IV.: THE NATIVE IRISH AND THE ANGLO-NORMAN IRISH.
Effect of the conquest in Ireland—Degeneration of the Anglo-Irish—Tenacity of the natives—Invasion of Edward Bruce—Reform and civilization of Ireland—Influence of the Irish bards—Common hatred to England—Catholicism of the Irish—Entire completion of the territorial conquest—Religious and patriotic insurrections—Alliance of the Irish with Charles I.—Invasion of Ireland by Cromwell—Attitude of the Irish on the restoration of the Stuarts—Invasion of William III—Political association of the Irish—White Boys—Hearts of Oak—Right Boys—Volunteers—Patriotic views of the Volunteers—Their provincial assemblies—Peep-o’-day Boys—Defenders—The United Irishmen—Influence of the French revolution—The Orangemen—Organization of the United Irishmen—Succours from France—First symptoms of insurrection—Rise of the United Irishmen—Irish republic—Attack upon Dublin—Defeat of the United Irishmen—Rise of the Presbyterians—Landing of the French in Ireland—Their defeat—Termination of the rebellion—The Union.
The conquest of Ireland by the Anglo-Normans is perhaps the only conquest where, after the first disasters, the slow and imperceptible course of events has not brought about a gradual amelioration in the state of the conquered people. Without having ever enfranchised themselves from the foreign domination, the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons have still made great progress in prosperity and civilization. But the native Irish, though apparently placed in a similar position, have been constantly declining for the last five centuries; and yet that population is gifted by nature with great vivacity of mind and a remarkable aptitude for every class of intellectual labour. Although the soil of Ireland is fertile and adapted for cultivation, its fecundity has been alike unprofitable to the conquerors and to their subjects; so that notwithstanding the extent of their domains, the posterity of the Normans has become gradually impoverished, in common with that of the Irish. This singular and mournful destiny, which weighs almost equally on the old and on the new inhabitants of Erin, has for its cause the vicinity of England, and the influence which her government has exercised, ever since the conquest, over the internal affairs of that island.
This influence has always manifested itself at a time and in a manner to disturb the course of amicable relations which time and the custom of living together were tending to establish between the Anglo-Irish and the Irish by race. The intervention of the kings of England, whatever its ostensible aim, has always had the effect of keeping up the primitive separation and hostility. In times of war, they assisted the men of Anglo-Norman race; when the latter had compelled the natives to tranquillity, the kings, jealous of their power, and fearing a political separation, studied in every mode to injure and weaken them. Thus it became impossible that the struggle between the two populations should ever terminate, whether by the victory of the one or of the other, or by their complete fusion. This fusion, a rapid one had it taken place, would have presented a phenomenon which has not been met with elsewhere. Attracted by the gentleness of character and sociability of the natives, their conquerors felt an irresistible tendency to assimