nor its importance; nor is there anything else of consequence to be mentioned of his lordship, except that his nephew, and chief secretary, had the honour to have Edmund Burke for his private secretary, and the misfortune to offend him.
During the government of the Marquis of Hertford, and his successor, Lord Townsend (appointed in 1768), the Patriot party contended on the ground of rendering the judges independent, diminishing the pension list, and modifying the law of Poynings, requiring heads of bills to be sent into England, and certified by both Privy Councils, before they could be passed upon by the legislature. The question of supply, and that of the duration of Parliament, being settled, these reforms were the next objects of exertion. When we know that the late King’s mistresses, the Queen Dowager of Prussia, Prince Ferdinand, and other connections of the royal family, equally alien to the country, were pensioners to the amount of thousands of pounds annually on the Irish establishment, we can understand more clearly the bitterness of the battle Mr. Flood and his colleagues were called upon to fight in assailing the old system. But they fought it resolutely and perseveringly. Death had removed their most unscrupulous enemy, Primate Stone, during the Hertford administration, and the improved tone and temper of public opinion would not tolerate any attempt to raise up a successor of similar character. Lord Townsend, an old campaigner and bon vivant, was expressly chosen as most capable of restoring the old system of government by closeting and corruption, but he found the Ireland of his day very materially altered from the defenceless province, which Stone and Dorset had attempted to cajole or to coerce, twenty years before.
The Parliament of 1769—the first limited Parliament which Ireland had seen since the revolution—proved, in most respects, worthy of the expectations formed of it. John Ponsonby was chosen Speaker, and Flood regarded, around him, well-filled benches and cheering countenances. The usual supply bill was passed and sent up to the castle, but on its return from England was found to be altered—15,000 men, among other changes, being charged to the Irish military establishment, instead of 12,000, as formerly. The Commons, resolute to assert their rights, threw out the bill, as had been done in 1753, and the Lord Lieutenant, protesting in the House of Lords against their conduct, ordered them to be prorogued. Prorogation followed prorogation, till February, 1771, the interval being occupied in closeting and coquetting with members of the opposition, in the creation of new places, and the disposal of them to the relatives of those capable of being bought. No one was surprised, when the Houses reassembled, to find that a bare majority of the Commons voted a fulsome address of confidence to the Lord Lieutenant. But this address, Speaker Ponsonby indignantly refused to present. He preferred resignation to disgrace, and great was the amazement and indignation when his friend, Mr. Perry, elected by a bare majority, consented to take the post—no longer a post of honour. In justice to Mr, Perry, however, it must be added, that in the chair as on the floor of Parliament, he still continued the patriot—that if he advanced his own fortunes, it was not at the expense of the country—that some of the best measures passed by this and the subsequent Parliament, owed their final success, if not their first suggestion, to his far-seeing sagacity.
The methods taken by Lord Townsend to effect his ends, not less than those ends themselves, aroused the spirit and combined the ranks of the Irish opposition. The press of Dublin teemed with philippics and satires, upon his creatures and himself. The wit, the scholarship, the elegant fancy, the irresistible torrent of eloquence, as well as the popular enthusiasm, were against him, and in 1772, borne down by these combined forces, he confessed his failure by resigning the sword of state into the hands of Lord Harcourt.
The new Viceroy, according to custom, began his reign by taking an exactly opposite course to his predecessor, and ended it by falling into nearly the same errors and abuses. He suggested an Absentee-tax, which was introduced by Flood, but rejected through the preponderating influence of the landed aristocracy. In preparing the tables of expenditure, he had caused arrears amounting to 265,000 pounds, and an annual increase of 100,000 pounds, to be added to the estimates. Moreover, his supply bill was discovered, at the second reading, to extend over two years instead of one—a discovery which occasioned the greatest indignation. Flood raised his powerful voice in warning, not unmingled with menace; Burgh declared, that if any member should again bring in such a bill, he would himself move his expulsion from the House; while George Ogle, member for Wexford, proposed that the bill itself should be burned before the porch, by the common hangman. He was reminded that the instrument bore the great seal; to which he boldly answered, that the seal would help to make it burn the better. It was not thought politic to take notice of this revolutionary retort.
FLOOD’S LEADERSHIP—STATE OF THE COUNTRY BETWEEN 1760 AND 1776.
England was engaged in two great wars during the period of Flood’s supremacy in the Irish Parliament—the seven years’ war, concluded by the peace of Paris in 1763, and the American war, concluded by the treaty of Versailles, in 1783. To each of these wars Ireland was the second largest contributor both as to men and money; and by both she was the severest sufferer, in her manufactures, her provision trade, and her general prosperity. While army contracts, and all sorts of military and naval expenditure in a variety of ways returned to the people of England the produce of their taxes, the Irish had no such compensation for the burdens imposed on their more limited resources. The natural result was, that that incipient prosperity which Chesterfield hailed with pleasure in 1751, was arrested in its growth, and fears began to be seriously entertained that the country would be driven back to the lamentable condition from which it had slowly and laboriously emerged during the reign of George II.
The absence of employment in the towns threw the labouring classes more and more upon the soil for sustenance, while the landlord legislation of the period threw them as helplessly back upon other pursuits than agriculture. Agrarian injustice was encountered by conspiracy, and for the first time in these pages, we have to record the introduction of the diabolical machinery of secret oath-bound associations among the Irish peasantry. Of the first of these combinations in the southern counties, a cotemporary writer gives the following account: “Some landlords in Munster,” he says, “have let their lands to cotters far above their value, and, to lighten their burden, allowed commonange to their tenants by way of recompense: afterwards, in despite of all equity, contrary to all compacts, the landlords enclosed these commons, and precluded their unhappy tenants from the only means of making their bargains tolerable.” The peasantry of Waterford, Cork, and other southern counties met in tumultuous crowds, and demolished the new enclosures. The oligarchical majority took their usual cue on such occasions: they pronounced, at once, that the cause of the riots was “treason against the state;” they even obtained a select committee to “inquire into the cause and progress of the Popish insurrection in Munster.” Although the London Gazette, on the authority of royal commissioners, declared that the rioters “consisted indiscriminately of persons of different persuasions,” the Castle party would have it “another Popish plot.” Even Dr. Lucas was carried away by the passions of the hour, and declaimed against all lenity, as cowardly and criminal.
A large military force, under the Marquis of Drogheda, was accordingly despatched to the south. The Marquis fixed his head-quarters at Clogheen, in Tipperary, the parish priest of which was the Rev. Nicholas Sheehy. The magistracy of the county, especially Sir Thomas Maude, William Bagnel, John Bagwell, Daniel Toler, and Parson Hewitson, were among the chief maintainers of the existence of a Popish plot, to bring in the French and the Pretender. Father Sheehy had long been fixed upon as their victim: largely connected with the minor gentry, educated in France, young, popular, eloquent and energetic, a stern denouncer of the licentious lives of the squires, and of the exacting tithes of the parsons, he was particularly obnoxious. In 1763 he was arrested on a charge of high treason, for drilling and enrolling Whiteboys, but was acquitted. Towards the close of that year, Bridge, one of the late witnesses against him, suddenly disappeared. A charge of murder was then laid against the priest of Clogheen, and a prostitute named Dunlea, a vagrant lad named Lonergan, and a convicted horse stealer called Toohey, were produced in evidence against him, after he had lain nearly a year in prison, heavily fettered. On the 12th of March, 1765, he was tried at Clonmel, on this evidence; and notwithstanding an alibi was proved, he was condemned, and beheaded on the third day afterwards. Beside the old ruined church of Shandraghan, his well-worn tomb remains till this day. He died in his thirty-eighth year. Two months later, Edward Sheehy, his cousin, and two respectable young farmers, named Buxton and Farrell, were executed under a similar charge, and upon the same testimony. All died with religious firmness and composure. The fate of their enemies is notorious; with a single exception, they met deaths violent, loathsome, and terrible. Maude died insane, Bagwell in idiocy, one of the jury committed suicide, another was found dead in a privy, a third was killed by his horse, a fourth was drowned, a fifth shot, and so through the entire list. Toohey was hanged for felony, the prostitute Dunlea fell into a cellar and was killed, and the lad Lonergan, after enlisting as a soldier, died of a loathsome disease in a Dublin infirmary.
In 1767, an attempt to revive the plot was made by the Munster oligarchy, without success. Dr. McKenna, Bishop of Cloyne, was arrested but enlarged; Mr. Nagle, of Garnavilla (a relative of Edmund Burke), Mr. Robert Keating, and several respectable Catholic gentlemen, were also arrested. It appears that Edmund Burke was charged by the ascendancy party with having “sent his brother Richard, recorder of Bristol, and Mr. Nagle, a relation, on a mission to Munster, to levy money on the Popish body for the use of the Whiteboys, who were exclusively Papists.” The fact was, that Burke did originate a subscription for the defence of the second batch of victims, who, through his and other exertions, were fortunately saved from the fate of their predecessors.
Contemporaneous with the Whiteboys were the northern agrarians, called “Hearts of Steel,” formed among the absentee Lord Downshire’s tenants, in 1762; the “Oak Boys,” so called from wearing oak leaves in their hats; and the “Peep o’ Day Boys,” the precursors of the Orange Association. The infection of conspiracy ran through all Ireland, and the disorder was neither short-lived nor trivial. Right-boys, Defenders, and a dozen other denominations descended from the same evil genius, whoever he was, that first introduced the system of signs, and passwords, and midnight meetings, among the peasantry of Ireland. The celebrated society of United Irishmen was the highest form which that principle, in our politics, ever reached. In its origin, it was mainly a Protestant organization.
From the first, the Catholic bishops and clergy strenuously opposed these secret societies. The Bishop of Cloyne issued a reprobatory pastoral; Father Arthur O’Leary employed his facile pen against them; the Bishop of Ossory anathematized them in his diocese. Priests in Kildare, Kilkenny, and Munster, were often in personal danger from these midnight legislators; their chapels had been frequently nailed up, and their bishops had been often obliged to remove them from one neighbourhood to another to prevent worse consequences. The infatuation was not to be stayed; the evil was engrafted on society, and many a long year, and woeful scene, and blighted life, and broken heart, was to signalize the perpetuation of secret societies among the population.
These startling symptoms of insubordination and lawlessness, while they furnished plausible pretexts to the advocates of repression, still further confirmed the Patriot party in their belief, that, nothing short of a free trade in exports and imports, and a thorough system of retrenchment in every branch of the public service, could save the nation from bankruptcy and ruin. This was Flood’s opinion, and he had been long recognized as the leading spirit of the party. The aged Malone, true to his principles of conciliation and constitutionalism to the last, passed away from the scene, in the midst of the exciting events of 1776. For some years before his death, his former place had been filled by the younger and more vigorous member for Kilkenny, who, however, did not fail to consult him with all the deference due to his age, his services, and his wisdom. One of his last official acts was presiding over the committee of the whole House, which voted the American contingent, but rejected the admission of German troops to supply their place.
GRATTAN’S LEADERSHIP—”FREE TRADE,” AND THE VOLUNTEERS.
The revolt of the American colonies against the oppressive legislation of the British Parliament, was the next circumstance that deeply affected the constitutional struggle, in which the Irish Parliament had so long been engaged. The similarity in the grievances of Ireland and the colonies, the close ties of kindred established between them, the extent of colonial commerce involved in the result, contributed to give the American Declaration of Independence more importance in men’s eyes at Dublin, than anywhere else out of the colonies, except, perhaps, London.
The first mention made of American affairs to the Irish legislature, was in Lord Townsend’s message in 1775, calling for the despatch of 4,000 men from the Irish establishment, to America, and offering to supply their place by as many foreign Protestant (German) troops. The demand was warmly debated. The proposition to receive the proffered foreign troops was rejected by a majority of thirty-eight, and the contingent for America passed on a division, upon Flood’s plea that they would go out merely as “4,000 armed negotiators.” This expression of the great parliamentary leader was often afterwards quoted to his prejudice, but we must remember, that, at the time it was employed, no one on either side of the contest had abandoned all hopes of accommodation, and that the significance of the phrase was rather pointed against Lord North than against the colonies. The 4,000 men went out, among them Lord Rawdon (afterwards Lord Moira), Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and many others, both officers and men, who were certainly no enemies of liberty, or the colonies.
Some slight relaxation of the commercial restrictions which operated so severely against Irish industry were made during the same year, but these were more than counterbalanced by the embargo on the export of provisions to America, imposed in February, 1776. This arbitrary measure—imposed by order in Council—was so near being censured by the Parliament then sitting, that the House was dissolved a month afterwards, and a new election ordered. To meet the new Parliament it was thought advisable to send over a new Viceroy, and accordingly Lord Buckinghamshire entered into office, with Sir Richard Heron as chief secretary.
In the last session of the late Parliament, a young protege of Lord Charlemont—he was only in his twenty-ninth year—had taken his seat for the borough of Charlemont. This was Henry Grattan, son of the Recorder of Dublin, and grandson of one of those Grattans who, according to Dean Swift, “could raise 10,000 men.” The youth of Grattan had been neither joyous nor robust; in early manhood he had offended his father’s conservatism; the profession of the law, to which he was bred, he found irksome and unsuited to his tastes; society, as then constituted, was repulsive to his over-sensitive spirit and high Spartan ideal of manly duty; no letters are sadder to read than the early correspondence of Grattan, till he had fairly found his inspiration in listening enraptured to the eloquent utterances of Chatham, or comparing political opinions with such a friend as Flood. At length he found a seat in the House of Commons, where, during his first session, he spoke on three or four occasions, briefly, modestly, and with good effect; there had been no sitting during 1776, nor before October of the following year; it was, therefore, in the sessions from ’78 to ’82 inclusive, that this young member raised himself to the head of the most eloquent men, in one of the most eloquent assemblies the world has ever seen.
The fact of Mr. Flood, after fourteen years of opposition, having accepted office under Lord Harcourt’s administration, and defended the American expedition and the embargo, had greatly lessened the popularity of that eminent man. There was indeed, no lack of ability still left in the ranks of the opposition—for Burgh, Daly, and Yelverton were there; but for a supreme spirit like Grattan—whose burning tongue was ever fed from his heart of fire—there is always room in a free senate, how many soever able and accomplished men may surround him.
The fall of 1777 brought vital intelligence from America. General Burgoyne had surrendered at Saratoga, and France had decided to ally herself with the Americans. The effect in England and in Ireland was immense. When the Irish Houses met, Mr. Grattan moved an address to the King in favour of retrenchment, and against the pension list, and Mr. Daly moved and carried an address deploring the continuance of the American war, with a governmental amendment assuring his Majesty that he might still rely on the services of his faithful Commons. The second Catholic relief bill, authorizing Papists to loan money on mortgage, to lease lands for any period not exceeding 999 years—to inherit and bequeath real property, so limited, passed, not without some difficulty, into law. The debate had been protracted, by adjournment after adjournment, over the greatest part of three months; the main motion had been further complicated by an amendment repealing the Test Act in favour of Dissenters, which was, fortunately, engrafted on the measure. The vote in the Commons, in favour of the bill so amended, was 127 yeas to 89 nays, and in the Lords, 44 Contents to 28 Noncontents.
In the English House of Commons, Lord Nugent moved, in April, a series of resolutions raising the embargo on the Irish provision trade; abolishing, so far as Ireland was concerned, the most restrictive clauses of the Navigation Act, both as to exports and imports, with the exception of the article of tobacco. Upon this the manufacturing and shipping interest of England, taking the alarm, raised such a storm in the towns and cities that the ministry of the day were compelled to resist the proposed changes, with a few trifling exceptions. But Grattan had caught up, in the other island, the cry of “free trade,” and the people echoed it after their orator, until the whole empire shook with the popular demand.
But what gave pith and power to the Irish demands was the enrolment and arming of a numerous volunteer force, rendered absolutely necessary by the defenceless state of the kingdom. Mr. Flood had long before proposed a national militia, but being in opposition and in the minority, he had failed. To him and to Mr. Perry, as much as to Lord Charlemont and Mr. Grattan, the militia bill of 1778, and the noble army of volunteers equipped under its provisions, owed their origin. Whether this force was to be a regular militia, subject to martial law, or composed of independent companies, was for some months a subject of great anxiety at the castle; but necessity at length precipitated a decision in favour of volunteer companies, to be supplied with arms by the state, but drilled and clothed at their own expense, with power to elect their own officers. The official announcement of this decision once made, the organization spread rapidly over the whole kingdom. The Ulster corps, first organized, chose as their commander the Earl of Charlemont, while those of Leinster elected the Duke of Leinster. Simultaneously, resolutions against the purchase of English goods and wares were passed at public meetings, and by several of the corporate bodies. Lists of the importers of such goods were obtained at the custom houses, and printed in handbills, to the alarm of the importers. Swift’s sardonic maxim, “to burn everything coming from England, except the coals,” began to circulate as a toast in all societies, and the consternation of the Castle, at this resurrection of the redoubtable Dean, was almost equal to the apprehension entertained of him while living.
While the Castle was temporizing with both the military and the manufacture movement, in a vague expectation to defeat both, the press, as is usual in such national crises, teemed with publications of great fervour and ability. Dr. Jebb, Mr. (afterwards Judge) Johnson, Mr. Pollock, Mr. Charles Sheridan, Father Arthur O’Leary, and Mr. Dobbs, M.P., were the chief workers in this department of patriotic duty. Cheered, instructed, restrained within due bounds by these writings and the reported debates of Parliament, the independent companies proceeded with their organization. In July, 1779, after all the resources of prevarication had been exhausted, arms were issued to the several recognized corps, and the Irish volunteers became in reality a national army for domestic protection and defence.
When this point was reached, Mr. Grattan and his friends took anxious council as to their future movements. Parliament was to meet on the 12th of October, and in that sweet autumnal month, Grattan, Burgh, and Daly, met upon the sea-shore, near Bray, in view of one of the loveliest landscapes on earth, to form their plan for the session. They agreed on an amendment to the address in answer to the royal speech, demanding in explicit terms “free export and import” for Irish commerce. When Parliament met, and the address and amendment were moved, it was found that Flood, Burgh, Hutchinson, and Gardiner, though all holding offices of honour and emolument under government, would vote for it. Flood suggested to substitute the simple term “free trade,” and with this and one other verbal alteration suggested by Burgh, the amendment passed with a single dissenting voice.
The next day the Speaker, Mr. Perry, who was all along in the confidence of the movers of the amendment, Daly, Grattan, Burgh, Flood, Hutchinson, Ponsonby, Gardiner, and the whole House, went up with the amended address to the castle. The streets were lined with volunteers, commanded in person by the Duke of Leinster, who presented arms to the patriotic Commons as they passed. Most of the leading members wore the uniform of one or other of the national companies, and the people saw themselves at the same moment under the protection of a patriotic majority in the legislature, and a patriotic force in the field. No wonder their enthusiastic cheers rang through the corridors of the castle with a strangely jubilant and defiant emphasis. It was not simply the spectacle of a nation recovering its spirit, but recovering it with all military eclat and pageantry. It was the disarmed armed and triumphant—a revolution not only in national feeling, but in the external manifestation of that feeling. A change so profound stirred sentiments and purposes even deeper than itself, and suggested to the ardent imagination of Grattan the establishment of entire national independence, saving always the rights of the crown.
The next day, the Houses, not to be outdone in courtesy, voted their thanks to the volunteers for “their just and necessary exertions in defence of their country!”
GRATTAN’S LEADERSHIP—LEGISLATIVE AND JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE ESTABLISHED.
The task which Mr. Grattan felt called upon to undertake, was not revolutionary, in the usually accepted sense of the term. He was a Monarchist and a Whig in general politics; but he was an Irishman, proud and fond of his country, and a sincere lover of the largest religious liberty. With the independence of the judiciary and the legislature, with freedom of commerce and of conscience, he would be well content to stand by the British connection. “The sea,” he said, in his lofty figurative language, “protests against union—the ocean against separation.” But still, within certain legal limits, his task was revolutionary, and was undertaken under all the discouragements incident to the early stages of great constitutional reforms.
Without awaiting the action of the English Parliament, in relation to free trade, a public-spirited citizen of Dublin, Alderman James Horan, demanded an entry at the custom house, for some parcels of Irish woollens, which he proposed exporting to Rotterdam, contrary to the prohibitory enactment, the 10th and 11th of William III. The commissioners of customs applied for instructions to the Castle, and the Castle to the Secretary of State, Franklin’s friend, Lord Hillsborough. For the moment a collision similar to that which had taken place at Boston, on a not dissimilar issue, seemed imminent. A frigate was stationed off Howth, with instructions, it was said, to intercept the prohibited woollens, but Alderman Horan, by the advice of his friends, allowed his application to remain on the custom house files. It had served its purpose of bringing home practically to the people, the value of the principle involved in the demand for freedom of exports and imports. At the same time that this practical argument was discussed in every circle, Mr. Grattan moved in the House of Commons, in amendment to the supply bill, that, “At this time it is inexpedient to grant new taxes.” The government divided the House, but to their mortification found only 47 supporters; for Grattan’s amendment there were 170. A subsequent amendment against granting duties for the support of the loan fund, was also carried by 138 to 100.
These adverse votes were communicated with great trepidation, by the Lord Lieutenant, to the British administration. At length Lord North thought it essential to make some concessions, and with this view he brought in resolutions, declaring the trade with the British colonies in America and Africa, and the free export of glass and woollens, open to the Irish merchant. A week later, similar resolutions were passed in the Irish Commons, and in February, 1780, “a free trade” in the sense in which it had been demanded, was established by law, placing Ireland in most respects, as to foreign and colonial commerce, on an equality with England.
In February, the Viceroy again alarmed the British administration, with the reported movement for the repeal of “Poyning’s law,”—the statute which required heads of bills to be transmitted to, and approved in England, before they could be legislated upon. He received in reply, the royal commands to resist by every means in his power, any attempted “change in the constitution,” and he succeeded in eliciting from the House of Lords, an address, strongly condemnatory of “the misguided men,” who sought to raise such “groundless jealousies,” between the two kingdoms. But the Patriot Commoners were not to be so deterred. They declared the repeal of Poyning’s act, and the 6th of George I., to be their ultimatum, and notices of motion to that effect were immediately placed on the journals of the House of Commons.
In the early days of April, Grattan, who, more than any of our orators, except perhaps Burke, was sensitive to the aspects of external nature, and imbued with the poetry of her works, retired from the city, to his uncle Dean Marlay’s house, Cellbridge Abbey, formerly the residence of Swift’s ill-fated Vannessa. “Along the banks of that river,” he said, many years afterwards, “amid the groves and bowers of Swift and Vannessa, I grew convinced that I was right; arguments, unanswerable, came to my mind, and what I then presaged, confirmed me in my determination to persevere.” With an enthusiasm intensified and restrained—but wonderful in the fire and grandeur of its utterance—he rose in his place, on the 19th of the month, to move that “the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, are the only power competent to enact laws to bind Ireland.” He was supported by Hussey Burgh, Yelverton, and Forbes; Flood favoured postponement, and laid the foundation of his future estrangement from Grattan; Daly was also for delay; Fitzgibbon, afterwards Lord Clare, Provost Hutchinson, and John Foster, afterwards Lord Oriel, resisted the motion. The Castle party moved in amendment that “there being an equivalent resolution already on the journals of the House”—alluding to one of the resolutions against Stafford’s tyranny in 1641—a new resolution was unnecessary. This amendment was carried by 136 to 79, thus affirming the formula of independence adopted in 1641, but depriving Grattan of the honour of putting it, in his own words, on the record. The substantial result, however, was the same; the 19th of April was truly what Grattan described it, “a great day for Ireland.” “It is with the utmost concern,” writes the Viceroy next day to Lord Hillsborough, “I must acquaint your Lordship that although so many gentlemen expressed their concern that the subject had been introduced, the sense of the House against the obligation of any statutes of the Parliament of Great Britain, within this kingdom, is represented to me to have been almost unanimous.”
Ten days later, a motion of Mr. Yelverton’s to repeal Poyning’s law, as far as related to the Irish privy council’s supervision of heads of bills, was negatived by 130 to 105.
During the remainder of the session the battle of independence was fought on the Mutiny Bill. The Viceroy and the Chief Secretary, playing the game of power, were resolved that the influence of the crown should not be diminished, so far as the military establishments were concerned. Two justices of the peace in Sligo and Mayo, having issued writs of habeas corpus in favour of deserters from the army, on the ground that neither the British Mutiny Act, nor any other British statute, was binding on Ireland, unless confirmed by an act of its own legislature, brought up anew the whole question. Lord North, who, with all his proverbial tact and good humour, in the House of Commons, always pursued the most arbitrary policy throughout the empire, proposed a perpetual Mutiny Bill for Ireland, instead of the Annual Bill, in force in England. It was introduced in the Irish House of Commons by Mr. Gervase Parker Bushe, and, by a vote of two to one, postponed for a fortnight. During the interval, the British authorities remained obdurate to argument and remonstrance. In vain, the majority of the Irish privy counsellors advised concession; in vain, Flood, who was consulted, pointed out the futility of attempting to force such a measure; it was forced, and, under the cry of loyalty, a draft bill was carried through both Houses, and remitted to England in June. Early in August it was returned; on the 12th it was read a first time; on the 16th, a second; and it was carried through Committee by 114 to 62. It was at this emergency the Volunteers performed the second act of their great drama of Ireland’s liberation. A series of reviews were held, and significant addresses presented to Lord Camden (then on a visit to the country), Lord Charlemont, Mr. Flood, and Mr. Grattan. On the re-assembling of Parliament in August, when the bill was referred to, Mr. Grattan declared that he would resist it to the last; that if passed into law, he and his friends would secede, and would appeal to the people in “a formal instrument.” A new series of corporation and county meetings was convened by the Patriot party, which warmly condemned the Perpetual Mutiny Act, and as warmly approved the repeal of Poyning’s Act, and the 6th of George I.: questions which were all conceived to be intermixed together, and to flow from the assertion of a common principle. Parliament being prorogued in September, only threw the whole controversy back again into the furnace of popular agitation. The British Government tried a lavish distribution of titles and a change of Viceroys,—Lord Carlisle being substituted in December for Lord Buckingham—but the spirit abroad was too general and too earnest, to be quelled by the desertion of individuals, however numerous or influential. With Lord Carlisle, came, as Chief Secretary, Mr. Eden, afterwards Lord Auckland; he had been, with his chief, a peace commissioner to America, two years before, and had failed; he was an intriguing and accomplished man, but he proved himself as unequal as Heron or Rigby to combat the movement for Irish independence.
Parliament was not again called together till the month of October, 1781; the interval being busily occupied on both sides with endeavours to create and sustain a party. Soon after the meeting, Mr. Grattan, seconded by Mr. Flood, moved for a limitation of the Mutiny Bill, which was lost; a little later, Mr. Flood himself introduced a somewhat similar motion, which was also outvoted two to one; and again, during the session, Mr. Yelverton, having abandoned his promised motion against Poyning’s law, on news of Lord Cornwallis’s surrender reaching Dublin, Flood took it up, moved it, and was defeated. A further measure of relief for Roman Catholics, introduced by Mr. Gardiner, author of the act of 1778, and warmly supported by Grattan, was resisted by Flood in the one House, and Lord Charlemont in the other. It miscarried, and left another deposit of disagreement between the actual and the former leader of the Patriot party.
Still no open rupture had taken place between the two Patriot orators. When the convention of the volunteers was called at Dungannon for the 15th of February, 1782, they consulted at Charlemont House as to the resolutions to be passed. They were agreed on the constitutional question; Grattan, of his own generous free will, added the resolution in favour of emancipation. Two hundred and forty-two delegates, representing 143 corps, unanimously adopted the resolutions so drafted, as their own, and, from the old head-quarters of Hugh O’Neil, sent forth anew an unequivocal demand for civil and religious liberty. The example of Ulster soon spread through Ireland. A meeting of the Leinster volunteers, Mr. Flood in the chair, echoed it from Dublin; the Munster corps endorsed it unanimously at Cork; Lord Clanrickarde summoned together those of the western counties at Portumna—an historic spot, suggestive of striking associations. Strengthened by these demonstrations of public opinion, Mr. Grattan brought forward, on the 22nd of February, his motion declaratory of the rights of Ireland. An amendment in favour of a six months’ postponement of the question was carried; but on the 16th of April, just two years from his first effort on the subject (the administration of Lord North having fallen in the meantime), the orator had the satisfaction of carrying his address declaratory of Irish legislative independence. It was on this occasion that he exclaimed: “I found Ireland on her knees; I watched over her with a paternal solicitude; I have traced her progress from injury to arms, and from arms to liberty. Spirit of Swift! Spirit of Molyneux! your genius has prevailed! Ireland is now a nation! in that new character I hail her! and bowing to her august presence, I say, Esto perpetua!”
Never was a new nation more nobly heralded into existence! Never was an old nation more reverently and tenderly lifted up and restored! The Houses adjourned to give England time to consider Ireland’s ultimatum. Within a month it was accepted by the new British administration, and on the 27th of May, the new Whig Viceroy, the Duke of Portland, was authorized to announce from the throne the establishment of the judicial and legislative independence of Ireland.
THE ERA OF INDEPENDENCE—FIRST PERIOD.
The accession of the Rockingham administration to power, in 1782, was followed by the recall of Lord Carlisle, and the substitution, as Viceroy, of one of the leading Lords of the Whig party. The nobleman selected to this office was William Henry, third Duke of Portland, afterwards twice prime minister; then in the prime of life, possessed of a very ample fortune, and uniting in his own person the two great Whig families of Bentinck and Cavendish. The policy he was sent to represent at Dublin was undoubtedly an imperial policy; a policy which looked as anxiously to the integrity of the empire as any Tory cabinet could have desired; but it was, in most other respects, a policy of conciliation and concession, dictated by the enlarged wisdom of Burke, and adopted by the magnanimous candour of Fox. Yet by a generous people, who always find it more difficult to resist a liberal than an illiberal administration, it was, in reality, a policy more to be feared than welcomed; for its almost certain effects were to divide their ranks into two sections—a moderate and an extreme party—between whom the national cause, only half established, might run great danger of being lost, almost as soon as it was won.
With the Duke of Portland was associated, as Chief Secretary, Colonel Fitzpatrick, of the old Ossory family, one of those Irish wits and men of fashion, who form so striking a group in the middle and later years of King George III. As the personal and political friend of Flood, Charlemont, and Grattan, and the first Irish secretary for several administrations, he shared the brilliant ovation with which the Duke of Portland was received, on his arrival at Dublin; but for the reason already mentioned, the imperial, in so far as opposed to the national policy, found an additional advantage in the social successes and great personal popularity of the new secretary.
The critical months which decided the contest for independence—April and May—passed over fortunately for Ireland. The firmness of the leaders in both Houses, the energy especially of Grattan, whose cry was “No time, no time!” and the imposing attitude of the volunteers, carried the question. Lord Rockingham and Mr. Fox by letter, the new Viceroy and Secretary in person, had urged every argument for adjournment and delay, but Grattan’s ultimatum was sent over to England, and finally and formally accepted. The demands were five. I. The repeal of the 6th of George I. II. The repeal of the Perpetual Mutiny Act. III. An Act to abolish the alteration or suppression of Bills. IV. An Act to establish the final jurisdiction of the Irish Courts and the Irish House of Lords. V. The repeal of Poyning’s Law. This was the constitutional charter of 1782, which restored Ireland, for the first time in that century, to the rank and dignity of a free nation.
Concession once determined on, the necessary bills were introduced in both Parliaments simultaneously, and carried promptly into law. On the 27th of May, the Irish Houses were enabled to congratulate the Viceroy that “no constitutional question any longer existed between the two countries.” In England it was proclaimed no less explicitly by Fox and his friends, that the independency of the two legislatures “was fixed and ascertained for ever.” But there was, unfortunately, one ground for dispute still left, and on that ground Henry Flood and Henry Grattan parted, never to be reconciled.
The elder Patriot, whose conduct from the moment of his retirement from office, in consequence of his Free Trade vote and speech in ’79, had been, with occasional exceptions, arising mostly from bodily infirmity, as energetic and consistent as that of Grattan himself, saw no sufficient constitutional guarantee in mere acts of Parliament repealing other acts. He demanded “express renunciation” of legislative supremacy on the part of England; while Grattan maintained the sufficiency of “simple repeal.” It is possible even in such noble natures as these men had—so strangely are we constituted—that there was a latent sense of personal rivalry, which prompted them to grasp, each, at the larger share of patriotic honour. It is possible that there were other, and inferior men, who exasperated this latent personal rivalry. Flood had once reigned supreme, until Grattan eclipsed him in the sudden splendour of his career. In scholarship and in genius the elder Patriot was, taken all in all, the full peer of his successor; but Grattan had the national temperament, and he found his way more readily into the core of the national heart; he was the man of the later, the bolder, and the more liberal school; and such was the rapidity of his movements, that even Flood, from ’79 to ’82, seemed to be his follower, rather than his coadjutor. In the hopeful crisis of the struggle, the slower and more experienced statesman was for the moment lost sight of. The leading motions were all placed or left in the hands of Grattan by the consent of their leading friends; the bills repealing the Mutiny Act, the 6th George I., and Poyning’s law, were entrusted to Burgh, Yelverton, and Forbes; the thanks of the House were voted to Grattan alone after the victory, with the substantial addition of 50,000 pounds to purchase for him an estate, which should become an enduring monument of the national gratitude.
The open rupture between the two great orators followed fast on the triumph of their common efforts. It was still the first month—the very honeymoon of independence. On the 13th of June, Mr. Grattan took occasion to notice in his place, that a late British act relating to the importation of sugars, was so generally worded as apparently to include Ireland; but this was explained to be a mere error of the clerk, the result of haste, and one which would be promptly corrected. Upon this Mr. Flood first took occasion to moot the insufficiency of “simple repeal,” and the necessity of “express renunciation,” on the part of England. On the 19th, he moved a formal resolution on the subject, which was superseded by the order of the day; but on the 19th of July, he again moved, at great length, and with great power of logical and historical argument, for leave to bring in an Irish Bill of Rights, declaring “the sole and exclusive right of the Irish Parliament to make laws in all cases whatsoever, external and internal.” He was supported by Sir Simon Bradstreet, Mr. English, and Mr. Walshe, and opposed by Grattan, who, in one of his finest efforts, proposed a counter resolution, “that the legislature of Ireland is independent; and that any person who shall, by writing or otherwise, maintain that a right in any other country, to make laws for Ireland, internally or externally, exists or can be revived, is inimical to the peace of both kingdoms.” This extreme proposition—pointing out all who differed from himself as public enemies—the mover, however, withdrew, and substituted in its stead the milder formula, that leave was refused to bring in the bill, because the sole and exclusive right of legislation in the Irish Parliament in all cases, whether externally or internally, hath been already asserted by Ireland, and fully, finally, and irrevocably acknowledged by the British Parliament. Upon this motion Flood did not think it advisable to divide the House, so it passed without a division.
But the moot point thus voted down in Parliament disquieted and alarmed the minds of many out of doors. The volunteers as generally sided with Flood as the Parliament had sided with Grattan. The lawyer corps of the city of Dublin, containing all the great names of the legal profession, endorsed the constitutional law of the member for Kilkenny; the Belfast volunteers did likewise; and Grattan’s own corps, in a respectful address, urged him to give his adherence to the views of “the best informed body of men in the kingdom,”—the lawyers’ corps. Just at that moment Lord Abingdon, in the English House of Lords, gave notice of a mischievous motion to assert the external supremacy of the English Parliament; and Lord Mansfield, in the King’s Bench, decided an Irish appeal case, notwithstanding the recent statute establishing the judicial independence of the Irish courts. It is true the case had been appealed before the statute was passed; and that Lord Abingdon withdrew his motion for want of a seconder; but the alarm was given, and the popular mind in Ireland, jealously watchful of its new-born liberties, saw in these attempts renewed cause for apprehension. In opposition to all this suddenly awakened suspicion and jealousy, Grattan, who naturally enough assumed his own interest in preserving the new constitution to be quite equal to those who cast doubts on its security, invariably held one language. The settlement already made, according to his view, was final; it was an international treaty; its maintenance must depend on the ability and disposition of the parties to uphold it, rather than on the multiplication of declaratory acts. Ireland had gone to England with a charter, not for a charter, and the nation which would insist upon the humiliation of another, was a foolish nation. This was the lofty light in which he viewed the whole transaction, and in this light, it must be added, he continued to view it till the last. Many of the chief English and Irish jurists of his time, Lord Camden, Lord Kenyon, Lord Erskine, Lord Kilwarden, Judges Chamberlain, Smith, and Kelly, Sir Samuel Rommilly, Sir Arthur Pigott, and several others, agreed fully in Grattan’s doctrine, that the settlement of ’82 was final and absolute, and “terminated all British jurisdiction over Ireland.” But although these are all great names, the instinct of national self-preservation may be considered in such critical moments more than a counterpoise to the most matured opinions of the oracles of the law. Such must have been the conviction also of the English Parliament, for, immediately on their meeting in January, 1783, they passed the Act of Renunciation (23rd George III.), expressly declaring their admission of the “exclusive rights of the Parliament and Courts of Ireland in matters of legislature and judicature.” This was Flood’s greatest triumph. Six months before his doctrine obtained but three supporters in the Irish Commons; now, at his suggestion, and on his grounds, he saw it unanimously affirmed by the British Parliament.
On two other questions of the utmost importance these leading spirits also widely differed. Grattan was in favour of, and Flood opposed to, Catholic emancipation; while Flood was In favour of, and Grattan, at that moment, opposed to, a complete reform of parliamentary representation. The Catholic question had its next great triumph after Flood’s death, as will be mentioned further on; but the history of the Irish reform movement of 1783, ’84, and ’85, may best be disposed of here.
The Reformers were a new party rising naturally out of the popular success of 1782. They were composed of all but a few of the more aristocratic corps of the volunteers, of the townsmen, especially in the seaports and manufacturing towns, of the admirers of American example, of the Catholics who had lately acquired property and recognition, but not the elective franchise, of the gentry of the second and third degree of wealth, overruled and overshadowed by the greater lords of the soil. The substantial grievance of which they complained was, that of the 300 members of the House of Commons, only 72 were returned by the people; 53 Peers having the power to nominate 123 and secure the election of 10 others; while 52 Commoners nominated 91 and controlled the choice of 4 others. The constitution of what ought to have been the people’s house was, therefore, substantially in the hands of an oligarchy of about a hundred great proprietors, bound together by the spirit of their class, by intermarriage, and by the hereditary possession of power. To reduce this exorbitant influence within reasonable bounds, was the just and wise design to which Flood dedicated all his energies, after the passage of the Act of Renunciation, and the success of which would certainly have restored him to complete equality with Grattan.
In the beginning of 1783, the famous coalition ministry of Lord North and Mr. Pox was formed in England. They were at first represented at Dublin Castle, for a few months, by Lord Temple, who succeeded the Duke of Portland, and established the order of Knights of Saint Patrick; then by Lord Northington, who dissolved Parliament early in July. A general election followed, and the reform party made their influence felt in all directions. County meetings were held; conventions by districts and by provinces were called by the reforming Volunteers, in July, August, and September. The new Parliament was to be opened on the 14th of October, and the Volunteers resolved to call a convention of their whole body at Dublin, for the 10th of November.
The Parliament met according to summons, but though searching retrenchment was spoken of, no promise was held out of a constitutional reform; the limitation of the regular troops to a fixed number was declared advisable, and a vote of thanks to the Volunteers was passed without demur. But the proceedings of the Houses were soon eclipsed by the portentous presence of the Volunteer Convention. One hundred and sixty delegates of corps attended on the appointed day. The Royal Exchange was too small to accommodate them, so they adjourned to the Rotunda, accompanied by mounted guards of honour. The splendid and eccentric Bishop of Derry (Earl of Bristol), had his dragoon guards; the courtly but anxious Charlemont had his troop of horse; Flood, tall, emaciated, and solemn to sadness, was hailed with popular acclamations; there also marched the popular Mr. Day, afterwards Judge; Robert Stewart, father of Lord Castlereagh; Sir Richard Musgrave, a reformer also, in his youth, who lived to confound reform with rebellion in his old age. The Earl of Charlemont was elected president of this imposing body, and for an entire month Dublin was divided between the extraordinary spectacle of two legislatures—one sitting at the Rotunda, and the other at College Green, many members of each being members of the other; the uniform of the volunteer sparkling in the Houses, and the familiar voices of both Houses being heard deliberating and debating among the Volunteers.
At length, on the 29th of November, after three weeks’ laborious gestation, Flood brought before Parliament the plan of reform agreed to by the Convention. It proposed to extend the franchise to every Protestant freeholder possessed of a lease worth forty shillings yearly; to extend restricted borough constituencies by annexing to them neighbouring populous parishes; that the voting should be held on one and the same day; that pensioners of the crown should be incapable of election; that members accepting office should be subject to re-election; that a stringent bribery oath should be administered to candidates returned; and, finally, that the duration of Parliament should be limited to three years. It was, indeed, an excellent Protestant Reform Bill, for though the Convention had received Father Arthur O’Leary with military honours, and contained many warm friends of Catholic rights, the majority were still intolerant of religious freedom. In this majority it is painful to have to record the names of Flood and Charlemont.
The debate which followed the introduction of this proposed change in the constitution was stormy beyond all precedent. Grattan, who just one month before (Oct. 28th) had that fierce vituperative contest with Flood familiar to every school-boy, in its worst and most exaggerated form, supported the proposal. The law officers of the crown, Fitzgibbon, Yelverton, Scott, denounced it as an audacious attempt of armed men to dictate to the House its own constitution. The cry of privilege and prerogative was raised, and the measure was rejected by 157 to 77. Flood, weary in mind and body, retired to his home; the Convention, which outsat the House, adjourned, amid the bitter indignation of some, and the scarcely concealed relief of others. Two days later they met and adopted a striking address to the throne, and adjourned sine die. This was, in fact, the last important day of the Volunteers as a political institution. An attempt a month later to re-assemble the Convention was dexterously defeated by the President, Lord Charlemont. The regular army was next session increased to 15,000 men; 20,000 pounds were voted to clothe and equip a rival force—”the Militia”—and the Parliament, which had three times voted them its thanks, now began to look with satisfaction on their rapid disorganization and disbandment.
This, perhaps, is the fittest place to notice the few remaining years of the public life of Henry Flood. After the session of 1785, in which he had been outvoted on every motion he proposed, he retired from the Irish Parliament, and allowed himself to be persuaded, at the age of fifty-three, to enter the English. He was elected for Winchester, and made his first essay on the new scene, on his favourite subject of representative reform. But his health was undermined; he failed, except on one or two occasions, to catch the ear of that fastidious assembly, and the figure he made there somewhat disappointed his friends. He returned to Kilkenny to die in 1791, bequeathing a large portion of his fortune to Trinity College, to enrich its MS. library, and to found a permanent professorship of the Irish language. “He was an oak of the forest,” said Grattan, “too old to be transplanted at fifty.” “He was a man,” said one who also knew him well, Sir Jonah Barrington, “of profound abilities, high manners, and great experience in the affairs of Ireland. He had deep information, an extensive capacity, and a solid judgment.” In his own magnificent “Ode to Fame,” he has pictured his ideal of the Patriot-orator, who finds some consolation amid the unequal struggle with the enemies of his country, foreign and domestic, in a prophetic vision of his own renown. Unhappily, the works of this great man come down to us in as fragmentary a state as those of Chatham; but enough remains to enable us to class him amongst the greatest masters of our speech, and, as far as the drawbacks allowed, among the foremost statesmen of his country.
It is painful to be left in doubt, as we are, whether he was ever reconciled to Grattan. The presumption, from the silence of their cotemporaries, is, that they never met again as friends. But it is consoling to remember that in his grave, the survivor rendered him that tribute of justice which almost takes the undying sting out of the philippic of 1783; it is well to know, also, that one of Grattan’s latest wishes, thirty years after the death of Flood, when he felt his own last hours approaching, was, that it should be known that he “did not speak the vile abuse reported in the Debates” in relation to his illustrious rival. The best proof that what he did say was undeserved, is that that rival’s reputation for integrity and public spirit has survived even his terrible onslaught.
THE ERA OF INDEPENDENCE—SECOND PERIOD.
The second period of the era of independence may be said to embrace the nine years extending from the dissolution of the last Volunteer Convention, at the end of 1784, to the passage of the Catholic Relief Bill of 1793. They were years of continued interest and excitement, both in the popular and parliamentary affairs of the country; but the events are, with the exception of the last named, of a more secondary order than those of the previous period.
The session of 1785 was first occupied with debates relating to what might be called the cross-channel trade between England and Ireland. The question of trade brought with it, necessarily, the question of revenue; of the duties levied in both kingdoms; of the conflict of their commercial laws, and the necessity of their assimilation; of the appropriations to be borne by each, to the general expense of the army and navy; of the exclusive right of the English East India Company to the Indian trade;—in short, the whole of the fiscal and commercial relations of the two countries were now to be examined and adjusted, as their constitutional relations had been in previous years.
The first plan came from the Castle, through Mr. Thomas Orde, then Chief Secretary, afterwards Lord Bolton. It consisted of eleven propositions, embracing every division of the subject. They had been arrived at by consultation with Mr. Joshua Pim, a most worthy Quaker merchant, the founder of an equally worthy family; Mr. Grattan, Mr. Foster, and others. They were passed as resolutions in Ireland, and sent by Mr. Orde to England to see whether they would be adopted there also, the second Pitt, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave his concurrence, but when he introduced to the English Parliament his resolutions—twenty in number—it was found that in several important respects they differed from the Irish propositions. On being taken up and presented to the Irish Parliament, in August, the administration found they could command, in a full House, only a majority of sixteen for their introduction, and so the whole arrangement was abandoned. No definite commercial treaty between the two kingdoms was entered into until the Union, and there can be little doubt that the miscarriage of the Convention of 1785 was one of the determining causes of that Union.
The next session was chiefly remarkable for an unsuccessful attempt to reduce the Pension List. In this debate, Curran, who had entered the House in 1783, particularly distinguished himself. A fierce exchange of personalities with Mr. Fitzgibbon led to a duel between them, in which, fortunately, neither was wounded, but their public hostility was transferred to the arena of the courts, where some of the choicest morceaux of genuine Irish wit were uttered by Curran, at the expense of his rival, first as Attorney-General, and subsequently as Chancellor.
The session of 1787 was introduced by a speech from the throne, in which the usual paragraph in favour of the Protestant Charter Schools was followed by another advising the establishment of a general system of schools. This raised the entire question of education, one of the most difficult to deal with in the whole range of Irish politics. On the 10th of April, Mr. Orde—destined to be the author of just, but short-lived projects—introduced his plan of what might be called national education. He proposed to establish four great provincial academies, a second university in some north-western county, to reform the twenty-two diocesan schools, so richly endowed under the 28th Henry VIII., and to affiliate on Trinity College two principal preparatory schools, north and south. In 1784, and again in this very year, the humane John Howard had reported of the Irish Charter Schools, then half a century established, that they were “a disgrace to all society.” Sir J. Fitzpatrick, the Inspector of Prisons, confirmed the general impression of Howard: he found the children in these schools “puny, filthy, ill clothed, without linen, indecent to look upon.” A series of resolutions was introduced by Mr. Orde, as the basis of better legislation in the next session; but it is to be regretted that the proposed reform never went farther than the introduction and adoption of these resolutions.
The session of 1788 was signalized by a great domestic and a great imperial discussion—the Tithe question, and the Regency question.
The Tithe question had slumbered within the walls of Parliament since the days of Swift, though not in the lonely lodges of the secret agrarian societies. Very recent outbreaks of the old agrarian combinations against both excessive rents and excessive tithes, in the Leinster as well as in southern counties, had called general attention to the subject, when Grattan, in 1787, moved that, if it should appear, by the commencement of the following session, that tranquillity had been restored in the disturbed districts, the House would take into consideration the subject of tithes. Accordingly, very early in the next ensuing session, he moved for a committee on the subject, in a three hours’ speech, which ranks among the very highest efforts of his own or any other age. He was seconded by Lord Kingsborough, one of the most liberal men of his order, and sustained by Curran and Brownlow; he was opposed by Attorney-General Fitzgibbon, and by Messrs. Hobart, Browne, and Parsons. The vote was, for the Committee of Inquiry, 49; against it, 121. A second attempt, a little later in the session, was equally unsuccessful, except for the moral effect produced out of doors by another of those speeches, which it is impossible to read even at this day, without falling into the attitude, and assuming the intonation, and feeling the heartfelt inspiration of the orator.
The Regency question was precipitated upon both Parliaments by the mental disorder, which, for the second or third time, attacked George III., in 1788. The question was, whether the Prince of Wales should reign with as full powers as if his father were actually deceased; whether there should be restrictions or no restrictions. Mr. Pitt and his colleagues contended successfully for restrictions in England, while Mr. Fox and the opposition took the contrary position. The English Houses and people went with Pitt, but the Irish Parliament went for an unconditional regency. They resolved to offer the crown of Ireland to him they considered de facto their Sovereign, as freely as they had rendered their allegiance to the incapable king; but the Lord Lieutenant—the Marquis of Buckingham—declined to transmit their over-zealous address, and by the time their joint delegation of both Houses reached London, George III. had recovered! They received the most gracious reception at Carlton House, but they incurred the implacable enmity of William Pitt, and created a second determining cause in his mind in favour of an early legislative union.
The prospect of the accession of the Prince to power, wrought a wonderful and a salutary change, though temporary, in the Irish Commons. In the session of 1789, Mr Grattan carried, by 105 to 85, a two months’, in amendment to a twelve-months’ supply bill. Before the two months expired he brought in his police bill, his pension bill, and his bill to prevent officers of the revenue from voting at elections, but ere these reforms could be passed into law, the old King recovered, the necessary majority was reversed, and the measures, of course, defeated or delayed till better times. The triumph of the oligarchy was in proportion to their fright. The House having passed a vote of censure on Lord Buckingham, the Viceroy, for refusing to transmit their address to the Regent, a threat was now held out that every one who had voted for the censure, holding an office of honour or emolument in Ireland, would be made “the victim of his vote.” In reply to this threat, a “Round Robin” was signed by the Duke of Leinster, the Archbishop of Tuam, eighteen peers, all the leading Whig commoners—the Ponsonbys, Langrishes, Grattan, Connolly, Curran, O’Neil, Day, Charles Francis Sheridan, Bowes Daly, George Ogle, etc., etc.—declaring that they would regard any such proscription as an attack on the independence of Parliament, and would jointly oppose any administration who should resort to such proscription. But the bold and domineering spirit of Fitzgibbon—the leader of the Castle party, then, and long afterwards—did not shrink before even so formidable a phalanx. The Duke of Leinster was dismissed from the honorary office of Master of the Rolls; the Earl of Shannon, from the Vice-Treasurership; William Ponsonby from the office of Postmaster-General; Charles Francis Sheridan, from that of Secretary at War, and ten or twelve other prominent members of the Irish administration lost places and pensions to the value of 20,000 pounds a year, for their over-zeal for the Prince of Wales. At the same time, Mr. Fitzgibbon was appointed Lord Chancellor, a vacancy having opportunely occurred, by the death of Lord Lifford, in the very midst of the prescriptive crisis. This elevation transferred him to the Upper House, where, for the remaining years of the Parliament, he continued to dogmatize and domineer, as he had done in the Commons, often rebuked, but never abashed. Indeed, the milder manners of the patrician body were ill suited to resist this ermined demagogue, whose motto through life was audacity, again audacity, and always audacity. The names of Wolfe, Toler, Corry, Coote, Beresford, and Cooke, are also found among the promotions to legal and administrative office; names familiar to the last generation as the pillars of the oligarchical faction, before and after the Union. To swamp the opposition peers, the Earls of Antrim, Tyrone, and Hillsborough were made Marquises of Antrim, Waterford, and Downshire; the Viscounts Glenawley, Enniskillen, Erne, and Carysfort, were created Earls of Annesley, Enniskillen, Erne, and Carysfort. Then Judge Scott became Viscount Clonmel; then the Lordships of Loftus, Londonderry, Kilmaine, Cloncurry, Mountjoy, Glentworth, and Caledon, were founded for as many convenient Commoners, who either paid for their patents, in boroughs, or in hard cash. It was the very reign and carnival of corruption, over which presided the invulnerable Chancellor—a true “King of Misrule.” In reference to this appalling spectacle, well might Grattan exclaim—”In a free country the path of public treachery leads to the block; but in a nation governed like a province, to the helm!” But the thunders of the orator fell, and were quenched in the wide spreading waters of corruption.
The Whig Club—an out-of-door auxiliary of the opposition —was a creation of this year. It numbered the chief signers of the “Round Robin,” and gained many adherents. It exercised very considerable influence in the general election of 1790, and for the few following years, until it fell to pieces in the presence of the more ardent politics which preceded the storm of 1798.
Backed though he was by Mr. Pitt, both as his relative and principal, the Marquis of Buckingham was compelled to resign the government, and to steal away from Dublin, under cover of night, like an absconding debtor. The Chancellor and the Speaker—Fitzgibbon and Foster, Irishmen at least by birth and name—were sworn in as Justices, until the arrival of the Earl of Westmoreland, in the ensuing January.
The last two Viceroys of the decade thus closed, form a marked contrast worthy of particular portraiture. The Duke of Rutland, a dashing profligate, was sent over, it was thought, to ruin public liberty by undermining private virtue, a task in which he found a willing helpmate in his beautiful but dissipated Duchess. During his three years’ reign were sown the seeds of that reckless private expenditure, and general corruption of manners, which drove so many bankrupt lords and gentlemen into the market overt, where Lord Castlereagh and Secretary Cooke, a dozen years later, priced the value of their parliamentary cattle. Lord Rutland died of dissipation at little over thirty, and was succeeded by the Marquis of Buckingham (formerly Lord Temple), the founder of the Irish Order of Chivalry, a person of the greatest pretensions, as a reformer of abuses and an enemy of government by corruption. Yet with all his affected superiority to the base arts of his predecessor, the Marquis’s system was still more opposite to every idea of just government than the Duke’s. The one outraged public morals, the other pensioned and ennobled the betrayers of public trusts; the one naturalized the gaming-table and the keeping of mistresses as customs of Irish society; the other sold or allowed the highest offices and honours of the state—from a weighership in the butter market to an earl’s coronet—to be put up at auction, and knocked down to the highest bidder. How cheering in contrast with the shameful honours, flaunted abroad in those shameful days, are even the negative virtues of the Whig patricians, and how splendid the heroic constancy of Charlemont, Grattan, Curran, and their devoted minority of honest legislators!
With Lord Westmoreland was associated, as Chief Secretary, Mr. Hobart, formerly in the army, a man of gay, convivial habits, very accomplished, and, politically, very unprincipled. These gentlemen, both favourites of Pitt, adopted the counsellors, and continued the policy of the late Viceroy. In pursuance of this policy, a dissolution took place, and the general election of 1790 was ordered. We have already exhibited the influences which controlled the choice of members of the House of Commons. Of the one hundred and five great proprietors, who owned two-thirds of the seats, perhaps a fourth might be found in the ranks of the Whig club. The only other hope for the national party was in the boroughs, which possessed a class of freemen, engaged in trade, too numerous to be bought, or too public spirited to be dictated to. Both influences combined might hope to return a powerful minority, and, on this occasion (1790) they certainly did so. Grattan and Lord Henry Fitzgerald were elected for Dublin, over the Lord Mayor and one of the Aldermen, backed by the whole power of the Castle; Curran, Ponsonby, Brownlow, Forbes, and nearly all “the victims of their vote” were re-elected. To these old familiar names were now added others destined to equal, if not still wider fame—Arthur Wellesley, member for Trim; Arthur O’Conor, member for Phillipstown; Jonah Barrington, member for Tuam; and Robert Stewart, one of the members for the County Down, then only in his twenty-second year, and, next to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, lately elected for Athy, the most extreme reformer among the new members. Arthur O’Conor, on the other hand, commenced his career with the Court by moving the address in answer to the speech from the throne!
The new Parliament, which met in July, 1790, unanimously re-elected Mr. Foster, Speaker; passed a very loyal address, and, after a fortnight’s sitting, was prorogued till the following January. The session of ’91 was marked by no event of importance, the highest opposition vote seems to have been from 80 to 90, and the ministerial majority never less than 50. The sale of Peerages, the East India trade, the Responsibility (for money warrants) Bill, the Barren Lands Bill, and the Pension Bill, were the chief topics. A committee to inquire into the best means of encouraging breweries, and discouraging the use of spirituous liquors, was also granted, and some curious facts elicited. Nothing memorable was done, but much that was memorable was said—for the great orator had still a free press, and a home audience to instruct and elevate. The truth is, the barrenness of these two sessions was due to the general prosperity of the country, more even than to the dexterous management of Major Hobart and the Cabinet balls of Lord Westmoreland. There was, moreover, hanging over the minds of men the electric pressure of the wonderful events with which France shook the Continent, and made the Islands tremble. There was hasty hope, or idle exultation, or pious fear, or panic terror, in the hearts of the leading spectators of that awful drama, according to the prejudices or principles they maintained. Over all the three kingdoms there was a preternatural calm, resembling that physical stillness which in other latitude precedes the eruption of volcanoes.
THE ERA OF INDEPENDENCE—THIRD PERIOD— CATHOLIC RELIEF BILL OF 1793.
Before relating the consequences which attended the spread of French revolutionary opinions in Ireland, it is necessary to exhibit the new and very important position assumed by the Roman Catholic population at that period.
The relief bills in 1774 and 1778, by throwing open to Catholics the ordinary means of acquiring property, whether moveable or immoveable, had enabled many of them to acquire fortunes, both in land and in trade. Of this class were the most efficient leaders in the formation of the Catholic Committee of 1790—John Keogh, Edward Byrne, and Richard McCormick. They were all men who had acquired fortunes, and who felt and cherished the independence of self-made men. They were not simply Catholic agitators claiming an equality of civil and religious rights with their Protestant fellow-countrymen; they were nationalists, in the broadest and most generous meaning of the term. They had contributed to the ranks and expenses of the Volunteers; they had swelled the chorus of Grattan’s triumph, and borne their share of the cost in many a popular contest. The new generation of Protestant patriots—such men as the Hon. Simon Butler, Wolfe Tone, and Thomas Addis Emmet, were their intimate associates, shared their opinions, and regarded their exclusion from the pale of the constitution as a public calamity.
There was another and a smaller, but not less important class—the remnant of the ancient Catholic peerage and landed gentry, who, through four generations, had preferred civil death to religious apostasy. It was impossible not to revere the heroic constancy of that class, and the personal virtues of many among them. But they were, perhaps, constitutionally, too timid and too punctilious to conduct a popular movement to a successful issue. They had, after much persuasion, lent their presence to the Committee, but on some alarm, which at that time seems to have been premature, of the introduction of French revolutionary principles among their associates, they seceded in a mass. A formal remonstrance against what remained, pretending to act for the Catholic body, was signed by Lord Kenmare and sixty-seven others, who withdrew. As a corrective, it was inadequate; as a preventive, useless. It no doubt hastened in the end the evil it deprecated in the beginning; it separated the Catholic gentry from the Catholic democracy, and thrust the latter more and more towards those liberal Protestants, mainly men of the middle class like themselves, who began about this time to club together at Belfast and Dublin, under the attractive title of “United Irishmen.” Whatever they were individually, the union of so many hereditary Catholic names had been of very great service to the committee. So long as they stood aloof, the committee could not venture to speak for all the Catholics; it could only speak for a part, though that part might be nine-tenths of the whole: this gave for a time a doubtful and hesitating appearance to their proceedings. So low was their political influence, in 1791, that they could not get a single member of Parliament to present their annual petition. When at last it was presented, it was laid on the table and never noticed afterwards. To their further embarrassment, Mr. McKenna and some others formed “the Catholic Society,” with the nominal object of spreading a knowledge of Catholic principles, through the press, but covertly, to raise up a rival organization, under the control of the seceders. At this period John Keogh’s talents for negotiation and diplomacy saved the Catholic body from another term of anarchical imbecility.
A deputation of twelve having waited this year on the Chief Secretary with a list of the existing penal laws, found no intention, at the Castle, of further concession. They were “dismissed without an answer.” Under these circumstances, the Committee met at Allen’s Court. “It was their determination,” says Keogh, “to give up the cause as desperate, lest a perseverance in what they considered an idle pursuit might not only prove ineffectual, but draw down a train of persecution on the body.” Keogh endeavoured to rally them; proposed a delegation to London, to be sent at the expense of the Committee; offered, at last, to go at his own charge, if they authorized him. This proposal was accepted, and Keogh went. “I arrived in London,” he adds, “without any introduction from this country, without any support, any assistance, any instructions.” He remained three months, converted Mr. Dundas, brought back with him the son of Burke as Secretary, and a promise of four concessions: 1st. The magistracy. 2nd. The grand juries. 3rd. The sheriffs of counties. 4th. The bar. It was in this interview that Keogh, after obtaining Mr. Dundas’s express permission and promise not to be offended, said to him, according to Charles Butler’s account, “Since you give me this permission, and your deliberate promise not to be offended, I beg leave to repeat, that there is one thing which you ought to know, but which you don’t suspect: you, Mr. Dundas, know nothing of Ireland.” Mr. Dundas, as may be supposed, was greatly surprised; but, with perfect good humour, told Mr. Keogh that he believed this was not the case; it was true that he never had been in Ireland, but he had conversed with many Irishmen. “I have drunk,” he said, “many a good bottle of wine with Lord Hillsborough, Lord Clare, and the Beresfords.” “Yes, sir,” said Mr. Keogh, “I believe you have; and that you drank many a good bottle of wine with them before you went to war with America.”
On the return of Keogh to Dublin, a numerous meeting was held to hear his report. At this meeting, the fair promises of the English ministers were contrasted with the hostility of the Castle. The necessity of a strong organization, to overcome the one and hasten the other, was felt by all: it was then decided to form the Committee into a Convention. By this plan, the Catholics in each county and borough were called on to choose, in a private manner, certain electors, who were to elect two or more delegates, to represent the town or county in the general meeting at Dublin, on the 3rd day of December following. A circular, signed by Edward Byrne, Chairman, and Richard McCormick, Secretary, explaining the plan and the mode of election, was issued on the 14th of January, and the Catholics everywhere prepared to obey it.
The corporations of Dublin and other cities, the grand juries of Derry, Donegal, Leitrim, Roscommon, Limerick, Cork, and other counties, at once pronounced most strongly against the proposed Convention. They declared it “unconstitutional,” “alarming,” “most dangerous;” they denounced it as a copy of the National Assembly of France; they declared that they would “resist it to the utmost of their power;” they pledged “their lives and fortunes” to suppress it. The only answer of the Catholics was the legal opinion of Butler and Burton, two eminent lawyers, Protestants and King’s counsellors, that the measure was entirely legal. They proceeded with their selection of delegates, and on the appointed day the Convention met. From the place of meeting’, this Convention was popularly called “the Back Lane Parliament.” Above 200 members were present.
The Convention proceeded (Mr. Byrne in the chair) to declare itself the only body competent to speak for the Catholics of Ireland. They next discussed the substance of the proposed petition to the King. The debate on this subject, full of life and colour, has been preserved for us in the memoirs of Tone, who, although a Protestant, had been elected Secretary to the Catholic Committee. Great firmness was exhibited by Teeling of Antrim, Bellew of Galway, McDermott of Sligo, Devereux of Wexford, Sir Thomas French, and John Keogh. These gentlemen contended, and finally carried, without a division, though not without a two-days’ debate, a petition, asking complete and unrestricted emancipation. With the addition of the Chairman and Secretary, they were appointed as deputies to proceed to London, there to place the Catholic ultimatum in the hands of King George.
The deputies, whether by design or accident, took Belfast on their way to England. This great manufacturing town, at the head of the staple industry of the north, had been in succession the head-quarters of the Volunteers, the Northern Whigs, and the United Irishmen. Belfast had demanded in vain, for nearly a generation, that its 20,000 inhabitants should no longer be disfranchised, while a dozen burgesses—creatures of Lord Donegal—controlled the representation. Community of disfranchisement had made the Belfastians liberal; the Catholic deputies were publicly received with bonfires and ringing of bells, their expenses were paid by the citizens, and their carriage drawn along in triumph, on the road to Port-Patrick.
Arrived at London, after much negotiation and delay with ministers, a day was fixed for their introduction to the King. It was Wednesday, the 2nd of January, 1793; they were presented by Edmund Burke and the Home Secretary to George III., who “received them very graciously;” they placed in his hands the petition of their co-religionists, and, after some compliments, withdrew. In a few days, they were assured their case would be recommended to the attention of Parliament in the next royal speech, and so, leaving one of their number behind as “charge d’affaires,” they returned to Dublin highly elated.
The Viceroy, on their return, was all attention to the Catholics; the Secretary, who, a year before, would not listen to a petition, now laboured to fix a limit to concession. The demand of complete emancipation, was not maintained in this negotiation as firmly as in the December debates of “the Back Lane Parliament.” The shock of the execution of the King of France; the efforts of the secret committee of the House of Lords to inculpate certain Catholic leaders in the United-Irish system, and as patrons of the Defenders; the telling argument, that to press all was to risk all,—these causes combined to induce the sub-committee to consent to less than the Convention had decided to insist upon. Negotiation was the strong ground of the government, and they kept it. Finally, the bill was introduced by the Chief Secretary, and warmly supported by Grattan, Curran, Ponsonby, Forbes, and Hutchinson, Provost of Trinity College. It was resisted in the Lower House by Mr. Speaker Foster, Mr. Ogle, and Dr. Duigenan, an apostate, who exhibited all the bitterness of his class; and in the Upper House, by the Chancellor, the son of an apostate, and the majority of the lords spiritual. On the 9th day of April, 1793, it became the law of Ireland. “By one comprehensive clause,” says Tone, “all penalties, forfeitures, disabilities, and incapacities are removed; the property of the Catholic is completely discharged from the restraints and limitations of the penal laws, and their liberty, in a great measure, restored, by the restoration of the right of elective franchise, so long withheld, so ardently pursued. The right of self-defence is established by the restoration of the privilege to carry arms, subject to a restraint, which does not seem unreasonable, as excluding none but the very lowest orders. The unjust and unreasonable distinctions affecting Catholics, as to service on grand and petty juries, are done away; the army, navy, and all other offices and places of trust are opened to them, subject to exceptions hereafter mentioned. Catholics may be masters or fellows of any college hereafter to be founded, subject to two conditions, that such college be a member of the University, and that it be not founded exclusively for the education of Catholics. They may be members of any lay body corporate, except Trinity College, any law, statute, or bye-law of such corporation to the contrary notwithstanding. They may obtain degrees in the University of Dublin. These, and some lesser immunities and privileges, constitute the grant of the bill, the value of which will be best ascertained by referring to the petition.”
It is true, Catholics were still excluded from the high offices of Lord Lieutenant, Lord Deputy, and Lord Chancellor. What was much more important, they were excluded from sitting in Parliament—from exercising legislative and judicial functions, Still the franchise, the juries, the professions, and the University, were important concessions. Their first fruits were Daniel O’Connell and Thomas Moore!
The Committee having met to return thanks to the parliamentary supporters of the bill, their own future operations came also under debate. Some members advised that they should add reform to their programme, as the remnant of the penal laws were not sufficient to interest and attract the people. Some would have gone much further than reform; some were well content to rest on their laurels. There were ultras, moderate men, and conservatives, even in the twelve. The latter were more numerous than Wolfe Tone liked or expected. That ardent revolutionist had, indeed, at bottom, a strong dislike of the Catholic religion; he united himself with that body because he needed a party; he remained with them because it gave him importance; but he chiefly valued the position as it enabled him to further an ulterior design—an Irish revolution and a republic on the French plan. The example of France had, however, grown by this time rather a terror than an attraction to more cautious men than Tone. Edward Byrne, Sir Thomas French, and other leading Catholics, were openly hostile to any imitation of it, and the dinner at Daly’s, to celebrate the passage of the act, was strongly anti-Gallican in spirit and sentiment. Keogh, McCormick, and McNevin, however, joined the United Irishmen, and the two latter were placed on the Directory. Keogh withdrew, when, in 1795, that organization became a secret society.
The Bishops, who had cheered on, rather than participated in the late struggle, were well satisfied with the new measure. They were, by education and conviction, conservatives. Dr. Plunkett of Meath, Dr. Egan of Waterford, Dr. Troy of Dublin, and Dr. Moylan of Cork, were the most remarkable for influence and ability at this period. Dr. Butler of Cashel, and his opponent, Dr. Burke of Ossory, the head of the resolute old ultramontane minority, were both recently deceased. With the exception of Dr. James Butler, Bishop of Cloyne and Ross, who deserted his faith and order on becoming unexpectedly heir to an earldom, the Irish prelates of the reign of George III. were a most zealous and devoted body. Lord Dunboyne’s fall was the only cause of a reproach within their own ranks. That unhappy prelate made, many years afterwards, a death-bed repentance, was reconciled to his church, and bequeathed a large part of his inherited wealth to sustain the new national college, the founding of which, ever since the outbreak of the French revolution, the far-seeing Burke was urging upon Pitt and all his Irish correspondents.
In 1794, the Irish Bishops, having applied for a “royal license” to establish academies and seminaries, were graciously received, and Lord Fitzwilliam’s government the next session brought in the Act of Incorporation. It became law on the 5th of June, 1795, and the college was opened the following October with fifty students. Dr Hussey, afterwards Bishop of Waterford, the friend of Burke, who stood by his deathbed, was first President; some refugee French divines were appointed to professorships; and the Irish Parliament voted the very handsome sum of 8,000 pounds a year to the new foundation. Maynooth, whatever its after lot, was the creation in the first instance of the Irish Parliament. We have thus, in the third century after the reformation, after three great religious wars, after four confiscations, after the most ingenious, cruel, and unchristian methods of oppression and proselytism, had been tried and had failed, the grand spectacle of the Catholics of Ireland restored, if not fully, yet to the most precious of the civil and religious liberties of a people! So powerless against conscience is and ever must be coercion!
THE ERA OF INDEPENDENCE—EFFECTS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION IN IRELAND—SECESSION OF GRATTAN, CURRAN, AND THEIR FRIENDS, FROM PARLIAMENT, IN 1797.
The era of independence which we have desired to mark distinctly to the reader’s mind, may be said to terminate in 1797, with the hopeless secession of Grattan and his friends from Parliament. Did the events within and without the House justify that extreme measure? We shall proceed to describe them as they arose, leaving the decision of the question to the judgment of the reader.
The session of 1793, which extended into July, was, besides the Catholic Relief Bill, productive of other important results. Under the plea of the spread of French principles, and the widespread organization of seditious associations—a plea not wanting in evidence—an Arms Act was introduced and carried, prohibiting the importation of arms and gunpowder, and authorizing domiciliary visits, at any hour of the night or day, in search of such arms. Within a month from the passage of this bill, bravely but vainly opposed by Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and the opposition generally, the surviving Volunteer corps, in Dublin and its vicinity, were disbanded, their arms, artillery, and ammunition taken possession of either by force or negotiation, and the very wreck of that once powerful patriot army swept away. In its stead, by nearly the same majority, the militia were increased to 16,000 men, and the regulars from 12,000 to 17,000—thus placing at the absolute control of the Commander-in-Chief, and the chiefs of the oligarchy, a standing army of 33,000 men. At the same period, Lord Clare (he had been made an earl in 1792), introduced his Convention Act, against the assemblage in convention of delegates purporting to represent the people. With Grattan only 27 of the Commons divided against this measure, well characterized as “the boldest step that ever yet was made to introduce military government.” “If this bill had been law,” Grattan added, “the independence of the Irish Parliament, the emancipation of the Catholics, and even the English revolution of 1688, could never have taken place!” The teller in favour of the Convention Act was Major Wellesley, member for Trim, twenty years later—Duke of Wellington! It became and still remains the law of Ireland.
Against this reactionary legislation we must credit the session of ’93, besides the Catholic Relief Bill and the East India Trade Bill, with Mr. Grattan’s Barren Lands Bill, exempting all newly reclaimed lands from the payment of tithes for a period of seven years; Mr. Forbes’s Pension Bill, limiting the pension list to 80,000 pounds sterling per annum, and fixing the permanent civil list at 250,000 pounds per annum; and the excellent measure of the same invaluable member, excluding from Parliament all persons holding offices of profit under the crown, except the usual ministerial officers, and those employed in the revenue service. This last salvo was forced into the bill by the oligarchical faction, for whose junior branches the revenue had long been a fruitful source of provision.
Parliament met next, on the 21st of January, ’94, and held a short two-months’ session. The most remarkable incidents of these two months were the rejection of Mr. George Ponsonby’s annual motion for parliamentary reform, and the striking position taken by Grattan, Curran, and all but seven or eight of their friends, in favour of the war against the French republic. Mr. Ponsonby proposed, in the spirit of Flood’s plan ten years earlier, to unite to the boroughs four miles square of the adjoining country, thus creating a counterpoise to the territorial aristocracy on the one hand, and the patrons of boroughs on the other; he also proposed to extend the suffrage to every tradesman who had served five years’ apprenticeship, and gave each county three instead of two members, leaving intact, of course, the forty-shilling freehold franchise. Not more than 44 members, however, divided in favour of the new project, while 142 voted against it! Had it passed, the parliamentary history of the next six years could never have been written.
It was on this Reform bill, and on the debate on the address, that Grattan took occasion to declare his settled and unalterable hostility to those “French principles,” then so fashionable with all who called themselves friends of freedom, in the three kingdoms. In the great social schism which had taken place in Europe, in consequence of the French revolution of 1789-’91, those kingdoms, the favourite seat of free inquiry and free discussion, could not hope to escape. The effects were visible in every circle, among every order of men; in all the churches, workshops, saloons, professions, into which men were divided. Among publicists, most of all, the shock was most severely felt; in England it separated Burke and Windham from Fox, Erskine, Sheridan, and Grey; in Ireland it separated Grattan and Curran from Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Arthur O’Conor, Addis Emmet, Wolfe Tone, and all those ardent, able, and honest men, who hailed the French, as the forerunner of a complete series of European republics, in which Ireland should shine out, among the brightest and the best.
Grattan, who agreed with and revered Burke, looked upon the “anti-Jacobin war,” as a just and necessary war. It was not in his nature to do anything by halves, and he therefore cordially supported the paragraph in the address pledging Ireland’s support to that war. He was a constitutionalist of the British, not of the French type. In the subsequent Reform debate he declared that he would always and ever resist those who sought to remodel the Irish constitution on a French original. He asserted, moreover, that great mischief had been already done by the advocates of such a design, “It”—this design—”has thrown back for the present the chance of any rational improvement in the representation of the people,” he cried, “and has betrayed a good reform to the hopes of a shabby insurrection.” Proceeding in his own condensed, crystalline antithesis, he thus enlarged on his own opinions: “There are two characters equally enemies to the reform of Parliament, and equally enemies to the government—the leveller of the constitution, and the friend of its abuses; they take different roads to arrive at the same end. The levellers propose to subvert the King and parliamentary constitution by a rank and unqualified democracy—the friends of its abuses propose to support the King and buy the Parliament, and in the end to overset both, by a rank and avowed corruption. They are both incendiaries; the one would destroy government to pay his court to liberty; the other would destroy liberty to pay his court to government; but the liberty of the one would be confusion, and the government of the other would be pollution.”
We can well understand that this language pleased as little the United Irishmen as the Castle. It was known that in private he was accustomed to say, that, “the wonder was not that Mr. Sheares should die on the scaffold, but that Lord Clare was not there beside him.” He stood in the midst of the ways, crying aloud, with the wisdom of his age and his genius, but there were few to heed his warnings. The sanguine innovator sneered or pitied; the truculent despot scowled or menaced; to the one his authority was an impediment, to the other his reputation was a reproach. It was a public situation as full of conflict as man ever occupied, and we are not astonished, on a nearer view, that it led, after three years hoping against hope, to the despairing secession of 1797.
A bright gleam of better things shot for an instant across the gloomy prospect, with which the year ’94 closed for the country. Lord Westmoreland was recalled, and Lord Fitzwilliam, largely connected with Ireland by property, and one of the most just and liberal men in England, was to be his successor. The highest expectations were excited; the best men congratulated each other on the certain promise of better times close at hand; and the nation, ever ready to believe whatever it wished to believe, saw in prospect, the oligarchy restrained, the patriots triumphant, and the unfinished fabric of independence completed, and crowned with honour.
This new reign, though one of the shortest, was one of the most important Ireland ever saw. Lord Fitzwilliam, the nephew of Lord Rockingham, the first to acknowledge the constitution of 1782, had married a Ponsonby; he was a Burke whig—one of those who, with the Duke of Portland, Earl Spencer, and Mr. Windham, had followed the “great Edmund,” in his secession from the Fox-and-Sheridan majority of that party, in 1791. Pitt, anxious to conciliate these new allies, had brought them all into office in 1794—Earl Fitzwilliam being placed in the dignified position of President of the Council. When spoken of for the Viceroyalty he wrote to Grattan, bespeaking his support, and that of “his friends, the Ponsonbys;” this letter and some others brought Grattan to London, where he had two or three interviews with Pitt, the Duke of Portland, and Lord Fitzwilliam. Better still, he made a pilgrimage to Beaconsfield, and had the benefit of the last advice of the aged Burke. With Pitt he was disappointed and dissatisfied, but he still hoped and expected great good from the appointment of Lord Fitzwilliam to the office of Viceroy. It seems to have been fully understood that the new Lord Lieutenant would have very full powers to complete the gracious work of Catholic emancipation: with this express understanding, Mr. Grattan was pressed to accept the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, but steadily declined; he upheld in that position Sir Henry Parnell, an old personal, rather than political friend, one of a family of whom Ireland has reason to retain a grateful recollection. He was, however, with Ponsonby, Curran, and others of his friends in both Houses, added to the Privy Council, where they were free to shape the measures of the new administration. At the King’s levee, on the 10th of December, when Lord Fitzwilliam was sworn in, the aged Burke, in deep mourning for his idolized son, attended; Grattan was so much spoken to by the King as to draw towards him particular attention; Mr. Pitt, the Duke of Portland, and other ministers, were present. All took and held the tone that complete emancipation was a thing settled: Burke congratulated Grattan on the event, and the new Viceroy was as jubilant and as confident as anybody, that the great controversy was at length to be finally closed under his auspices.
On the 4th of January, Lord Fitzwilliam reached Dublin; and on the 25th of March he was recalled. The history of these three months—of this short-lived attempt to govern Ireland on the advice of Grattan—is full of instruction. The Viceroy had not for a moment concealed his intention of thoroughly reforming the Irish administration. On his arrival at the Castle, Mr. Cooke was removed from the Secretaryship, and Mr. Beresford from the Revenue Board. Great was the consternation, and unscrupulous the intrigues of the dismissed. When the Parliament met at the end of January, Grattan assumed the leadership of the House of Commons, and moved the address in answer to the speech from the throne. No opposition was offered—and it passed without a division. Immediately, a bill granting the Catholics complete emancipation—rendering them eligible even to the office of Chancellor, withheld in 1829—was introduced by Grattan. Then the oligarchy found their voices. The old cry of “the Church in danger” was raised, delegations proceeded to London, and every agency of influence was brought to bear on the King and the English cabinet. From the tenor of his letters, Lord Fitzwilliam felt compelled in honour to tell Mr. Pitt, that he might choose between him and the Beresfords. He did choose—but not till the Irish Parliament, in the exuberance of its confidence and gratitude, had voted the extraordinary subsidy of 20,000 men for the navy, and a million, eight hundred thousand pounds, towards the expenses of the war with France! Then, the popular Viceroy was recalled amid the universal regrets of the people. The day of his departure from Dublin was a day of general mourning, except with the oligarchical clique, whose leaders he had so resolutely thrust aside. To them it was a day of insolent and unconcealed rejoicing; and, what is not at all uncommon under such circumstances, the infatuated partisans of the French revolution, rejoiced hardly less than the extremest Tories, at the sudden collapse of a government equally opposed to the politics of both. Grattan, than whom no public man was ever more free from unjust suspicion of others, always remained under the conviction that Pitt had made merely a temporary use of Lord Fitzwilliam’s popularity, in order to cheat the Irish out of the immense supplies they had voted; and all the documents of the day, which have since seen the light, accord well with that view of the transaction. Lord Fitzwilliam was immediately replaced by Lord Camden, whose Viceroyalty extended into the middle of the year 1798: a reign which embraced all that remains to us to narrate, of the Parliamentary politics of the era of Independence.
The sittings of Parliament were resumed during April, May, and June, but the complete emancipation bill was rejected three to one—155 to 55; the debates were now marked, on the part of Toler, Duigenan, Johnson, and others, with the most violent anti-Catholic spirit. All this tended to inflame still more the exasperated feeling which already prevailed in the country between Orangemen and Defenders. Thus it came, that the High Court of Parliament, which ought to have been the chief school of public wisdom—the calm correcting tribunal of public opinion—was made a principal engine in the dissemination of those prejudices and passions, which drove honest men to despair of constitutional redress, and swelled the ranks of the secret political societies, till they became co-extensive with the population.
The session of 1796 was even more hopeless than the immediately preceding one. A trade motion of Grattan’s on the address commanded only 14 votes out of 140; in the next session his motion in favour of equal rights to persons of all religious creeds, obtained but 12 votes out of 160! From these figures it is clear that above a third of the members of the House no longer attended; that of those who did attend, the overwhelming and invariable majority—ten to one—were for all the measures of repression and coercion which marked these two sessions. The Insurrection Act, giving power to the magistrates of any county to proclaim martial law; the Indemnity Act, protecting magistrates from the consequences of exercising “a vigour beyond the law;” the Riot Act, giving authority to disperse any number of persons by force of arms without notice; the Suspension of the habeas corpus (against which only 7 members out of a House of 164 voted)—all were evidences to. Grattan, that the usefulness of the House of Commons, as then constituted, was, for the tune, lost or destroyed. It is quite clear that he came to this conviction slowly and reluctantly; that he struggled against it with manly fortitude through three sessions; that he yielded to it at length, when there was no longer a possibility of resistance,—when to move or to divide the House, had become a wretched farce, humiliating to the country, and unworthy of his own earnest and enthusiastic patriotism.
Under these circumstances, the powerless leader and his devoted staff resolved to withdraw, formally and openly, from further attendance on the House of Commons. The deplorable state of the country, delivered over to an irresponsible magistracy and all the horrors of martial law; the spread among the patriotic rising generation of French principles; the scarcely concealed design of the Castle to goad the people into insurrection, in order to deprive them of their liberties; all admonished the faithful few that the walls of Parliament were no longer their sphere of usefulness. One last trial was, however, made in May, 1797, for a reform of Parliament. Mr. George Ponsonby moved his usual motion, and Curran, Hardy, Sir Lawrence Parsons, Charles Kendall Bushe, and others, ably supported him. The division was 30 to 117. It was on this debate, that Grattan, whose mournful manner contrasted so strongly with his usual enthusiasm, concluded a solemn exposition of the evils the administration were bringing on the country, by these affecting words:—”We have offered you our measure—you will reject it; we deprecate yours—you will persevere; having no hopes left to persuade or to dissuade, and having discharged our duty, we shall trouble you no more, and after this day shall not attend the House of Commons.” The secession thus announced was accomplished; at the general election, two months later, Grattan and his colleague, Lord Henry Fitzgerald, refused to stand again for Dublin; Curran, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Arthur O’Conor, and others, followed his example. A few patriots, hoping against hope, were, however, returned, a sort of forlorn hope, to man the last redoubt of the Constitution. Of these was William Conyngham Plunkett, member for Charlemont, Grattan’s old borough, a constitutionalist of the school of Edmund Burke, worthy to be named among the most illustrious of his disciples.
In the same July, on the 7th of the month, on which the Irish elections were held, that celebrated Anglo-Irish statesman expired at Beaconsfield, in the sixty-seventh year of his age. His last thoughts—his last wishes, like his first—were with his native land. His regards continued fixed on the state of Ireland, while vision and faculty remained. His last efforts in writing and conversation were to plead for toleration, concession and conciliation towards Ireland. The magisterial gravity of Burke was not calculated to permit him to be generally popular with an impulsive people, but as years roll on, and education extends its dominion, his reputation rises and brightens above every other reputation of his age, British or Irish. Of him no less truly than powerfully did Grattan say in the Imperial Parliament, in 1815: “He read everything, he saw everything, he foresaw everything. His knowledge of history amounted to a power of foretelling; and when he perceived the wild work that was doing in France, that great political physician, intelligent of symptoms, distinguished between the access of fever and the force of health; and what other men conceived to be the vigour of her constitution, he knew to be no more than the paroxysm of her madness; and then, prophet-like, he denounced the destinies of France, and in his prophetic fury, admonished nations.”
THE UNITED IRISHMEN.
Half measures of justice may satisfy the generation which achieves them, but their successors will look with other eyes, as well on what has been won as on that which is withheld. The part in possession will appear to their youthful sense of abstract right and wrong far less precious than the part in expectancy, for it is in the nature of the young to look forward, as it is of the old to turn their regards to the past. The very recollection of their fathers will stimulate the new generation to emulate their example, and will render them averse to being bound by former compromises. So necessary is it for statesmen, when they yield to a just demand long withheld, to yield gracefully and to yield all that is fairly due.
The celebrated group known to us as “the United Irishmen,” were the birth of a new generation, entering together on the public stage. With few exceptions, the leading characters were all born within a few years of each other: Neilson in 1761, Tone, Arthur O’Conor and Lord Edward Fitzgerald in ’62, McNevin in ’63, Sampson and Thomas Addis Emmet in ’64, and Russell in ’67. They had emerged into manhood while the drums of the Volunteers were beating victorious marches, when the public hopes ran high, and the language of patriotism was the familiar speech of every-day life.
In a settled state of society it would have been natural for the first minds of the new generation to carry their talents, gratefully and dutifully, into the service of the first reputations of the old; but Irish society, in the last years of the last century, was not in a settled condition; the fascination of French example, and the goading sense of national wrongs only half-righted, inflamed the younger generation with a passionate thirst for speedy and summary justice on their oppressors. We must not look, therefore, to see the Tones and Emmets continuing in the constitutional line of public conduct marked out by Burke in the one kingdom, and Grattan in the other. The new age was revolutionary, and the new men were filled with the spirit of the age. Their actions stand apart; they form an episode in the history of the century to which there may be parallels, but a chapter in the history of their own country original and alone.
The United Irish Society sprung up at Belfast in October, 1791. In that month, Theobold Wolf Tone, then in his 28th year, a native of Kildare, a member of the bar, and an excellent popular pamphleteer, on a visit to his friend Thomas Russell, in the northern capital, was introduced to Samuel Neilson, proprietor of the Northern Star newspaper, and several other kindred spirits, all staunch reformers, or “something more.” Twenty of these gentlemen meeting together, adopted a programme prepared by Tone, which contained these three simple propositions: that “English influence” was the great danger of Irish liberty; that a reform of Parliament could alone create a counterpoise to that influence; and that such a reform to be just should include Irishmen of all religious denominations. On Tone’s return to Dublin, early in November, a branch society was formed on the Belfast basis. The Hon. Simon Butler, a leading barrister, was chosen Chairman, and Mr. Napper Tandy, an active middle-aged merchant, with strong republican principles, was Secretary. The solemn declaration or oath, binding every member “to forward a brotherhood of affection, an identity of interests, a communion of rights, and a union of power among Irishmen of all religious persuasions,” was drawn up by the Dublin club, and became the universal bond of organization. Though the Belfast leaders had been long in the habit of meeting in “secret committee,” to direct and control the popular movements in their vicinage, the new society was not, in its inception, nor for three years afterwards, a secret society. When that radical change was proposed, we find it resisted by a considerable minority, who felt themselves at length compelled to retire from an association, the proceedings of which they could no longer approve. In justice to those who remained, adopting secrecy as their only shield, it must be said, that the freedom of the press and of public discussion had been repeatedly and frequently violated before they abandoned the original maxims and tactics of their body, which were all open, and above-board.
In 1792, Simon Butler, and Oliver Bond—a prosperous Dublin merchant of northern origin—was summoned to the bar of the House of Lords, condemned to six months’ imprisonment, and a fine of 500 pounds each, for having acted as Chairman and Secretary of one of the meetings, at which an address to the people, strongly reflecting on the corrupt constitution of Parliament, was adopted. In ’94, Archibald Hamilton Rowan, one of the purest and most chivalrous characters of any age, was convicted, by a packed jury, of circulating the famous “Universal Emancipation” address of his friend, Dr. William Drennan, the poet-politician of the party. He was defended by Curran, in the still more famous speech in which occurs his apostrophe to “the genius of Universal Emancipation;” but he atoned in the cells of Newgate, for circulating the dangerous doctrine which Drennan had broached, and Curran had immortalized.
The regular place of meeting of the Dublin society was the Tailors’ Hall, in Back Lane, a spacious building, called, from the number of great popular gatherings held in it, “the Back Lane Parliament.” Here Tandy, in the uniform of his new National Guard, whose standard bore the harp without the crown, addressed his passionate harangues to the applauding multitude; here Tone, whose forte, however, was not oratory, constantly attended; here, also, the leading Catholics, Keogh and McCormack, the “Gog” and “Magog,” of Tone’s extraordinary Memoirs, were occasionally present. And here, on the night of the 4th of May, 1794, the Dublin society found themselves suddenly assailed by the police, their papers seized, their officers who were present arrested, and their meeting dispersed. From that moment we may date the new and secret organization of the brotherhood, though it was not in general operation till the middle of the following year.
This new organization, besides its secrecy, had other revolutionary characteristics. For “reform of Parliament” was substituted in the test, or oath, representation “of all the people of Ireland,” and for petitions and publications, the enrolment of men, by baronies and counties, and the appointment of officers, from the least to the highest in rank, as in a regular army. The unit was a lodge of twelve members, with a chairman and secretary, who were also their corporal and sergeant; five of these lodges formed a company, and the officers of five such companies a baronial committee, from which again, in like manner, the county committees were formed. Each of the provinces had its Directory, while in Dublin the supreme authority was established, in an “Executive Directory” of five members. The orders of the Executive were communicated to not more than one of the Provincial Directors, and by him to one of each County Committee, and so in a descending scale, till the rank and file were reached; an elaborate contrivance, but one which proved wholly insufficient to protect the secrets of the organization from the ubiquitous espionage of the government.
In May, 1795, the new organization lost the services of Wolfe Tone, who was compromised by a strange incident, to a very serious extent. The incident was the arrest and trial of the Rev. William Jackson, an Anglican clergyman, who had imbibed the opinions of Price and Priestley, and had been sent to Ireland by the French Republic, on a secret embassy. Betrayed by a friend and countryman, named Cockayne, the unhappy Jackson took poison in prison, and expired in the dock. Tone had been seen with Jackson, and through the influence of his friends, was alone protected from arrest. He was compelled, however, to quit the country, in order to preserve his personal liberty. He proceeded with his family to Belfast, where, before taking shipping for America, he renewed with his first associates, their vows and projects, on the summit of “the Cave Hill,” which looks down upon the rich valley of the Laggan, and the noble town and port at its outlet. Before quitting Dublin, he had solemnly promised Emmet and Russell, in the first instance, as he did his Belfast friends in the second, that he would make the United States his route to France, where he would negotiate a formidable national alliance, for “the United Irishmen.”
In the year in which Tone left the country, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, brother of the Duke of Leinster, and formerly a Major in the British Army, joined the society; in the next year—near its close—Thomas Addis Emmet, who had long been in the confidence of the promoters, joined, as did, about the same time, Arthur O’Conor, nephew of Lord Longueville, and ex-member for Phillipstown, and Dr. William James McNevin, a Connaught Catholic, educated in Austria, then practising his profession with eminent success in Dublin. These were felt to be important accessions, and all four were called upon to act on “the Executive Directory,” from time to time, during 1796 and 1797.
The coercive legislation carried through Parliament, session after session—the Orange persecutions in Armagh and elsewhere—the domiciliary visits—the military outrages in town and country—the free quarters, whipping and tortures—the total suppression of the public press —the bitter disappointment of Lord Fitzwilliam’s recall—the annual failure of Ponsonby’s motion for reform—finally, the despairing secession of Grattan and his friends from Parliament—had all tended to expand the system, which six years before was confined to a few dozen enthusiasts of Belfast and Dublin, into the dimensions of a national confederacy. By the close of this year, 500,000 men had taken the test, in every part of the country, and nearly 300,000 were reported as armed, either with firelocks or pikes. Of this total, 110,000 alone were returned for Ulster; about 60,000 for Leinster, and the remainder from Connaught and Munster. A fund, ludicrously small, 1,400 pounds sterling, remained in the hands of the Executive, after all the outlay which had taken place, in procuring arms, in extending the union, and in defending prisoners arrested as members of the society. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was chosen Commander-in-Chief; but the main reliance, for munitions, artillery, and officers, was placed upon the French Republic.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH FRANCE AND HOLLAND—THE THREE EXPEDITIONS NEGOTIATED BY TONE AND LEWINES.
The close of the year 1795 saw France under the government of the Directory, with Carnot in the cabinet, and Pichegru, Jourdain, Moreau, Hoche, and Buonaparte at the head of its armies. This government, with some change of persons, lasted from October, 1795, to November, ’99, when it was supplanted by the Consular Revolution. Within the compass of those four years lie the negotiations which were carried on and the three great expeditions which were fitted out by France and Holland, at the instance of the United Irishmen.
On the 1st of February, 1796, Tone, who had sailed from Belfast the previous June, arrived at Havre from New York, possessed of a hundred guineas and some useful letters of introduction. One of these letters, written in cipher, was from the French Minister at Philadelphia to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Charles Lacroix; another was to the American Minister in France, Mr. Monroe, afterwards President of the United States, by whom he was most kindly received, and wisely advised, on reaching Paris. Lacroix received him courteously, and referred him to a subordinate called Madgett, but after nearly three months wasted in interviews and explanations, Tone, by the advice of Monroe, presented himself at the Luxembourg Palace, and demanded audience of the “Organizer of Victory.” Carnot also listened to him attentively, asked and obtained his true name, and gave him another rendezvous. He was next introduced to Clarke (afterwards Duc de Feltre), Secretary at War, the son of an Irishman, whom he found wholly ignorant of Ireland; and finally, on the 12th of July, General Hoche, in the most frank and winning manner, introduced himself. At first the Directory proposed sending to Ireland no more than 5,000 men, while Tone pleaded for 20,000; but when Hoche accepted the command, he assured Tone he would go “in sufficient force.” The “pacificator of La Vendee,” as the young general was called—he was only thirty-two,—won at once the heart of the enthusiastic founder of the United Irishmen, and the latter seems to have made an equally favourable impression. He was at once presented with the commission of a chef de brigade of infantry—a rank answering to that of colonel with us—and was placed as adjutant on the general’s staff. Hoche was all ardour and anxiety; Carnot cheered him on by expressing his belief that it would be “a most brilliant operation;” and certainly Tone was not the man to damp such expectations, or allow them to evaporate in mere complimentary assurances.
During the autumn months the expedition was busily being fitted out at Brest, and the general head-quarters were at Rennes. The Directory, to satisfy themselves that all was as represented by Tone, had sent an agent of their own to Ireland, by whom a meeting was arranged on the Swiss frontier between Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Arthur O’Conor, Dr. McNevin, and Hoche. From this meeting—the secret of which he kept to himself—the young general returned in the highest spirits, and was kinder than ever to his adjutant. At length, early in December, all was ready, and on the 16th the Brest fleet stood out to sea; 17 sail of the line, 13 frigates, and 13 smaller ships, carrying 15,000 picked troops, the elite of “the Army of the Ocean,” and abundance of artillery and munitions of war. Tone was in the Indomptable, 80 guns, commanded by a Canadian, named Bedout; Hoche and the Admiral in the frigate Fraternite; Grouchy, so memorable for the part he played then and afterwards, was second in command. On the third morning, after groping about and losing each other in Atlantic fog, one-half the fleet (with the fatal exception of the Fraternite) found themselves close in with the coast of Kerry. They entered Bantry Bay, and came to anchor, ten ships of war, and “a long line of dark hulls resting on the green water.” Three or four days they lay dormant and idle, waiting for the General and Admiral; Bouvet, the Vice-Admiral, was opposed to moving in the absence of his chief; Grouchy was irresolute and nervous; but at length, on Christmas day, the council of war decided in favour of debarkation. The landing was to take place next morning; 6,500 veterans were prepared to step ashore at daylight, but without their artillery, their military chest, and their general. Two hours beyond midnight Tone was roused from sleep by the wind, which he found blowing half a gale. Pacing the gallery of the Indomptable till day dawned, he felt it rising louder and angrier, every hour. The next day it was almost a hurricane, and the Vice-Admiral’s frigate, running under the quarter of the great 80-gun ship, ordered them to slip anchor and stand out to sea. The whole fleet was soon driven off the Irish coast; that part of it, in which Grouchy and Tone were embarked, made its entrance into Brest on New Year’s day; the ship which carried Hoche and the Admiral, only arrived at La Rochelle on the 15th. The Directory and the General, so far from being discouraged by this failure, consoled themselves by the demonstration they had made, of the possibility of a great fleet passing to and fro, in British waters, for nearly a month, without encountering a single British vessel of war. Not so the Irish negotiator; on him, light-hearted and daring as he was, the disappointment fell with crushing weight; but he magnanimously carried Grouchy’s report to Paris, and did his utmost to defend the unlucky general from a cabal which had been formed against him.
While Tone was reluctantly following his new chief to the Meuse and the Rhine—with a promise that the Irish expedition was delayed, not abandoned—another, and no less fortunate negotiator, was raising up a new ally for the same cause, in an unexpected quarter. The Batavian republic, which had risen in the steps of Pichegru’s victorious army, in 1794, was now eager to imitate the example of France. With a powerful fleet, and an unemployed army, its chiefs were quite ready to listen to any proposal which would restore the maritime ascendancy of Holland, and bring back to the recollection of Europe the memory of the puissant Dutch republic. In this state of affairs, the new agent of the Irish Directory, Edward John Lewines, a Dublin attorney, a man of great ability and energy, addressed himself to the Batavian government. He had been sent abroad with very general powers, to treat with Holland, Spain, France, or any other government at war with England, for a loan of half a million sterling, and a sufficient auxiliary force to aid the insurrection. During two months’ stay at Hamburg, the habitual route in those days from the British ports to the continent, he had placed himself in communication with the Spanish agent there, and had, in forty days, received an encouraging answer from Madrid. On his way, probably to Spain, to follow up that fair prospect, he reached the Netherlands, and rapidly discovering the state of feeling in the Dutch, or as it was then called, the Batavian republic, he addressed himself to the Directors, who consulted Hoche, by whom in turn Tone was consulted. Tone had a high opinion of Lewines, and at once proceeded with him to the Hague, where they were joined, according to agreement, by Hoche. The Dutch Committee of Foreign Affairs, the Commander-in-Chief, General Dandaels, and the Admiral, De Winter, entered heartily into the project. There were in the Texel 16 ships of the line and 10 frigates, victualled for three months, with 15,000 men and 80 field guns on board. The only serious difficulty in the way was removed by the disinterestedness of Hoche; the French Foreign Minister having demanded that 5,000 French troops should be of the expedition, and that Hoche should command in chief; the latter, to conciliate Dandaels and the Dutch, undertook to withdraw the proposal, and gracefully yielded his own pretensions. All then was settled: Tone was to accompany Dandaels with the same rank he had in the Brest expedition, and Lewines to return, and remain, as “Minister-resident” at Paris. On the 8th of July, Tone was on board the flagship, the Vryheid, 74 guns, in the Texel, and “only waiting for a wind,” to lead another navy to the aid of his compatriots.
But the winds, “the only unsubsidized allies of England,” were strangely adverse. A week, two, three, four, five, passed heavily away, without affording a single day in which that mighty fleet could make an offing. Sometimes for an hour or two it shifted to the desired point, the sails were unclewed and the anchors shortened, but then, as if to torture the impatient exiles on board, it veered back again and settled steadily in the fatal south-west. At length, at the end of August, the provisions being nearly consumed, and the weather still unfavourable, the Dutch Directory resolved to land the troops and postpone the expedition. De Winter, as is known, subsequently found an opportunity to work out, and attack Lord Duncan, by whom he was badly beaten. Thus ended Irish hopes of aid from Holland. The indomitable Tone rejoined his chief on the Rhine, where, to his infinite regret, Hoche died the following month—September 18th, 1797—of a rapid consumption, accelerated by cold and carelessness. “Hoche,” said Napoleon to Barry O’Meara at Saint Helena, “was one of the first generals France ever produced. He was brave, intelligent, abounding in talent, decisive and penetrating. Had he landed in Ireland, he would have succeeded. He was accustomed to civil war, had pacified La Vendee, and was well adapted for Ireland. He had a fine, handsome figure, a good address, was prepossessing and intriguing.” The loss of such a patron, who felt himself, according to Tone’s account, especially bound to follow up the object of separating Ireland from England, was a calamity greater and more irreparable than the detention of one fleet or the dispersion of the other.
The third expedition, in promoting which Tone and Lewines bore the principal part, was decided upon by the French Directory, immediately after the conclusion of peace with Austria, in October, 1797. The decree for the formation of “the Army of England,” named Buonaparte Commander-in- Chief, with Desaix as his second. Buonaparte consulted Clarke as to who he most confided in among the numerous Irish refugees then in Paris—there were some twenty or thirty, all more or less known, and more or less in communication with the Directory—and Clarke answered at once, “Tone, of course.” Tone, with Lewines, the one in a military, the other in an ambassadorial capacity, had frequent interviews with the young conqueror of Italy, whom they usually found silent and absorbed, always attentive, sometimes asking sudden questions betraying great want of knowledge of the British Islands, and occasionally, though rarely, breaking out into irresistible invectives against Jacobinism and the English system, both of which he so cordially detested. Every assurance was given by the General, by the Directors, by Merlin du Douai, Barras, and Talleyrand especially, that the expedition against England would never be abandoned. Tone, in high spirits as usual, joined the division under the command of his countryman, General Kilmaine, and took up his quarters at Havre, where he had landed without knowing a soul in France two years before.
The winter wore away in busy preparations at Havre, at Brest, and at La Rochelle,—and, which seemed mysterious to the Irish exiles—at Toulon. All the resources of France, now without an enemy on the Continent, were put forth in these preparations. But it soon appeared they were not put forth for Ireland. On the 20th of May, 1798—within three days of the outbreak in Dublin, Wexford, and Kildare—Buonaparte sailed with the elite of all that expedition for Alexandria, and “the Army of England” became, in reality, “the Army of Egypt.”
The bitterness, the despondency, and desperation which seized on the Irish leaders in France, and on the rank and file of the United Irishmen at home, on receiving this intelligence are sufficiently illustrated in the subsequent attempts under Humbert and Bompart, and the partial, ineffectual risings in Leinster, Ulster, and Connaught, during the summer and autumn of 1798. After all their high hopes from France and her allies, this was what it had come to at last! A few frigates, with three or four thousand men, were all that could be spared for the succour of a kingdom more populous than Egypt and Syria combined; the granary of England, and the key of her Atlantic position. It might have been some comfort to the family of Tone to have read, thirty years afterwards, in their American asylum, or for the aged Lewines to have read in the Parisian retreat in which he died, the memorable confession of Napoleon at Saint Helena: “If instead of the expedition to Egypt, I had undertaken that to Ireland, what,” he asked, “could England do now? On such chances,” he mournfully added, “depend the destinies of empires!”
THE INSURRECTION OF 1798.
It is no longer matter of assertion merely, but simple matter of fact, that the English and Irish ministers of George III. regarded the insurrectionary movement of the United Irishmen as at once a pretext and a means for effecting a legislative union between the two countries. Lord Camden, the Viceroy who succeeded Lord Fitzwilliam in March, ’95—with Mr. Pelham as his Chief Secretary, in a letter to his relative, the Hon. Robert Stewart, afterwards Lord Castlereagh, announced this policy, in unmistakable terms, so early as 1793; and all the official correspondence published of late years, concerning that period of British and Irish history, establishes the fact beyond the possibility of denial.
Such being the design, it was neither the wish nor the interest of the Government, that the insurrection should be suppressed, unless the Irish constitution could be extinguished with it. To that end they proceeded in the coercive legislation described in a previous chapter; to that end they armed with irresponsible power the military officers and the oligarchical magistracy; with that view they quartered those yeomanry regiments, which were known to be composed of Orangemen, on the wretched peasantry of the most Catholic counties, while the corps in which Catholics or United Irishmen were most numerous, were sent over to England, in exchange for Scotch fencibles and Welsh cavalry. The outrages committed by all these volunteer troops, but above all by the Orange yeomanry of the country, were so monstrous, that the gallant and humane Sir John Moore exclaimed, “If I were an Irishman, I would be a rebel!”
It was, indeed, impossible for any man, however obscure, or however eminent, to live longer in the country, without taking sides. Yet the choice was at best a hard and unhappy one. On the one side was the Castle, hardly concealing its intention of goading on the people, in order to rob them of their Parliament; on the other was the injured multitude, bound together by a secret system which proved in reality no safeguard against traitors in their own ranks, and which had been placed by its Protestant chiefs under the auspices of an infidel republic. Between the two courses men made election according to their bias or their necessities, or as they took local or general, political or theological views of the situation. Both Houses of the legislature unanimously, sustained the government against the insurrection; as did the judges, the bar, and the Anglican clergy and bishops. The Presbyterian body were in the beginning all but unanimous for a republican revolution and the French alliance; the great majority of the Catholic peasantry were, as the crisis increased, driven into the same position, while all their bishops and a majority of the Catholic aristocracy, adhered to that which they, with the natural tendency of their respective orders, considered the side of religion and authority. Thus was the nation sub-divided within itself; Protestant civilian from Protestant ecclesiastic, Catholic layman from Catholic priest, tenant from lord, neighbour from neighbour, father from son, and friend from friend.
During the whole of ’97, the opposing parties were in a ferment of movement and apprehension. As the year wore on, the administration, both English and Irish, began to feel that the danger was more formidable than they had foreseen. The timely storm which had blown Grouchy out of Bantry Bay, the previous Christmas, could hardly be reckoned on again, though the settled hostility of the French government knew no change. Thoroughly well informed by their legion of spies both on the Continent and in Ireland, every possible military precaution was taken. The Lord Lieutenant’s proclamation for disarming the people, issued in May, was rigorously enforced by General Johnstone in the South, General Hutchinson in the West, and Lord Lake in the North. Two hundred thousand pikes and pike-heads were said to have been discovered or surrendered during the year, and several thousand firelocks. The yeomanry, and English and Scotch corps amounted to 35,000 men, while the regular troops were increased to 50,000 and subsequently to 80,000, including three regiments of the Guards. The defensive works at Cork, and other vulnerable points were strengthened at an immense cost; the “Pigeon House” fort, near Dublin, was enlarged, for the city itself was pronounced by General Vallancy, Colonel Packenham, and other engineer authorities dangerously weak, if not wholly untenable. A system of telegraphic signals was established from all points of the coast with the Capital, and every precaution taken against the surprise of another French invasion.
During the summer assize, almost every considerable town and circuit had its state trial. The sheriffs had been carefully selected beforehand by the Castle, and the juries were certain to be of “the right sort,” under the auspices of such sheriffs. Immense sums in the aggregate were contributed by the United Irish for the defence of their associates; at the Down assizes alone, not less than seven hundred or eight hundred guineas were spent in fees and retainers; but at the close of the term, Mr. Beresford was able to boast to his friend Lord Auckland, that but one of all the accused had escaped the penalty of death or banishment! The military tribunals, however, did not wait for the idle formalities of the civil courts. Soldiers and civilians, yeomen and townsmen, against whom the informer pointed his finger, were taken out, and summarily executed. Ghastly forms hung upon the thick-set gibbets, not only in the market places of country towns, and before the public prisons, but on all the bridges of the metropolis. Many of the soldiers, in every military district were shot weekly and almost daily for real or alleged complicity with the rebels. The horrid torture of picketing, and the blood-stained lash, were constantly resorted to, to extort accusations or confessions. Over all these atrocities the furious and implacable spirit of Lord Clare presided in Council, and the equally furious and implacable Luttrel, Lord Carhampton, as Commander-in-Chief. All moderate councils were denounced as nothing short of treason, and even the elder Beresford, the Privy Counsellor, was compelled to complain of the violence of his noble associates, and his inability to restrain the ferocity of his own nearest relatives— meaning probably his son John Claudius, and his son-in-law, Sir George Hill.
It was while this spirit was abroad, a spirit as destructive as ever animated the Councils of Sylla or Marius in Old Rome, or prompted the decrees of Robespierre or Marat in France, that the genius and courage of one man redeemed the lost reputation of the law, and upheld against all odds the sacred claims of personal liberty. This man was John Philpot Curran, the most dauntless of advocates, one of the truest and bravest of his race. Although a politician of the school of Grattan, and wholly untainted with French principles, he identified himself absolutely with his unhappy clients, “predoomed to death.” The genius of patriotic resistance which seemed to have withdrawn from the Island with Grattan’s secession from Parliament, now re-appeared in the last place where it might have been expected—in those courts of death, rather than of justice—before those predetermined juries, besides the hopeless inmates of the crowded dock, personified in the person of Curran. Often at midnight, amid the clash of arms, his wonderful pleadings were delivered; sometimes, as in Dublin, where the court rooms adjoined the prisons, the condemned, or the confined, could hear, in their cells, his piercing accents breaking the stillness of the early morning, pleading for justice and mercy—pleading always with superhuman perseverance, but almost always in vain. Neither menaces of arrest, nor threats of assassination, had power to intimidate that all-daring spirit; nor, it may be safely said, can the whole library of human history present us a form of heroism superior in kind or degree to that which this illustrious advocate exhibited during nearly two years, when he went forth daily, with his life in his hand, in the holy hope to snatch some human victim from the clutch of the destroyer thirsting for his blood.
In November, ’97, some said from fear of personal consequences, some from official pressure in a high quarter, Lord Carhampton resigned the command of the forces, and Sir Ralph Abercromby was appointed in his stead. There could not be a more striking illustration of the system of terror patronized by government than was furnished in the case of Sir Ralph as Commander-in- Chief. That distinguished soldier, with his half century of services at his back, had not been a week in Dublin before he discovered the weakness of the Viceroy, and the violence of his principal advisers, the Chancellor, the Speaker, Lord Castlereagh and the Beresfords. Writing in confidence to his son, he says, “The abuses of all kinds I found here can scarcely be believed or enumerated.” The instances he cites of such abuses are sufficiently horrible to justify the strong language which brought down on his head so much hostility, when he declared in his proclamation of February ’98, that the Irish army was “formidable to every one but the enemy.” These well-known opinions were so repugnant to the Castle policy, that that party held a caucus in the Speaker’s Chambers, at which it was proposed to pass a vote of censure in Parliament on the General, whom they denounced as “a sulky mule,” “a Scotch beast,” and by other similar names. Though the Parliamentary censure dropped, they actually compelled Lord Camden to call on him to retract his magnanimous order. To this humiliation the veteran stooped “for the sake of the King’s service,” but at the same time he proffered his resignation. After two months’ correspondence, it was finally accepted, and the soldier who was found too jealous of the rights of the people to be a fit instrument of their destruction, escaped from his high position, not without a profound sentiment of relief. His verdict upon the barbarous policy pursued in his time was always expressed, frankly and decisively. His entire correspondence, private and public, bears one and the same burthen—the violence, cruelty, and tyranny of Lord Camden’s chief advisers, and the pitiful weakness of the Viceroy himself. Against the infamous plan of letting loose a lustful and brutal soldiery to live at “free quarters” on a defenceless and disarmed people—an outrage against which Englishmen had taken perpetual security at their revolution, as may be seen in “the Bill of Rights,” he struggled during his six months’ command, but with no great success. The plan, with all its horrors, was upheld by the Lord-Lieutenant, and more than any other cause, precipitated the rebellion which exploded at last, just as Sir Ralph was allowed to retire from the country. His temporary successor, Lord Lake, was troubled with no such scruples as the gallant old Scotsman.
Events followed each other in the first months of 1798, fast and furiously. Towards the end of February, Arthur O’Conor, Father James Quigley, the brothers John and Benjamin Binns, were arrested at Margate on their way to France; on the 6th of March, the Press newspaper, the Dublin organ of the party, as the Star had been the Ulster organ, was seized by Government, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and William Sampson being at the time in the office. On the 12th of March, on the information of the traitor, Thomas Reynolds, the Leinster delegates were seized in conclave, with all their papers, at the house of Oliver Bond, in Bridge Street, Dublin. On the same information. Addis Emmet and Dr. McNevin were taken in their own houses, and Sampson in the north of England: of all the executive, Lord Edward alone escaping those sent in search of him. This was, as Tone notes in his journal, on the ill news reaching France, “a terrible blow.” O’Conor’s arrest in Kent, Sampson’s in Carlisle, and the other arrests in Belfast and Dublin, proved too truly that treason was at work, and that the much-prized oath of secrecy was no protection whatever against the devices of the Castle and the depravity of its secret agents. The extent to which that treason extended, the number of associates who were in the pay of their deadly enemies, was never known to the United Irish leaders; time has, however, long since “revealed the secrets of the prison-house,” and we know now, that men they trusted with all their plans and hopes, such as McNally and McGucken, were quite as deep in the conspiracy to destroy them as Mr. Reynolds and Captain Armstrong.
The most influential members of the Dublin Society remaining at large contrived to correspond with each other, or to meet by stealth after the arrest at Bond’s. The vacancies in the Executive were filled up by the brothers John and Henry Sheares, both barristers, sons of a wealthy Cork banker, and former member of Parliament, and by Mr. Lawless, a surgeon. For two months longer these gentlemen continued to act in concert with Lord Edward, who remained undetected, notwithstanding all the efforts of Government, from the 12th of March till the 19th of May following. During those two months the new directors devoted themselves with the utmost energy to hurrying on the armament of the people, and especially to making proselytes among the militia, where the gain of one man armed and disciplined was justly accounted equal to the enlistment of three or four ordinary adherents. This part of their plan brought the brothers Sheares into contact, among others, with Captain John Warneford Armstrong, of the Queen’s County Yeomanry, whom they supposed they had won over, but who was, in reality, a better-class spy, acting under Lord Castlereagh’s instructions. Armstrong cultivated them sedulously, dined at their table, echoed their opinions, and led the credulous brothers on to their destruction. All at last was determined on; the day of the rising was fixed—the 23rd day of May—and the signal was to be the simultaneous stoppage of the mail coaches, which started nightly from the Dublin post-office, to every quarter of the kingdom. But the counterplot anticipated the plot. Lord Edward, betrayed by a person called Higgins, proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, was taken on the 19th of May, after a desperate struggle with Majors Swan and Sirr, and Captain Ryan, in his hiding-place in Thomas Street; the brothers Sheares were arrested in their own house on the morning of the 21st, while Surgeon Lawless escaped from the city, and finally from the country, to France. Thus, for the second time, was the insurrection left without a head; but the organization had proceeded too far to be any longer restrained, and the Castle, moreover, to use the expression of Lord Castlereagh, “took means to make it explode.”
The first intelligence of the rebellion was received in Dublin on the morning of the 24th of May. At Rathfarnham, within three miles of the city, 500 insurgents attacked Lord Ely’s yeomanry corps with some success, till Lord Roden’s dragoons, hastily despatched from the city, compelled them to retreat, with the loss of some prisoners and two men killed, whom Mr. Beresford saw the next day, literally “cut to pieces—a horrid sight.” At Dunboyne the insurgents piked an escort of the Reay Fencibles (Scotch) passing through their village, and carried off their baggage. At Naas, a large popular force attacked the garrison, consisting of regulars, Ancient Britons (Welsh), part of a regiment of dragoons, and the Armagh Militia; the attack was renewed three times with great bravery, but finally, discipline, as it always will, prevailed over mere numbers, and the assailants were repulsed with the loss of 140 of their comrades. At Prosperous, where they cut off to a man a strong garrison composed of North Cork Militia, under Captain Swayne, the rising was more successful. The commander in this exploit was Dr. Esmonde, brother of the Wexford baronet, who, being betrayed by one of his own subalterns, was the next morning arrested at breakfast in the neighbourhood, and suffered death at Dublin on the 14th of the following month.
There could hardly be found a more unfavourable field for a peasant war than the generally level and easily accessible county of Kildare, every parish of which is within a day’s march of Dublin. From having been the residence of Lord Edward, it was, perhaps, one of the most highly organized parts of Leinster, but as it had the misfortune to be represented by Thomas Reynolds, as county delegate, it laboured under the disadvantage of having its organization better known to the government than any other. We need hardly be surprised, therefore, to find that the military operations in this county were all over in ten days or a fortnight; when those who had neither surrendered nor fallen, fell back into Meath or Connaught, or effected a junction with the Wicklow rebels in their mountain fastnesses. Their struggle, though so brief, had been creditable for personal bravery. Attacked by a numerous cavalry and militia under General Wilford, by 2,500 men, chiefly regulars, under General Dundas, and by 800 regulars brought up by forced marches from Limerick, under Sir James Duff, they showed qualities, which, if well directed, would have established for their possessors a high military reputation. At Monastereven they were repulsed with loss, the defenders of the town being in part Catholic loyalists, under Captain Cassidy; at Rathangan, they were more successful, taking and holding the town for several days; at Clane, the captors of Prosperous were repulsed; while at Old Killcullen, their associates drove back General Dundas’ advance, with the loss of 22 regulars and Captain Erskine killed. Sir James Duff’s wanton cruelty in sabring and shooting down an unarmed multitude on the Curragh, won him the warm approval of the extermination party in the Capital, while Generals Wilford and Dundas narrowly escaped being reprimanded for granting a truce to the insurgents under Aylmer, and accepting of the surrender of that leader and his companions. By the beginning of June the six Kildare encampments of insurgents were totally dispersed, and their most active officers in prison or fugitives west or south.
By a preconcerted arrangement, the local chiefs of the insurrection in Dublin and Meath, gathered with their men on the third day after the outbreak, at the historic hill of Tara. Here they expected to be joined by the men of Cavan, Longford, Louth and Monaghan; but before the northerners reached the trysting place, three companies of the Reay Fencibles, under Captain McClean, the Kells and Navan Yeomanry, under Captain Preston, (afterwards Lord Tara,) and a troop of cavalry under Lord Fingal, surrounded the royal hill. The insurgents, commanded by Gilshine and other leaders, intrenched themselves in the graveyard which occupies the summit of Tara, and stoutly defended their position. Twenty-six of the Highlanders and six of the Yeomanry fell in the assault, but the bullet reached farther than the pike, and the defenders were driven, after a sharp action, over the brow of the eminence, and many of them shot or sabred down as they fled.
Southward from the Capital the long pent-up flame of disaffection broke out on the same memorable day, May 23rd. At Dunlavin, an abortive attempt on the barrack revealed the fact that many of the Yeomanry were thoroughly with the insurgents. Hardly had the danger from without passed over, when a military inquiry was improvised. By this tribunal, nineteen Wexford, and nine Kildare Yeomanry, were ordered to be shot, and the execution of the sentence followed immediately on its rending. At Blessington, the town was seized, but a nocturnal attack on Carlow was repulsed with great loss. In this last affair, the rebels had rendezvoused in the domain of Sir Edward Crosbie, within two miles of the town. Here arms were distributed and orders given by their leader, named Roche. Silently and quickly they reached the town they hoped to surprise. But the regular troops, of which the garrison was chiefly composed, were on the alert, though their preparations were made full as silently. When the peasantry emerged from Tullow Street, into an exposed space, a deadly fire was opened upon them from the houses on all sides. The regulars, in perfect security themselves, and abundantly supplied with ammunition, shot them down with deadly unerring aim. The people soon found there was nothing for it but retreat, and carrying off as best they could their killed and wounded, they retired sorely discomfited. For alleged complicity in this attack, Sir Edward Crosbie was shortly afterward arrested, tried and executed. There was not a shadow of proof against him; but he was known to sympathize with the sufferings of his countrymen, to have condemned in strong language the policy of provocation, and that was sufficient. He paid with the penalty of his head for the kindness and generosity of his heart.
THE INSURRECTION OF 1798—THE WEXFORD INSURRECTION.
The most formidable insurrection, indeed the only really formidable one, broke out in the county of Wexford, a county in which it was stated there were not 200 sworn United Irishmen, and which Lord Edward Fitzgerald had altogether omitted from his official list of counties organized in the month of February. In that brief interval, the Government policy of provocation had the desired effect, though the explosion was of a nature to startle those who occasioned it.
Wexford, geographically, is a peculiar county, and its people are a peculiar people. The county fills up the south-eastern corner of the island, with the sea south-east, the river Barrow to the west, and the woods and mountains of Carlow and Wicklow to the north. It is about forty miles long by twenty-four broad; the surface undulating and rising into numerous groups of detached hills, two or more of which are generally visible from each conspicuous summit. Almost in the midst flows the river Slaney, springing from a lofty Wicklow peak, which sends down on its northern slope the better known river Liffey. On the estuary of the Slaney, some seventy miles south of Dublin, stands the county town, the traveller journeying to which by the usual route then taken, passed in succession through Arklow, Gorey, Ferns, Enniscorthy, and other places of less consequence, though familiar enough in the fiery records of 1798. North-westward, the only road in those days from Carlow and Kilkenny, crossed the Blackstairs at Scollagh-gap, entering the county at Newtownbarry, the ancient Bunclody; westward, some twenty miles, on the river Barrow, stands New Ross, often mentioned in this history, the road from which to the county town passes through Scullabogue and Taghmon (Ta’mun), the former at the foot of Carrickbyrne rock, the latter at the base of what is rather hyperbolically called “the mountain of Forth.” South and west of the town, towards the estuary of Waterford, lie the baronies of Forth and Bargy, a great part of the population of which, even within our own time, spoke the language Chaucer and Spenser wrote, and retained many of the characteristics of their Saxon, Flemish, and Cambrian ancestors. Through this singular district lay the road towards Duncannon fort, on Waterford harbour, with branches running off to Bannow, Ballyhack, and Dunbrody. We shall, therefore, speak of all the localities we may have occasion to mention as on or near one of the four main roads of the county, the Dublin, Carlow, Boss, and Waterford roads.
The population of this territory was variously estimated in 1798, at 150,000, 180,000, and 200,000. They were, generally speaking, a comfortable and contented peasantry, for the Wexford landlords were seldom absentees, and the farmers held under them by long leases and reasonable rents. There were in the country few great lords, but there was little poverty and no pauperism. In such a soil, the secret societies were almost certain to fail, and if it had not been for the diabolical experiments of Lord Kingsborough’s North Cork Militia, it is very probable that that orderly and thrifty population would have seen the eventful year we are describing pass over their homes without experiencing any of the terrible trials which accompanied it. But it was impossible for human nature to endure the provocations inflicted upon this patient and prosperous people. The pitch-cap and the triangle were resorted to on the slightest and most frivolous pretexts. “A sergeant of the North Cork Militia,” says Mr. Hay, the county historian, “nicknamed, Tom the Devil, was most ingenious in devising new modes of torture. Moistened gunpowder was frequently rubbed into the hair cut close and then set on fire; some, while shearing for this purpose, had the tips of their ears snipt off; sometimes an entire ear, and often both ears were completely cut off; and many lost part of their noses during the like preparation. But, strange to tell,” adds Mr. Hay, “these atrocities were publicly practised without the least reserve in open day, and no magistrate or officer ever interfered, but shamefully connived at this extraordinary mode of quieting the people! Some of the miserable sufferers on these shocking occasions, or some of their relations or friends, actuated by a principle of retaliation, if not of revenge, cut short the hair of several persons whom they either considered as enemies or suspected of having pointed them out as objects for such desperate treatment. This was done with a view that those active citizens should fall in for a little experience of the like discipline, or to make the fashion of short hair so general that it might no longer be a mark of party distinction.” This was the origin of the nickname “Croppy,” by which, during the remainder of the insurrection, it was customary to designate all who were suspected or proved to be hostile to, the government.
Among the magistracy of the county were several persons who, whatever might have been their conduct in ordinary times, now showed themselves utterly unfit to be entrusted with those large discretionary powers which Parliament had recently conferred upon all justices of the peace. One of these magistrates, surrounded by his troops, perambulated the county with an executioner, armed with all the equipments of his office; another carried away the lopped hands and fingers of his victims, with which he stirred his punch in the carousals that followed every expedition. At Carnew, midway between the Dublin and Carlow roads, on the second day of the insurrection, twenty-eight prisoners were brought out to be shot at as targets in the public ball alley; on the same day Enniscorthy witnessed its first execution for treason, and the neighbourhood of Ballaghkeen was harried by Mr. Jacob, one of the magistrates whose method of preserving the peace of the county has been just referred to. The majority of the bench, either weakly or willingly, sanctioned these atrocities, but some others, among them a few of the first men in the county, did not hesitate to resist and condemn them. Among these were Mr. Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey of Bargy Castle, Mr. Fitzgerald of Newpark, and Mr. John Henry Colclough of Tintern Abbey; but all these gentlemen were arrested on Saturday, the 26th of May—the same day, or more strictly speaking, the eve of the day on which the Wexford outbreak occurred.
On the day succeeding these arrests, being Whitsunday, Father John Murphy, parish priest of Kilcormick, the son of a small farmer of the neighbourhood, educated in Spain, on coming to his little wayside chapel, found it laid in ashes. To his flock, as they surrounded him in the open air, he boldly preached that it would be much better for them to die in a fair field than to await the tortures inflicted by such magistrates as Archibald Jacob, Hunter Gowan, and Hawtrey White. He declared his readiness to share their fate, whatever it might be, and in response, about 2,000 of the country people gathered in a few hours upon Oulart Hill, situated about half-way between Enniscorthy and the sea, and eleven miles north of Wexford. Here they were attacked on the afternoon of the same day by the North Cork Militia, Colonel Foote, the Shilmalier Yeoman cavalry, Colonel Le Hunte, and the Wexford cavalry. The rebels, strong in their position, and more generally accustomed to the use of arms than persons in their condition in other parts of the country, made a brave and successful stand. Major Lambert, the Hon. Captain De Courcy (brother of Lord Kinsale), and some other officers, fell before the long-shore guns of the Shilmalier fowlers; of the North Cork detachment, only the colonel, a sergeant, and two or three privates escaped; the cavalry, at the top of their speed, galloped back to the county town.
The people were soon thoroughly aroused. Another popular priest of the diocese, Michael Murphy, on reaching Gorey, finding his chapel also rifled, and the altar desecrated, turned his horse’s head and joined the insurgents, who had gathered on Kilthomas hill, near Carnew. Signal fires burned that night on all the eminences of the county, which seemed as if they had been designed for so many watch-towers; horns resounded; horsemen galloped far and near; on the morrow of Whitsunday all Wexford arose, animated with the passions and purposes of civil war.
On the 28th, Ferns, Camolin, and Enniscorthy were taken by the insurgents; the latter, after an action of four hours, in which a captain, two lieutenants, and eighty of the local yeomanry fell. The survivors fled to Wexford, which was as rapidly as possible placed in a state of defence. The old walls and gates were still in good repair, and 300 North Cork, 200 Donegal, and 700 local militia ought to have formed a strong garrison within such ramparts, against a mere tumultuous peasantry. The yeomen, however, thought otherwise, and two of the three imprisoned popular magistrates were sent to Enniscorthy to exhort and endeavour to disperse the insurgents. One of them only returned, the other, Mr. Fitzgerald, joined the rebels, who, continuing their march, were allowed to take possession of the county town without striking a blow. Mr. Bagenal Harvey, the magistrate still in prison, they insisted on making their Commander-in-Chief; a gentleman of considerable property, by no means destitute of courage, but in every other respect quite unequal to the task imposed upon him. After a trial of his generalship at the battle of Ross, he was transferred to the more pacific office of President of the Council, which continued to sit and direct operations from Wexford, with the co-operation of a sub-committee at Enniscorthy. Captain Matthew Keogh, a retired officer of the regular army, aged but active, was made governor of the town, in which a couple of hundred armed men were left as his guards. An attempt to relieve the place from Duncannon had utterly failed. General Fawcett, commanding that important fortress, set out on his march with this object on the 30th of May—his advanced guard of 70 Meathian yeomanry, having in charge three howitzers, whose slower movements it was expected the main force would overtake long before reaching the neighbourhood of danger. At Taghmon this force was joined by Captain Adams with his command, and thus reinforced they continued their march to Wexford. Within three miles of the town the road wound round the base of the “three rock” mountain; evening fell as the royalists approached this neighbourhood, where the victors of Oulart, Enniscorthy, and Wexford had just improvised a new camp. A sharp volley from the long-shore-men’s guns, and a furious onslaught of pikes threw the royal detachment into the utmost disorder. Three officers of the Meathian cavalry, and nearly one hundred men were placed hors de combat; the three howitzers, eleven gunners, and several prisoners taken; making the third considerable success of the insurgents within a week.
Wexford county now became the theatre of operations, on which all eyes were fixed. The populace gathered as if by instinct into three great encampments, on Vinegar Hill, above Enniscorthy; on Carrickbyrne, on the road leading to Ross, and on the hill of Corrigrua, seven miles from Gorey. The principal leaders of the first division were Fathers Kearns and Clinch, and Messrs. Fitzgerald, Doyle, and Redmond; of the second, Bagenal Harvey, and Father Philip Roche; of the last, Anthony Perry of Inch, Esmond Kyan, and the two Fathers Murphy, Michael, and John. The general plan of operations was that the third division should move by way of Arklow and Wicklow on the Capital; the second to open communication with Carlow, Kilkenny, and Kildare by Newtownbarry and Scollagh-gap; while the first was to attack New Ross, and endeavour to hasten the rising in Munster.
On the 1st of June, the advance of the northern division marching upon Gorey, then occupied in force by General Loftus, were encountered four miles from the town, and driven back with the loss of about a hundred killed and wounded. On the 4th of June, Loftus, at the instance of Colonel Walpole, aid-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant, who had lately joined him with considerable reinforcements, resolved to beat up the rebel quarters at Corrigrua. It was to be a combined movement; Lord Ancram, posted with his militia and dragoons at the bridge of Scaramalsh, where the poetic Banna joins the Slaney, was to prevent the arrival of succours from Vinegar Hill; Captain McManus, with a couple of companies of yeomanry, stationed at another exposed point from which intelligence could be obtained and communicated; while the General and Colonel Walpole, marched to the attack by roads some distance apart, which ran into one within two miles of Corrigrua camp. The main body of the King’s troops were committed to the lead of Walpole, who had also two six-pounders and a howitzer. After an hour-and-a-half’s march he found the country changed its character near the village of Clogh (clo’), where the road descending from the level arable land, dips suddenly into the narrow and winding pass of Tubberneering. The sides of the pass were lined with a bushy shrubbery, and the roadway at the bottom embanked with ditch and dike. On came the confident Walpole, never dreaming that these silent thickets were so soon to re-echo the cries of the onslaught. The 4th dragoon guards, the Ancient Britons, under Sir Watkyn Wynne, the Antrim militia, under Colonel Cope, had all entered the defile before the ambuscade was discovered. Then, at the first volley, Walpole fell, with several of those immediately about Ms person; out from the shrubbery rushed the pikemen, clearing ditch and dike at a bound; dragoons and fencibles went down like the sward before the scythe of the mower; the three guns were captured, and turned on the flying survivors; the regimental flags taken, with all the other spoils pertaining to such a retreat. It was, in truth, an immense victory for a mob of peasants, marshalled by men who that day saw their first, or, at most, their second action. Before forty-eight hours they were masters of Gorey, and talked of nothing less than the capture of Dublin within another week or fortnight!
From Vinegar Hill the concerted movement was made against Newtonbarry, on the 2nd of June, the rebels advancing by both banks of the Slaney, under cover of a six-pounder— the only gun they had with them. The detachment in command of the beautiful little town, half hidden in its leafy valley, was from 600 to 800 strong, with a troop of dragoons, and two battalion guns, under command of Colonel L’Estrange; these, after a sharp fusilade on both sides, were driven out, but the assailants, instead of following up the blow, dispersed for plunder or refreshment, were attacked in turn, and compelled to retreat, with a reported loss of 400 killed. Three days later, however, a still more important action, and a yet more disastrous repulse from the self-same cause, took place at New Ross, on the Barrow.
The garrison of Ross, on the morning of the 5th of June, when General Harvey appeared before it, consisted of 1,400 men—Dublin, Meath, Donegal, and Clare militia, Mid-Lothian fencibles, and English artillery. General Johnson, a veteran soldier, was in command, and the place, strong in its well preserved old walls, had not heard a shot fired in anger since the time of Cromwell. Harvey was reported to have with him 20,000 men; but if we allow for the exaggeration of numbers common to all such movements, we may, perhaps, deduct one-half, and still leave him at the head of a formidable force—10,000 men, with three field-pieces. Mr. Furlong, a favourite officer, being sent forward to summon the town, was shot down by a sentinel, and the attack began. The main point of assault was the gate known as “three bullet gate,” and the hour, five o’clock of the lovely summer’s morning. The obstinacy with which the town was contested, may be judged from the fact, that the fighting continued for nearly ten hours, with the interruption of an hour or two at noon. This was the fatal interruption for the rebels. They had, at a heavy cost, driven out the royalists, with the loss of a colonel (Lord Mountjoy), three captains, and above 200 men killed: but of their friends and comrades treble the number had fallen. Still the town, an object of the first importance, was theirs, when worn out with heat, fatigue, and fasting since sunrise, they indulged themselves in the luxury of a deep unmeasured carouse. The fugitive garrison finding themselves unpursued, halted to breathe on the Kilkenny bank of the river, were rallied by the veteran Johnson, and led back again across the bridge, taking the surprised revellers completely unprepared. A cry was raised that this was a fresh force from Waterford; the disorganised multitude endeavoured to rally in turn, but before the leaders could collect their men, the town was once more in possession of the Bang’s troops. The rebels, in their turn, unpursued by their exhausted enemies, fell back upon their camping ground of the night before, at Corbet hill and Slieve-kielter. At the latter, Father Philip Roche, dissatisfied with Harvey’s management, established a separate command, which he transferred to a layman of his own name, Edward Roche, with whom he continued to act and advise during the remainder of this memorable month.
The summer of 1798 was, for an Irish summer, remarkably dry and warm. The heavy Atlantic rains which at all seasons are poured out upon that soil, seemed suspended in favour of the insurgent multitudes, amounting to 30,000, or 40,000 at the highest, who, on the different hill summits, posted their nightly sentinels, and threw themselves down on turf and heather to snatch a short repose. The kindling of a beacon, the lowing of cattle, or the hurried arrival of scout or messenger, hardly interfered with slumbers which the fatigues of the day, and, unhappily also, the potations of the night rendered doubly deep. An early morning mass mustered all the Catholics, unless the very depraved, to the chaplain’s tent—for several of the officers, and the chaplains always were supplied with tents; and then a hasty meal was snatched before the sun was fairly above the horizon, and the day’s work commenced. The endurance exhibited by the rebels, their personal strength, swiftness and agility; their tenacity of life, and the ease with which their worst wounds were healed, excited the astonishment of the surgeons and officers of the regular army. The truth is, that the virtuous lives led by that peaceful peasantry before the outbreak, enabled them to withstand privations and hardships under which the better fed and better clad Irish yeomen and English guardsmen would have sunk prostrate in a week.
Several signs now marked the turning of the tide against the men of Wexford. Waterford did not rise after the battle of Ross; while Munster, generally, was left to undecided councils, or held back in hopes of another French expedition. The first week of June had passed over, and neither northward nor westward was there any movement formidable enough to draw off from the devoted county the combined armies which were now directed against its camps. A gunboat fleet lined the coast from Bannow round to Wicklow, which soon after appeared off Wexford bar, and forced an entrance into the harbour. A few days earlier, General Needham marched from Dublin, and took up his position at Arklow, at the head of a force variously stated at 1,500 to 2,000 men, composed of 120 cavalry under Sir Watkyn Wynne, two brigades of militia under Colonels Cope and Maxwell, and a brigade of English and Scotch fencibles under Colonel Skerrett. There were also at Arklow about 300 of the Wexford and Wicklow mounted yeomanry raised by Lord Wicklow, Lord Mountnorris, and other gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Early on the morning of the 9th of June the northern division of the rebels left Gorey in two columns, in order if possible to drive this force from Arklow. One body proceeding by the coast road hoped to turn the English position by way of the strand, the other taking the inner line of the Dublin road, was to assail the town at its upper or inland suburb. But General Needham had made the most of his two days’ possession; barricades were erected across the road, and at the entrance to the main street; the graveyard and bridge commanding the approach by the shore road were mounted with ordnance; the cavalry were posted where they could best operate, near the strand; the barrack wall was lined with a banquette or stage, from which the musketeers could pour their fire with the greatest advantage, and every other precaution taken to give the rebels a warm reception. The action commenced early in the afternoon, and lasted till eight in the evening—five or six hours. The inland column suffered most severely from the marksmen on the banquette, and the gallant Father Michael Murphy, whom his followers believed to be invulnerable, fell leading them on to the charge for the third time. On the side of the sea, Esmond Kyan was badly wounded in the arm, which he was subsequently obliged to have amputated, and though the fearless Shilmaliers drove the cavalry into and over the Avoca, discipline and ordnance prevailed once again over numbers and courage. As night fell, the assailants retired slowly towards Coolgreney, carrying off nine carloads of their wounded, and leaving, perhaps, as many more on the field; their loss was variously reported from 700 to 1,000, and even 1,500. The opposite force returned less than 100 killed, including Captain Knox, and about as many wounded. The repulse was even more than that at Ross, dispiriting to the rebels, who, as a last resort, now decided to concentrate all their strength on the favourite position at Vinegar Hill.
Against this encampment, therefore, the entire available force of regulars and militia within fifty miles of the spot were concentrated by orders of Lord Lake, the Commander-in-Chief. General Dundas from Wicklow was to join General Loftus at Carnew on the 18th; General Needham was to advance simultaneously to Gorey; General Sir Henry Johnson to unite at Old Ross with Sir James Duff from Carlow; Sir Charles Asgill was to occupy Gore’s bridge and Borris; Sir John Moore was to land at Ballyhack ferry, march to Foulke’s Mill, and united with Johnson and Duff, to assail the rebel camp on Carrickbyrne. These various movements ordered on the 16th, were to be completed by the 20th, on which day, from their various new positions, the entire force, led by these six general officers, was to surround Vinegar Hill, and make a simultaneous attack upon the last stronghold of the Wexford rebellion.
This elaborate plan failed of complete execution in two points. First, the camp on Carrickbyrne, instead of waiting the attack, sent down its fighting men to Foulke’s Mill, where, in the afternoon of the 20th they beat up Sir John Moore’s quarters, and maintained from 3 o’clock till dark, what that officer calls “a pretty sharp action.” Several tunes they were repulsed and again formed behind the ditches and renewed the conflict; but the arrival of two fresh regiments, under Lord Dalhousie, taught them that there was no farther chance of victory. By this affair, however, though at a heavy cost, they had prevented the junction of all the troops, and, not without satisfaction, they now followed the two Roches, the priest and the layman, to the original position of the mountain of Forth; Sir John Moore, on his part, taking the same direction, until he halted within sight of the walls of Wexford. The other departure from Lord Lake’s plan was on the side of General Needham, who was ordered to approach the point of attack by the circuitous route of Oulart, but who did not come up in time to complete the investment of the hill.
On the morning of the appointed day, about 13,000 royal troops were in movement against the 20,000 rebels whom they intended to dislodge. Sir James Duff obtained possession of an eminence which commanded the lower line of the rebel encampment, and from this point a brisk cannonade was opened against the opposite force; at the same time the columns of Lake, Wilford, Dundas, and Johnson, pushed up the south-eastern, northern and western sides of the eminence, partially covered by the fire of these guns, so advantageously placed. After an hour and a half’s desperate fighting, the rebels broke and fled by the unguarded side of the hill. Their rout was complete, and many were cut down by the cavalry, as they pressed in dense masses on each other, over the level fields and out on the open highways. Still this action was far from being one of the most fatal as to loss of life, fought in that county; the rebel dead were numbered only at 400, and the royalists killed and wounded at less than half that number.
It was the last considerable action of the Wexford rising, and all the consequences which followed being attributed arbitrarily to this cause, helped to invest it with a disproportionate importance. The only leader lost on the rebel side was Father Clinch of Enniscorthy, who encountered Lord Roden hand to hand in the retreat, but who, while engaged with his lordship whom he wounded, was shot down by a trooper. The disorganization, however, which followed on the dispersion, was irreparable. One column had taken the road by Gorey to the mountains of Wicklow—another to Wexford, where they split into two parts, a portion crossing the Slaney into the sea-coast parishes, and facing northward by the shore road, the other falling back on “the three rocks” encampment, where the Messrs. Roche held together a fragment of their former command. Wexford town, on the 22nd, was abandoned to Lord Lake, who established himself in the house of Governor Keogh, the owner being lodged in the common jail. Within the week, Bagenal Harvey, Father Philip Roche, and Kelly of Killane, had surrendered in despair, while Messrs. Grogan and Colclough, who had secreted themselves in a cave in the great Saltee Island, were discovered, and conducted to the same prison. Notwithstanding the capitulation agreed to by Lord Kingsborough, the execution and decapitation of all these gentlemen speedily followed, and their ghastly faces looked down for many a day from the iron spikes above the entrance of Wexford Court House. Mr. Esmond Kyan, the popular hero of the district, as merciful as brave, was discovered some time subsequently paying a stealthy visit to his family; he was put to death on the spot, and his body, weighted with heavy stones, thrown into the harbour. A few mornings afterwards the incoming tide deposited it close by the dwelling of his father-in-law, and the rites of Christian burial, so dear to all his race, were hurriedly rendered to the beloved remains.
The insurrection in this county, while it abounded in instances of individual and general heroism, was stained also, on both sides, by many acts of diabolical cruelty. The aggressors, both in time and in crime were the yeomanry and military; but the popular movement dragged wretches to the surface who delighted in repaying torture with torture, and death with death. The butcheries of Dunlavin and Carnew were repaid by the massacres at Scullabogue and Wexford bridge, in the former of which 110, and in the latter 35 or 40 persons were put to death in cold blood, by the monsters who absented themselves from the battles of Ross and Vinegar Hill. The executions at Wexford bridge would probably have been swelled to double the number, had not Father Corrin, one of the priests of the town, rushing in between his Protestant neighbours and the ferocious Captain Dixon, and summoning all present to pray, invoked the Almighty “to show them the same mercy” they showed their prisoners. This awful supplication calmed even that savage rabble, and no further execution took place. Nearly forty years afterwards, Captain Kellet, of Clonard, ancestor of the Arctic discoverer, and others whom he had rescued from the very grasp of the executioner, followed to the grave that revered and devoted minister of mercy!
It would be a profitless task to draw out a parallel of the crimes committed on both sides. Two facts only need be recorded: that although from 1798 to 1800, not less than sixty-five places of Catholic worship were demolished or burned in Leinster, (twenty-two of which were in Wexford county), only one Protestant Church, that of Old Ross, was destroyed in retaliation; and that although towards men, especially men in arms, the rebels acted on the fierce Mosaic maxim of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” no outrage upon women is laid to their charge, even by their most exasperated enemies.
THE INSURRECTION ELSEWHERE—FATE OF THE LEADING UNITED IRISHMEN.
On the 21st of June, the Marquis Cornwallis, whose name is so familiar in American and East Indian history, arrived in Dublin, to assume the supreme power, both civil and military. As his Chief Secretary, he recommended Lord Castlereagh, who had acted in that capacity during the latter part of Lord Camden’s administration in consequence of Mr Pelham’s illness; and the Pitt-Portland administration appointed his lordship accordingly, because, among other good and sufficient reasons, “he was so unlike an Irishman.”
While the new Viceroy came to Ireland still more resolute than his predecessor to bring about the long-desired legislative union, it is but justice to his memory to say, that he as resolutely resisted the policy of torture and provocation pursued under Lord Camden. That policy had, indeed, served its pernicious purpose, and it was now possible for a new ruler to turn a new leaf; this Lord Cornwallis did from the hour of his arrival, not without incurring the ill-concealed displeasures of the Castle cabal. But his position gave him means of protection which Sir Ralph Abercromby had not; he was known to enjoy the personal confidence of the King; and those who did not hesitate three months before to assail by every abusive epithet the humane Scottish Baronet, hesitated long before criticising with equal freedom the all-powerful Viceroy.
The sequel of the insurrection may be briefly related: next to Wexford, the adjoining county of Wicklow, famous throughout the world for its lakes and glens, maintained the chief brunt of the Leinster battle. The brothers Byrne, of Ballymanus, with Holt, Hackett, and other local leaders, were for months, from the difficult nature of the country, enabled to defy those combined movements by which, as in a huge net, Lord Lake had swept up the camps of Wexford. At Hacketstown, on the 25th of June, the Byrnes were repulsed with considerable loss, but at Ballyellis, on the 30th, fortune and skill gave them and their Wexford comrades a victory, resembling in many respects that of Clough. General Needham, who had again established his head-quarters at Gorey, detached Colonel Preston, with some troops of Ancient Britons, the 4th and 5th dragoons, and three yeomanry corps, to attack the insurgents who were observed in force in the neighbourhood of Monaseed. Aware of this movement, the Byrnes prepared in the ravine of Ballyellis a well-laid ambuscade, barricading with carts and trees the farther end of the pass. Attacked by the royalists they retreated towards this pass, were hotly pursued, and then turned on their pursuers. Two officers and sixty men were killed in the trap, while the terrified rear-rank fled for their lives to the shelter of their head-quarters. At Ballyraheene, on the 2nd of July, the King’s troops sustained another check in which they lost two officers and ten men, but at Ballygullen, on the 4th, the insurgents were surrounded between the forces of General Needham, Sir James Duff, and the Marquis of Huntley. This was the last considerable action in which the Wicklow and Wexford men were unitedly engaged. In the dispersion which followed, “Billy Byrne of Ballymanus,” the hero of his county, paid the forfeit of his life; while his brother, Garrett, subsequently surrendered, and was included in the Banishment Act.
Anthony Perry of Inch, and Father Kearns, leading a much diminished band into Kildare, formed a junction with Aylmer and Reynolds of that county, and marched into Meath, with a view of reaching and surprising Athlone. The plan was boldly and well conceived, but their means of execution were deplorably deficient. At Clonard they were repulsed by a handful of troops well armed and posted; a combined movement always possible in Meath, drove them from side to side during the midweek of July, until at length, hunted down as they were, they broke up in twos and threes to seek any means of escape. Father Kearns and Mr. Perry were, however, arrested, and executed by martial law at Edenderry. Both died bravely; the priest sustaining and exhorting his companion to the last.
Still another band of the Wexford men, under Father John Murphy and Walter Devereux, crossed the Barrow at Gore’s bridge, and marched upon Kilkenny. At Lowgrange they surprised an outpost; at Castlecomer, after a sharp action, they took the town, which Sir Charles Asgill endeavoured, but without success, to relieve. Thence they continued their march towards Athy in Kildare, but being caught between two or rather three fires, that of Major Mathews, from Maryboro’, General Dunne, from Athy, and Sir Charles Asgill, they retreated on old Leighlin, as if seeking the shelter of the Carlow mountains. At Killcomney Hill, however, they were forced into action under most unfavourable circumstances, and utterly routed. One, Father Murphy, fell in the engagement, the other, the precursor of the insurrection, was captured three days afterward, and conveyed a prisoner to General Duff’s headquarters at Tullow. Here he was put on his trial before a Military Commission composed of Sir James Duff, Lord Roden, Colonels Eden and Foster, and Major Hall. Hall had the meanness to put to him, prisoner as he was, several insulting questions, which at length the high-spirited rebel answered with a blow. The Commission thought him highly dangerous, and instantly ordered him to execution. His body was burned, his head spiked on the market-house of Tullow, and his memory gibbeted in all the loyal publications of the period. On his person, before execution, were found a crucifix, a pix, and letters from many Protestants, asking his protection; as to his reputation, the priest who girded on the sword only when he found his altar overthrown and his flock devoured by wolves, need not fear to look posterity in the face.
Of the other Leinster leaders, Walter Devereux, the last colleague of Father Murphy, was arrested at Cork, on the eve of sailing for America, tried and executed; Fitzgerald and Aylmer were spared on condition of expatriation; months afterwards, Holt surrendered, was transported, and returned after several years, to end his days where he began his career; Dwyer alone maintained the life of a Rapparee for five long years among the hills of Wicklow, where his adventures were often of such a nature as to throw all fictitious conceptions of an outlaw’s life into commonplace by comparison. Except in the fastnesses frequented by this extraordinary man, and in the wood of Killaughram, in Wexford, where the outlaws, with the last stroke of national humour, assumed the name of The Babes in the Wood, the Leinster insurrection was utterly trodden out within two months from its first beginning, on the 23rd of May. So weak against discipline, arms, munitions and money, are all that mere naked valour and devotion can accomplish!
In Ulster, on the organization of which so much time and labour had been expended for four or five years preceding, the rising was not more general than in Leinster, and the actual struggle lasted only a week. The two counties which moved en masse were Down and Antrim, the original chiefs of which, such as Thomas Russell and Samuel Neilson, were unfortunately in prison. The next leader on whom the men of Antrim relied, resigned his command on the very eve of the appointed day; this disappointment and the arrest of the Rev. Steele Dickson in Down, compelled a full fortnight’s delay. On the 7th of June, however, the more determined spirits resolved on action, and the first movement was to seize the town of Antrim, which, if they could have held it, would have given them command of the communications with Donegal and Down, from both of which they might have expected important additions to their ranks. The leader of this enterprise was Henry John McCracken, a cotton manufacturer of Belfast, thirty two years of age, well educated, accomplished and resolute, with whom was associated a brother of William Orr, the proto-martyr of the Ulster Union. The town of Antrim was occupied by the 22nd light dragoons, Colonel Lumley, and the local yeomanry under Lord O’Neil. In the first assault the insurgents were successful, Lord O’Neil, five officers, forty-seven rank and file having fallen, and two guns being captured; but Lumley’s dragoons had hardly vanished out of sight, when a strong reinforcement from Blaris camp arrived and renewed the action, changing premature exultation into panic and confusion. Between two and three hundred of the rebels fell, and McCracken and his staff, deserted by their hasty levies, were arrested, wearied and hopeless, about a month later, wandering among the Antrim hills. The leaders were tried at Belfast and executed.
In Down two actions were fought, one at Saintfield on the 7th of June, under Dr. Jackson—where Colonel Stapleton was severely handled—and another and more important one at Ballynahinch, under Henry Munro, on the 13th, where Nugent, the district General, commanded in person. Here, after a gallant defence, the men of Down were utterly routed; their leader, alone and on foot, was captured some five or six miles from the field, and executed two days afterwards before his own door at Lisburn. He died with the utmost composure; his wife and mother looking down, on the awful scene from the windows of his own house.
In Munster, with the exception of a trifling skirmish between the West-Meath yeomanry under Sir Hugh O’Reilly, with whom were the Caithness legion, under Major Innes, and a body of 300 or 400 ill-armed peasants, who attacked them on the 19th of June, on the road from Clonakilty to Bandon, there was no notable attempt at insurrection. But in Connaught, very unexpectedly, as late as the end of August, the flame extinguished in blood in Leinster and Ulster, again blazed up for some days with portentous brightness. The counties of Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Galway had been partially organized by those fugitives from Orange oppression in the North, who, in the years ’95, ’96, and ’97, had been compelled to flee for their lives into Connaught, to the number of several thousands. They brought with the tale of their sufferings the secret of Defenderism; they first taught the peasantry of the West, who, safe in their isolated situation and their overwhelming numbers, were more familiar with poverty than with persecution, what manner of men then held sway over all the rest of the country, and how easily it would be for Irishmen once united and backed by France, to establish under their own green flag, both religious and civil liberty.
When, therefore, three French frigates cast anchor in Killalla Bay, on the 22nd of August, they did not find the country wholly unprepared, though far from being as ripe for revolt as they expected. These ships had on board 1,000 men, with arms for 1,000 more, under command of General Humbert, who had taken on himself, in the state of anarchy which then prevailed in France, to sail from La Rochelle with this handful of men, in aid of the insurrection. With Humbert were Mathew Tone and Bartholmew Teeling; and immediately on his arrival he was joined by Messrs. McDonnell, Moore, Bellew, Barrett, O’Dowd, and O’Donnell of Mayo, Blake of Galway, Plunkett of Roscommon, and a few other influential gentlemen of that Province— almost all Catholics. Three days were spent at Killalla, which was easily taken, in landing stores, enrolling recruits, and sending out parties of observation. On the 4th, (Sunday,) Humbert entered Ballina without resistance, and on the same night set out for Castlebar, the county town. By this time intelligence of his landing was spread over the whole country, and both Lord Lake and General Hutchinson had advanced to Castlebar, where they had from 2,000 to 3,000 men under their command. The place could be reached only by two routes from the north-west, by the Foxford road, or a long deserted mountain road which led over the pass of Barnagee, within sight of the town. Humbert, accustomed to the long marches and difficult country of La Vendee, chose the unfrequented and therefore unguarded route, and, to the consternation of the British generals, descended through the pass of Barnagee, soon after sunrise, on the morning of Monday, August 27th. His force consisted of 900 French bayonets, and between 2,000 and 3,000 new recruits. The action, which commenced at 7 o’clock, was short, sharp, and decisive; the yeomanry and regulars broke and fled, some of them never drawing rein till they reached Tuam, while others carried their fears and their falsehoods as far inland as Athlone—more than sixty miles from the scene of action. In this engagement, still remembered as “the races,” the royalists confessed to the loss, killed, wounded, or prisoners, of 18 officers, and about 350 men, while the French commander estimated the killed alone at 600. Fourteen British guns and five stand of colours were also taken. A hot pursuit was continued for some distance by the native troops under Mathew Tone, Teeling, and the Mayo officers; but Lord Roden’s famous corps of “Fox hunters” covered the retreat and checked the pursuers at French Hill. Immediately after the battle a Provisional Government was established at Castlebar, with Mr. Moore of Moore Hall, as President; proclamations addressed to the inhabitants at large, commissions to raise men, and assignats payable by the future Irish Republic, were issued in its name.
Meanwhile the whole of the royalist forces were now in movement toward the capital of Mayo, as they had been toward Vinegar Hill two months before. Sir John Moore and General Hunter marched from Wexford toward the Shannon. General Taylor, with 2,500 men, advanced from Sligo towards Castlebar; Colonel Maxwell was ordered from Enniskillen to assume command at Sligo; General Nugent from Lisburn occupied Enniskillen, and the Viceroy, leaving Dublin in person, advanced rapidly through the midland counties to Kilbeggan, and ordered Lord Lake and General Hutchinson, with such of their command as could be depended on, to assume the aggressive from the direction of Tuam. Thus Humbert and his allies found themselves surrounded on all sides—their retreat cut off by sea, for their frigates had returned to France immediately on their landing; three thousand men against not less than thirty thousand, with at least as many more in reserve, ready to be called into action at a day’s notice.
The French general determined if possible to reach the mountains of Leitrim, and open communications with Ulster, and the northern coast, upon which he hoped soon to see succour arrive from France. With this object he marched from Castlebar to Cooloney (35 miles), in one day; here he sustained a check from Colonel Vereker’s militia, which necessitated a change of route; turning aside, he passed rapidly through Dromahaine, Manor-Hamilton, and Ballintra, making for Granard, from which accounts of a formidable popular outbreak had just reached him. In three days and a half he had marched 110 miles, flinging half his guns into the rivers that he crossed, lest they should fall into the hands of his pursuers. At Ballinamuck, county Longford, on the borders of Leitrim, he found himself fairly surrounded, on the morning of the 8th of September; and here he prepared to make a last desperate stand. The end could not be doubtful, the numbers against him being ten to one; after an action of half an hour’s duration, two hundred of the French having thrown down their arms, the remainder surrendered, as prisoners of war. For the rebels no terms were thought of, and the full vengeance of the victors was reserved for them. Mr. Blake, who had formerly been a British officer, was executed on the field; Mathew Tone and Teeling were executed within the week in Dublin; Mr. Moore, President of the Provisional Government, was sentenced to banishment by the clemency of Lord Cornwallis, but died on shipboard; ninety of the Longford and Kilkenny militia who had joined the French were hanged, and the country generally given up to pillage and massacre. As an evidence of the excessive thirst for blood, it may be mentioned that at the re-capture of Killalla a few days later, four hundred persons were killed, of whom fully one-half were non-combatants.
The disorganization of all government in France in the latter half of ’98, was illustrated not only by Humbert’s unauthorized adventure, but by a still weaker demonstration under General Reay and Napper Tandy, about the same time. With a single armed brig these daring allies made a descent, on the 17th of September, on Rathlin Island, well equipped with eloquent proclamations, bearing the date “first year of Irish liberty.” From the postmaster of the island they ascertained Humbert’s fate, and immediately turned the prow of their solitary ship in the opposite direction; Reay, to rise in after times to honour and power; Tandy, to continue in old age the dashing career of his manhood, and to expiate in exile the crime of preferring the country of his birth to the general centralizing policy of the empire with which he was united. Twelve days after the combat at Ballinamuck, while Humbert and his men were on their way through England to France, a new French fleet, under Admiral Bompart, consisting of one 74-gun ship, “the Hoche,” eight frigates, and two smaller vessels, sailed from Brest. On board this fleet were embarked 3,000 men under General Hardi, the remnant of the army once menacing England. In this fleet sailed Theobold Wolfe Tone, true to his motto, nil desperandum, with two or three other refugees of less celebrity. The troops of General Hardi, however, were destined never to land. On the 12th of October, after tossing about for nearly a month in the German ocean and the North Atlantic, they appeared off the coast of Donegal, and stood in for Lough Swilly. But another fleet also was on the horizon. Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, with an equal number of ships, but a much heavier armament, had been cruising on the track of the French during the whole time they were at sea. After many disappointments, the flag-ship and three of the frigates were at last within range and the action began. Six hours’ fighting laid the Hoche a helpless log upon the water; nothing was left her but surrender; two of the frigates shared the same fate on the same day; another was captured on the 14th, and yet another on the 17th. The remainder of the fleet escaped back to France.
The French officers landed in Donegal were received with courtesy by the neighbouring gentry, among whom was the Earl of Cavan, who entertained them at dinner. Here it was that Sir George Hill, son-in-law to Commissioner Beresford, an old college friend of Tone’s, identified the founder of the United Irishmen under the uniform of a French Adjutant-General. Stepping up to his old schoolmate he addressed him by name, which Tone instantly acknowledged, inquiring politely for Lady Hill, and other members of Sir George’s family. He was instantly arrested, ironed, and conveyed to Dublin under a strong guard. On the 10th of November he was tried by court-martial and sentenced to be hanged: he begged only for a soldier’s death—”to be shot by a platoon of grenadiers.” This favour was denied him, and the next morning he attempted to commit suicide. The attempt did not immediately succeed; but one week later—on the 19th of November—he died from the results of his self-inflicted wound, with a compliment to the attendant physician upon his lips. Truth compels us to say he died the death of a Pagan; but it was a Pagan of the noblest and freest type of Grecian and Roman times. Had it occurred in ancient days, beyond the Christian era, it would have been a death every way admirable; as it was, that fatal final act must always stand between Wolfe Tone and the Christian people for whom he suffered, sternly forbidding them to invoke him in their prayers, or to uphold him as an example to the young men of their country. So closed the memorable year 1798, on the baffled and dispersed United Irishmen. Of the chiefs imprisoned in March and May, Lord Edward had died of his wounds and vexation; Oliver Bond of apoplexy; the brothers Sheares, Father Quigley, and William Michael Byrne on the gibbet. In July, on Samuel Nelson’s motion, the remaining prisoners in Newgate, Bridewell, and Kilmainham, agreed, in order to stop the effusion of blood, to expatriate themselves to any country not at war with England, and to reveal the general secrets of their system, without inculpating individuals. These terms were accepted, as the Castle party needed their evidence to enable them to promote the cherished scheme of legislative Union. But that evidence delivered before the Committees of Parliament by Emmet, McNevin, and O’Conor, did not altogether serve the purposes of government. The patriotic prisoners made it at once a protest against, and an exposition of, the despotic policy under which their country had been goaded into rebellion. For their firmness they were punished by three years’ confinement in Fort George, in the Scottish Highlands, where, however, a gallant old soldier, Colonel Stuart, endeavoured to soften the hard realities of a prison by all the kind attentions his instructions permitted him to show these unfortunate gentlemen. At the peace of Amiens, (1802), they were at last allowed the melancholy privilege of expatriation. Russell and Dowdall were permitted to return to Ireland, where they shared the fate of Robert Emmet in 1803; O’Conor, Corbet, Allen, Ware, and others, cast their lot in France, where they all rose to distinction; Emmet, McNevin, Sampson, and the family of Tone were reunited in New York, where the many changes and distractions of a great metropolitan community have not even yet obliterated the memories of their virtues, their talents, and their accomplishments.
It is impossible to dismiss this celebrated group of men, whose principles and conduct so greatly influenced their country’s destiny, without bearing explicit testimony to their heroic qualities as a class. If ever a body of public men deserved the character of a brotherhood of heroes, so far as disinterestedness, courage, self-denial, truthfulness and glowing love of country constitute heroism, these men deserved that character. The wisdom of their conduct, and the intrinsic merit of their plans, are other questions. As between their political system and that of Burke, Grattan and O’Connell, there always will be, probably, among their countrymen, very decided differences of opinion. That is but natural: but as to the personal and political virtues of the United Irishmen there can be no difference; the world has never seen a more sincere or more self-sacrificing generation.
ADMINISTRATION OF LORD CORNWALLIS—BEFORE THE UNION.
“Nothing strengthens a dynasty,” said the first Napoleon, “more than an unsuccessful rebellion.” The partial uprising; of the Irish people in 1798 was a rebellion of this class, and the use of such a failure to an able and unscrupulous administration, was illustrated in the extinction of the ancient legislature of the kingdom, before the recurrence of the third, anniversary of the insurrection.
This project, the favourite and long-cherished design of Mr. Pitt, was cordially approved by his principal colleagues, the Duke of Portland, Lord Grenville, and Mr. Dundas; indeed, it may be questioned whether it was not as much Lord Grenville’s design as Pitt’s, and as much George the Third’s personal project as that of any of his ministers. The old King’s Irish policy was always of the most narrow and illiberal description. In his memorandum on the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam, he explains his views with the business-like brevity which characterized all his communications with his ministers while he retained possession of his faculties; he was totally opposed to Lord Fitzwilliam’s emancipation policy, which he thought adopted “in implicit obedience to the heated imagination of Mr. Burke.” To Lord Camden his instructions were, “to support the old English interest as well as the Protestant religion,” and to Lord Cornwallis, that no further “indulgence could be granted to Catholics,” but that he should steadily pursue the object of effecting the union of Ireland and England.
The new Viceroy entered heartily into the views of his Sovereign. Though unwilling to exchange his English position as a Cabinet Minister and Master-General of Ordnance for the troubled life of a Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, he at length allowed himself to be persuaded into the acceptance of that office, with a view mainly to carrying the Union. He was ambitious to connect his name with that great imperial measure, so often projected, but never formally proposed. If he could only succeed in incorporating the Irish with the British legislature, he declared he would feel satisfied to retire from all other public employments; that he would look on his day as finished, and his evening of ease and dignity fully earned. He was not wholly unacquainted with the kingdom against which he cherished these ulterior views; for he had been, nearly thirty years before, when he fell under the lash of Junius, one of the Vice-Treasurers of Ireland. For the rest he was a man of great information, tact, and firmness; indefatigable in business; tolerant by temperament and conviction; but both as a general and a politician it was his lot to be identified in India and in Ireland with successes which might better have been failures, and in America, with failures which were much more beneficial to mankind than his successes.
In his new sphere of action his two principal agents were Lord Clare and Lord Castlereagh, both Irishmen; the Chancellor, the son of what in that country is called a “spoiled priest,” and the Secretary, the son of an ex-volunteer, and member of Flood’s Reform Convention. It is not possible to regard the conduct of these high officials in undermining and destroying the ancient national legislature of their own country, in the same light as that of Lord Cornwallis, or Mr. Pitt, or Lord Grenville. It was but natural, that as Englishmen, these ministers should consider the empire in the first place; that they should desire to centralize all the resources and all the authority of both Islands in London; that to them the existence of an independent Parliament at Dublin, with its ample control over the courts, the revenues, the defences, and the trade of that kingdom, should appear an obstacle and a hindrance to the unity of the imperial system. From their point of view they were quite right, and had they pursued their end, complete centralization, by honourable means, no stigma could attach to them even in the eyes of Irishmen; but with Lords Clare and Castlereagh the case was wholly different. Born in the land, deriving income as well as existence from the soil, elected to its Parliament by the confidence of their countrymen, attaining to posts of honour in consequence of such election, that they should voluntarily offer their services to establish an alien and a hostile policy on the ruins of their own national constitution, which, with all its defects, was national, and was corrigible; this betrayal of their own, at the dictate of another State, will always place the names of Clare and Castlereagh on the detested list of public traitors. Yet though in such treason, united and identified, no two men could be more unlike in all other respects. Lord Clare was fiery, dogmatic, and uncompromising to the last degree; while Lord Castlereagh was stealthy, imperturbable, insidious, bland, and adroit. The Chancellor endeavoured to carry everything with a high hand, with a bold, defiant, confident swagger; the Secretary, on the contrary, trusted to management, expediency, and silent tenacity of purpose. The one had faith in violence, the other in corruption; they were no inapt personifications of the two chief agencies by which the union was effected—Force and Fraud.
The Irish Parliament, which had been of necessity adjourned during the greater part of the time the insurrection lasted, assembled within a week of Lord Cornwallis’ arrival. Both Houses voted highly loyal addresses to the King and Lord-Lieutenant, the latter seconded in the Commons by Charles Kendal Bushe, the college companion of Wolfe Tone! A vote of 100,000 pounds to indemnify those who had suffered from the rebels—subsequently increased to above 1,000,000 pounds—was passed una voce; another, placing on the Irish establishment certain English militia regiments, passed with equal promptitude. In July, five consecutive acts—a complete code of penalties and proscription—were introduced, and, after various debates and delays, received the royal sanction on the 6th of October, the last day of the session of 1798. These acts were: 1. The Amnesty Act, the exceptions to which were so numerous “that few of those who took any active part in the rebellion,” were, according to the Cornwallis’ correspondence, “benefited by it.” 2. An Act of Indemnity, by which all magistrates who had “exercised a vigour beyond the law” against the rebels, were protected from the legal consequences of such acts. 3. An act for attainting Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Mr. Harvey, and Mr. Grogan, against which Curran, taking “his instructions from the grave,” pleaded at the bar of the House of Lords, but pleaded in vain. (This act was finally reversed by the Imperial Parliament in 1819.) 4. An act forbidding communication between persons in Ireland and those enumerated in the Banishment Act, and making the return to Ireland, after sentence of banishment by a court-martial, a transportable felony. 5. An act to compel fifty-one persons therein named to surrender before 1st of December, 1798, under pain of high treason. Among the fifty-one were the principal refugees at Paris and Hamburg-Tone, Lewines, Tandy, Deane Swift, Major Plunkett, Anthony McCann, Harvey Morres, etc. On the same day in which the session terminated, and the royal sanction was given to these acts, the name of Henry Grattan was, a significant coincidence, formally struck, by the King’s commands, from the roll of the Irish Privy Council!
This legislation of the session of 1798, was fatal to the Irish Parliament. The partisans of the Union, who had used the rebellion to discredit the constitution, now used the Parliament to discredit itself. Under the influence of a fierce reactionary spirit, when all merciful and moderate councils were denounced as treasonable, it was not difficult to procure the passage of sweeping measures of proscription. But with their passage vanished the former popularity of the domestic legislature. And what followed? The constitution of ’82 could only be upheld in the hearts of the people; and, with all its defects, it had been popular before the sudden spread of French revolutionary notions distracted and dissipated the public opinion which had grown up within the era of independence. To make the once cherished authority, which liberated trade in ’79, and half emancipated the Catholics in ’93, the last executioner of the vengeance of the Castle against the people, was to place a gulf between it and the affections of that people in the day of trial. To make the anti-unionists in Parliament, such as the Speaker, Sir Lawrence Parsons, Plunkett, Ponsonby and Bushe, personally responsible for this vindictive code, was to disarm them of the power, and almost of the right, to call on the people whom they turned over, bound hand and foot, to the mercy of the minister in ’98, to aid them against the machinations of that same minister in ’99. The last months of the year were marked besides by events already referred to, and by negotiations incessantly carried on, both in England and Ireland, in favour of the Union. Members of both Houses were personally courted and canvassed by the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State, the Viceroy and the Irish Secretary. Titles, pensions and offices were freely promised. Vast sums of secret service money, afterwards added as a charge to the public debt of Ireland, were remitted from Whitehall. An army of pamphleteers, marshalled by Under-Secretary Cooke, and confidentially directed by the able but anti-national Bishop of Meath, (Dr. O’Beirne,) and by Lord Castlereagh personally, plied their pens in favour of “the consolidation of the empire.” The Lord Chancellor, the Chief Secretary and Mr. Beresford, made journeys to England, to assist the Prime Minister with their local information, and to receive his imperial confidence in return. The Orangemen were neutralized by securing a majority of their leaders; the Catholics, by the establishment of familiar communication with the bishops. The Viceroy complimented Dr. Troy at Dublin; the Duke of Portland lavished personal attentions on Dr. Moylan, in England. The Protestant clergy were satisfied with the assurance that the maintenance of their establishment would be made a fundamental article of the Union, while the Catholic bishops were given to understand that complete Emancipation would be one of the first measures submitted to the Imperial Parliament. The oligarchy were to be indemnified for their boroughs, while the advocates of Reform were shown how hopeless it was to expect a House constituted of their nominees, ever to enlarge or amend its own exclusive constitution. Thus for every description of people a particular set of appeals and arguments was found, and for those who discarded the affectation of reasoning on the surrender of their national existence, there were the more convincing arguments of titles, employments, and direct pecuniary purchase. At the close of the year of the rebellion, Lord Cornwallis was able to report to Mr. Pitt that the prospects of carrying the measure were better than could have been expected, and on this report he was authorized to open the matter formally to Parliament in his speech at the opening of the following session.
On the 22nd of January, 1799, the Irish legislature met under circumstances of great interest and excitement. The city of Dublin, always keenly alive to its metropolitan interests, sent its eager thousands by every avenue towards College Green. The Viceroy went down to the Houses with a more than ordinary guard, and being seated on the throne in the House of Lords, the Commons were summoned to the bar. The House was considered a full one, 217 members being present. The viceregal speech congratulated both Houses on the suppression of the late rebellion, on the defeat of Bompart’s squadron, and the recent French victories of Lord Nelson; then came, amid profound expectation, this concluding sentence:—”The unremitting industry,” said the Viceroy, “with which our enemies persevere in their avowed design of endeavouring to effect a separation of this kingdom from Great Britain, must have engaged your attention, and his Majesty commands me to express his anxious hope that this consideration, joined to the sentiment of mutual affection and common interest, may dispose the Parliaments in both kingdoms to provide the most effectual means of maintaining and improving a connection essential to their common security, and of consolidating, as far as possible, into one firm and lasting fabric, the strength, the power, and the resources of the British empire.” On the paragraph of the address, re-echoing this sentiment, which was carried by a large majority in the Lords, a debate ensued in the Commons, which lasted till one o’clock of the following day, above twenty consecutive hours. Against the suggestion of a Union spoke Ponsonby, Parsons, Fitzgerald, Barrington, Plunkett, Lee, O’Donnell and Bushe; in its favour, Lord Castlereagh, the Knight of Kerry, Corry, Fox, Osborne, Duigenan, and some other members little known. The galleries and lobbies were crowded all night by the first people of the city, of both sexes, and when the division was being taken, the most intense anxiety was manifested, within doors and without. At length the tellers made their report to the Speaker, himself an ardent anti-Unionist, and it was announced that the numbers were—”for the address 105, for the amendment 106,” so the paragraph in favour of “consolidating the empire” was lost by one vote! The remainder of the address, tainted with the association of the expunged paragraph, was barely carried by 107 to 105. Mr. Ponsonby had attempted to follow his victory by a solemn pledge binding the majority never again to entertain the question, but to this several members objected, and the motion was withdrawn. The ministry found some consolation in this withdrawal, which they characterized as “a retreat after a victory,” but to the public at large, unused to place much stress on the minor tactics of debate, nothing appeared but the broad, general fact, that the first overture for a Union had been rejected. It was a day of immense rejoicing in Dublin; the leading anti-Unionists were escorted in triumph to their homes, while the Unionists were protected by strong military escorts from the popular indignation. At night the city was illuminated, and the patrols were doubled as a protection to the obnoxious minority.
Mr. Ponsonby’s amendment, affirmed by the House of Commons, was in these words:—”That the House would be ready to enter into any measure short of surrendering their free, resident and independent legislature as established in 1782.” This was the ultimatum of the great party which rallied in January, 1799, to the defence of the established constitution of their country. The arguments with which they sustained their position were few, bold, and intelligible to every capacity. There was the argument from Ireland’s geographical situation, and the policy incident to it; the historical argument; the argument for a resident gentry occupied and retained in the country by their public duties; the commercial argument; the revenue argument; but above all, the argument of the incompetency of Parliament to put an end to its own existence. “Yourselves,” exclaimed the eloquent Plunkett, “you may extinguish, but Parliament you cannot extinguish. It is enthroned in the hearts of the people—it is enshrined in the sanctuary of the constitution—it is as immortal as the island that protects it. As well might the frantic suicide imagine that the act which destroys his miserable body should also extinguish his eternal soul. Again, therefore, I warn you. Do not dare to lay your hands on the Constitution—it is above your powers!”
These arguments were combated on the grounds that the islands were already united under one crown—that that species of union was uncertain and precarious—that the Irish Parliament was never in reality a national legislature; that it existed only as an instrument of class legislation; that the Union would benefit Ireland materially as it had benefited Scotland; that she would come in for a full share of imperial honours, expenditure and trade; that such a Union would discourage all future hostile attempts by France or any other foreign power against the connection, and other similar arguments. But the division which followed the first introduction of the subject showed clearly to the Unionists that they could not hope to succeed with the House of Commons as then constituted; that more time and more preparation were necessary. Accordingly, Lord Castlereagh was authorized in March, to state formally in his place, that it was not the intention of the government to bring up the question again during that session; an announcement which was hailed with a new outburst of rejoicing in the city.
But those who imagined the measure was abandoned were sadly deceived. Steps were immediately taken by the Castle to deplete the House of its majority, and to supply their places before another session with forty or fifty new members, who would be entirely at the beck of the Chief Secretary. With this view, thirty-two new county judgeships were created; a great number of additional inspectorships and commissioners were also placed at the Minister’s disposal; thirteen members had peerages for themselves or for their wives, with remainder to their children, and nineteen others were presented to various lucrative offices. The “Escheatorship of Munster”—a sort of Chiltern Hundreds office—was accepted by those who agreed to withdraw from opposition, for such considerations, but who could not be got to reverse their votes. By these means, and a lavish expenditure of secret service money, it was hoped that Mr. Pitt’s stipulated majority of “not less than fifty” could be secured during the year.
The other events of the session of ’99, though interesting in themselves, are of little importance compared to the union debates. In the English Parliament, which met on the same day as the Irish, a paragraph identical with that employed by Lord Cornwallis in introducing the subject of the Union, was inserted in the King’s speech. To this paragraph, repeated in the address, an amendment was moved by the celebrated Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and resisted with an eloquence scarcely inferior to his own, by his former protege and countryman, George Canning. Canning, like Sheridan, had sprung from a line of Irish literateurs and actors; he had much of the wit and genius of his illustrious friend, with more worldly wisdom, and a higher sentiment of personal pride. In very early life, distinguished by great oratorical talents, he had deliberately attached himself to Mr. Pitt, while Sheridan remained steadfast to the last, in the ranks of the Whig or liberal party. For the land of their ancestors both had, at bottom, very warm, good wishes; but Canning looked down upon her politics from the heights of empire, while Sheridan felt for her honour and her interests with the affection of an expatriated son. We can well credit his statement to Grattan, years afterwards, when referring to his persistent opposition to the Union, he said, he would “have waded in blood to his knees,” to preserve the Constitution of Ireland. In taking this course he had with him a few eminent friends: General Fitzpatrick, the former Irish Secretary, Mr. Tierney, Mr. Hobhouse, Dr. Lawrence, the executor of Edmund Burke, and Mr., afterwards Earl Grey. Throughout the entire discussion these just minded Englishmen stood boldly forward for the rights of Ireland, and this highly honourable conduct was long remembered as one of Ireland’s real obligations to the Whig party.
The resolutions intended to serve as “the basis of union,” were introduced by Mr. Pitt, on the 21st of January, and after another powerful speech in opposition, from Mr. Grey, who was ably sustained by Mr. Sheridan, Dr. Lawrence, and some twenty others, were put and carried. The following are the resolutions:—
1st. “In order to promote and secure the essential interests of Great Britain and Ireland, and to consolidate the strength, power, and resources of the British empire, it will be advisable to concur in such measures as may tend to unite the two kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland into one kingdom, in such manner, and in such terms and conditions as may be established by acts of the respective Parliaments of his Majesty’s said kingdoms.
2nd. “It would be fit to propose as the first article, to serve as a basis of the said union, that the said kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland shall, on a day to be agreed upon, be united into one kingdom, by the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
3rd. “For the same purpose it would be fit to propose, that the succession to the monarchy and the imperial crown of the said United Kingdom, shall continue limited and settled, in the same manner as the imperial crown of the said Great Britain and Ireland now stands limited and settled, according to the existing law, and to the terms of the union between England and Scotland.
4th. “For the same purpose it would be fit to propose that the said United Kingdom be represented in one and the same Parliament, to be styled the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; and that such a number of Lords, spiritual and temporal, and such a number of members of the House of Commons, as shall be hereafter agreed upon by the acts of the respective Parliaments as aforesaid, shall sit and vote in the said Parliament on the part of Ireland, and shall be summoned, chosen, and returned, in such manner as shall be fixed by an act of the Parliament of Ireland previous to the said union; and that every member hereafter to sit and vote in the said Parliament of the United Kingdom shall, until the said Parliament shall otherwise provide, take, and subscribe the said oaths, and make the same declarations as are required by law to be taken, subscribed, and made by the members of the Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland.
5th. “For the same purpose it would be fit to propose, that the Churches of England and Ireland, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, shall be preserved as now by law established.
6th. “For the same purpose it would be fit to propose, that his Majesty’s subjects in Ireland shall at all times be entitled to the same privileges, and be on the same footing in respect of trade and navigation in all ports and places belonging to Great Britain, and in all cases with respect to which treaties shall be made by his Majesty, his heirs, or successors, with any foreign power, as his Majesty’s subjects in Great Britain; that no duty shall be imposed on the import or export between Great Britain and Ireland, of any articles now duty free, and that on other articles there shall be established, for a time to be limited, such a moderate rate of equal duties as shall, previous to the Union, be agreed upon and approved by the respective Parliaments, subject, after the expiration of such limited time, to be diminished equally with respect to both kingdoms, but in no case to be increased; that all articles which may at any time hereafter be imported into Great Britain from foreign parts shall be importable through either kingdom into the other, subject to the like duties and regulations, as if the same were imported directly from foreign parts: that where any articles, the growth, produce, or manufacture of either kingdom, are subject to an internal duty in one kingdom, such counter-vailing duties (over and above any duties on import to be fixed as aforesaid) shall be imposed as shall be necessary to prevent any inequality in that respect; and that all matters of trade and commerce, other than the foregoing, and than such others as may before the Union be specially agreed upon for the due encouragement of the agriculture and manufactures of the respective kingdoms, shall remain to be regulated from time to time by the United Parliament.
7th. “For the like purpose it would be fit to propose, that the charge arising from the payment of the interests or sinking fund for the reduction of the principal of the debt incurred in either kingdom before the Union, shall continue to be separately defrayed by Great Britain and Ireland respectively; that, for a number of years to be limited, the future ordinary expenses of the United Kingdom, in peace or war, shall be defrayed by Great Britain and Ireland jointly, according to such proportions as shall be established by the respective Parliaments previous to the Union; and that, after the expiration of the time to be so limited, the proportion shall not be liable to be varied, except according to such rates and principles, as shall be in like manner agreed upon previous to the Union.
8th. “For the like purpose, that all laws in force at the time of the Union, and all the courts of civil or ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the respective kingdoms, shall remain as now by law established within the same, subject only to such alterations or regulations as may from time to time as circumstances may appear to the Parliament of the United Kingdom to require.”
Mr. Pitt, on the passage of these resolutions, proposed an address stating that the Commons had proceeded with the utmost attention to the consideration of the important objects recommended in the royal message, that they entertained a firm persuasion of the probable benefits of a complete and entire Union between Great Britain and Ireland, founded on equal and liberal principles; that they were therefore induced to lay before his Majesty such propositions as appeared to them to be best calculated to form the basis of such a settlement, leaving it to his wisdom in due time and in proper manner, to communicate them to the Lords and Commons of Ireland, with whom they would be at all times ready to concur in all such measures as might be found most conducive to the accomplishment of that great and salutary work.
On the 19th of March, Lord Grenville introduced the same resolutions in the Lords, where they were passed after a spirited opposition speech from Lord Holland, and the basis, so far as the King, Lords, and Commons of England were concerned, was laid. In proroguing the Irish Houses on the 1st of June, Lord Cornwallis alluded to these resolutions, and the anxiety of the King, as the common father of his people, to see both kingdoms united in the enjoyment of the blessings of a free constitution.
This prorogation was originally till August, but in August it was extended till January, 1800. In this long interval of eight months, the two great parties, the Unionists and the anti-Unionists were incessantly employed, through the press, in social intercourse, in the grand jury room, in county and city meetings, by correspondence, petitions, addresses, each pushing forward its own views with all the zeal and warmth of men who felt that on one side they were labouring for the country, on the other for the empire. Two incidents of this interval were deeply felt in the patriot ranks, the death at an advanced age of the venerable Charlemont, the best member of his order Ireland had ever known, and the return to the kingdom and to public life of Lord Charlemont’s early friend and protege, Henry Grattan. He had spent above a year in England, chiefly in Wales and the Isle of Wight. His health all this time had been wretched; his spirits low and despondent, and serious fears were at some moments entertained for his life. He had been forbidden to read or write, or to hear the exciting news of the day. Soothed and cheered by that admirable woman, whom Providence had given him, he passed the crisis, but he returned to breathe his native air, greatly enfeebled in body, and sorely afflicted in mind. The charge of theatrical affectation of illness has been brought against Grattan by the Unionists,—against Grattan who, as to his personal habits, was simplicity itself! It is a charge undeserving of serious contradiction.
LAST SESSION OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENT—THE LEGISLATIVE UNION OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND.
When the Irish Parliament met for the last time, on the 15th of January, 1800, the position of the Union question stood thus: 27 new Peers had been added to the House of Lords, where the Castle might therefore reckon with safety on a majority of three to one. Of the Lords spiritual, only Dr. Marlay of Waterford, and Dr. Dixon of Down and Conor, had the courage to side with their country against their order. In the Commons there was an infusion of some 50 new borough members, many of them general officers, such as Needham, and Pakenham, all of them nominees of the Castle, except Mr. Saurin, returned for Blessington, and Mr. Grattan, at the last moment, for Wicklow. The great constitutional body of the bar had, at a general meeting, the previous December, declared against the measure by 162 to 33. Another powerful body, the bankers, had petitioned against it, in the interest of the public credit. The Catholic bishops, in their annual meeting, had taken up a position of neutrality as a body, but under the artful management of Lord Castlereagh, the Archbishops of Dublin and Tuam, with the Bishop of Cork, and some others, were actively employed in counteracting anti-Union movements among the people. Although the vast majority of that people had too much reason to be disgusted and discontented with the legislation of the previous three years, above 700,000 of them petitioned against the measure, while all the signatures which could be obtained in its favour, by the use of every means at the command of the Castle, did not much exceed 7,000.
The Houses were opened on the 15th of January. The Viceroy not going down, his message was read in the Lords, by the Chancellor, and in the Commons, by the Chief Secretary. It did not directly refer to the basis laid down in England, nor to the subject matter itself; but the leaders of the Castle party in both Houses, took care to supply the deficiency. In the Lords, proxies included, Lord Clare had 75 to 26 for his Union address: in the Commons, Lord Castlereagh congratulated the country on the improvement which had taken place in public opinion, since the former session. He briefly sketched his plan of Union, which, while embracing the main propositions of Mr. Pitt, secured the Church establishment, bid high for the commercial interests, hinted darkly of emancipation to the Catholics, and gave the proprietors of boroughs to understand that their interest in those convenient constituencies would be capitalized, and a good round sum given to buy out their perpetual patronage. In amendment to the address, Sir Lawrence Parsons moved, seconded by Mr. Savage of Down, that the House would maintain intact the Constitution of ’82, and the debate proceeded on this motion. Ponsonby replied to Castlereagh; Plunkett and Bushe were answered by the future judges, St. George Daly and Luke Fox; Toler contributed his farce, and Dr. Duigenan his fanaticism. Through the long hours of the winter’s night the eloquent war was vigorously maintained. One who was himself a distinguished actor in the struggle, (Sir Jonah Barrington,) has thus described it: “Every mind,” he says, “was at its stretch, every talent was in its vigour: it was a momentous trial; and never was so general and so deep a sensation felt in any country. Numerous British noblemen and commoners were present at that and the succeeding debate, and they expressed opinions of Irish eloquence which they had never before conceived, nor ever after had an opportunity of appreciating. Every man on that night seemed to be inspired by the subject. Speeches more replete with talent and energy, on both sides, never were heard in the Irish Senate; it was a vital subject. The sublime, the eloquent, the figurative orator, the plain, the connected, the metaphysical reasoner, the classical, the learned, and the solemn declaimer, in a succession of speeches so full of energy and enthusiasm, so interesting in their nature, so important in their consequence, created a variety of sensations even in the bosom of a stranger, and could scarcely fail of exciting some sympathy with a nation which was doomed to close for ever that school of eloquence which had so long given character and celebrity to Irish talent.”
At the early dawn, a special messenger from Wicklow, just arrived in town, roused Henry Grattan from his bed. He had been elected the previous night for the borough of Wicklow, (which cost him 2,400 pounds sterling), and this was the bearer of the returning officer’s certificate. His friends, weak and feeble as he was, wished him to go down to the House, and his heroic wife seconded their appeals. It was seven o’clock in the morning of the 16th when he reached College Green, the scene of his first triumphs twenty years before. Mr. Egan, one of the staunchest anti-Unionists, was at the moment, on some rumour, probably, of his approach, apostrophising warmly the father of the Constitution of ’82, when that striking apparition appeared at the bar. Worn and emaciated beyond description, he appeared leaning on two of his friends, Arthur Moore and W. B. Ponsonby. He wore his volunteer uniform, blue with red facings, and advanced to the table, where he removed his cocked hat, bowed to the Speaker, and took the oaths. After Mr. Egan had concluded, he begged permission from his seat beside Plunkett, to address the House sitting, which was granted, and then in a discourse of two hours’ duration, full of his ancient fire and vigour, he asserted once again, by the divine right of intellect, his title to be considered the first Commoner of Ireland. Gifted men were not rare in that assembly; but the inspiration of the heart, the uncontrollable utterance of a supreme spirit, not less than the extraordinary faculty of condensation, in which, perhaps, he has never had a superior in our language, gave the Grattan of 1800 the same pre-eminence among his cotemporaries, that was conceded to the Grattan of 1782. After eighteen hours’ discussion the division was taken, when the result of the long recess was clearly seen; for the amendment there appeared 96, for the address 138 members. The Union majority, therefore, was 42. It was apparent from that moment that the representation of the people in Parliament had been effectually corrupted; that that assembly was no longer the safeguard of the liberties of the people. Other ministerial majorities confirmed this impression. A measure to enable 10,000 of the Irish militia to enter the regular army, and to substitute English militia in their stead, followed; an inquiry into outrages committed by the sheriff and military in King’s county, was voted down; a similar motion somewhat later, in relation to officials in Tipperary met the same fate. On the 5th of February, a formal message proposing a basis of Union was received from his Excellency, and debated for twenty consecutive hours—from 4 o’clock of one day, till 12 of the next. Grattan, Plunkett, Parnell, Ponsonby, Saurin, were, as always, eloquent and able, but again the division told for the minister, 160 to 117—majority 43. On the 17th of February, the House went into Committee on the proposed articles of Union, and the Speaker (John Foster) being now on the floor, addressed the House with great ability in review of Mr. Pitt’s recent Union speech, which he designated “a paltry production.” But again, a majority mustered, at the nod of the minister, 161 to 140—a few not fully committed showing some last faint spark of independence. It was on this occasion that Mr. Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer, member for Newry, made for the third or fourth time that session, an attack on Grattan, which brought out, on the instant, that famous “philippic against Corry,” unequalled in our language, for its well-suppressed passion, and finely condensed denunciation. A duel followed, as soon as there was sufficient light; the Chancellor was wounded, after which the Castlereagh tactics of “fighting down the opposition,” received an immediate and lasting check.
Throughout the months of February and March, with an occasional adjournment, the Constitutional battle was fought on every point permitted by the forms of the House. On the 25th of March, the Committee, after another powerful speech from the Speaker, finally reported the resolutions which were passed by 154 to 107—a majority of 47. The Houses then adjourned for six weeks, to allow time for corresponding action to be taken in England. There was little difficulty in carrying the measure. In the Upper House, Lords Derby, Holland, and King only opposed it; in the Lower, Sheridan, Tierney, Grey, and Lawrence mustered on a division, 30 votes against Pitt’s 206. On the 21st of May, in the Irish Commons, Lord Castlereagh obtained leave to bring in the Union Bill by 160 to 100; on the 7th of June the final passage of the measure was effected. That closing scene has been often described, but never so graphically, as by the diamond pen of Jonah Barrington.
“The galleries were full, but the change was lamentable. They were no longer crowded with those who had been accustomed to witness the eloquence and to animate the debates of that devoted assembly. A monotonous and melancholy murmur ran through the benches; scarcely a word was exchanged amongst the members; nobody seemed at ease; no cheerfulness was apparent; and the ordinary business, for a short time, proceeded in the usual manner.
“At length, the expected moment arrived: the order of the day for the third reading of the bill for a ‘legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland’ was moved by Lord Castlereagh. Unvaried, tame, cold-blooded, the words seemed frozen as they issued from his lips; and, as if a simple citizen of the world, he seemed to have no sensation on the subject.
“At that moment he had no country, no God, but his ambition. He made his motion, and resumed his seat, with the utmost composure and indifference.
“Confused murmurs again ran through the House. It was visibly affected. Every character, in a moment, seemed involuntarily rushing to its index—some pale, some flushed, some agitated—there were few countenances to which the heart did not despatch some messenger. Several members withdrew before the question could be repeated, and an awful, momentary silence succeeded their departure. The Speaker rose slowly from that chair which had been the proud source of his honours and of his high character. For a moment he resumed his seat, but the strength of his mind sustained him in his duty, though his struggle was apparent. With that dignity which never failed to signalize his official actions, he held up the bill for a moment in silence. He looked steadily around him on the last agony of the expiring Parliament. He at length repeated, in an emphatic tone, ‘As many as are of opinion that THIS BILL do pass, say ay! The affirmative was languid, but indisputable. Another momentary pause ensued. Again his lips seemed to decline their office. At length, with an eye averted from the object he hated, he proclaimed, with a subdued voice, ‘The, AYES have it.’ The fatal sentence was now pronounced. For an instant he stood statue-like; then indignantly, and with disgust, flung the bill upon the table, and sank into his chair with an exhausted spirit. An independent country was thus degraded into a province. Ireland, as a nation, was extinguished.”
The final division in the Commons was 153 to 88, nearly 60 members absenting themselves, and in the Lords, 76 to 17. In England all the stages were passed in July, and on the 2nd of August, the anniversary of the King’s accession, the royal assent was given to the twofold legislation, which declared the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland one and inseparable!
By the provisions of this statute, compact, or treaty, the Sovereignty of the United Kingdom was to follow the order of the Act of Succession; the Irish peerage was to be reduced by the filling of one vacancy for every three deaths, to the number of one hundred; from among these, twenty-eight representative Peers were to be elected for life, and four spiritual Lords to sit in succession. The number of Irish representatives in the Imperial Parliament was fixed at one hundred (increased to one hundred and five); the churches of England and Ireland were united like the kingdoms, and declared to be one in doctrine and discipline. The debt of Ireland, which was less than 4,000,000 pounds in 1797, increased to 14,000,000 pounds in ’99, and had risen to nearly 17,000,000 pounds in 1801, was to be alone chargeable to Ireland, whose proportionate share of general taxation was then estimated at 2-17ths of that of the United Kingdom. The Courts of Law, the Privy Council, and the Viceroyalty, were to remain at Dublin, the cenotaph and the shadows of departed nationality.
On the 1st day of January, 1801, in accordance with this great Constitutional change, a new imperial standard was run up on London Tower, Edinburgh Castle, and Dublin Castle. It was formed of the three crosses of St. Patrick, Saint Andrew, and Saint George, and is that popularly known to us as “the Union Jack.” The fleur de lis, and the word “France,” were struck from the royal title, which was settled, by proclamation, to consist henceforth of the words Dei Gratia, Britanniarum Rex, Fidei Defensor.
The foul means by which this counter revolution was accomplished, have, perhaps, been already sufficiently indicated. It may be necessary, however, in order to account for the continued hostility of the Irish people to the measure, after more than sixty years’ experience of its results, to recapitulate them very briefly. Of all who voted for the Union, in both Houses, it was said that only six or seven were known to have done so on conviction. Great borough proprietors, like Lord Ely and Lord Shannon, received as much as 45,000 pounds sterling in “compensation” for their loss of patronage; while proprietors of single seats received 15,000 pounds. That the majority was avowedly purchased, in both Houses, is no longer matter of inference, nay, that some of them were purchased twice over is now well known. Lord Carysfort, an active partisan of the measure, writing in February, 1800, to his friend the Marquis of Buckingham, frankly says: “The majority, which has been bought at an enormous price, must be bought over again, perhaps more than once, before all the details can be gone through.” His lordship himself, and the order to which he belonged, and those who aspired to enter it, were, it must be added, among the most insatiable of these purchased supporters. The Dublin Gazette for July, 1800, announced not less than sixteen new peerages, and the same publication for the last week of the year, contained a fresh list of twenty-six others. Forty-two creations in six months was a stretch of prerogative far beyond the most arbitrary of the Stuarts or Tudors, and forms one, not of the least unanswerable evidences, of the utterly corrupt considerations which secured the support of the Irish majority in both Houses.
It was impossible that a people like the Irish, disinterested and unselfish to a fault, should ever come to respect a compact brought about by such means and influences as these. Had, however, the Union, vile as were the means by which it was accomplished, proved to the real benefit of the country—had equal civil and religious rights been freely and at once extended to the people of the lesser kingdom—there is no reason to doubt that the measure would have become popular in time, and the vices of the old system be better remembered than its benefits, real or imaginary. But the Union was never utilized for Ireland; it proved in reality what Samuel Johnson had predicted, when spoken of in his day: “Do not unite with us, sir,” said the gruff old moralist to an Irish acquaintance; “it would be the union of the shark with his prey; we should unite with you only to destroy you.”
In glancing backward over the long political connexion of Ireland and England, we mark four great epochs. The Anglo-Norman invasion in 1169; the statute of Kilkenny decreeing eternal separation between the races, “the English pale” and “the Irish enemy,” 1367; the Union of the Crowns, in 1541, and the Legislative Union, in 1801. One more cardinal event remains to be recorded—the Emancipation of the Catholics, in 1829.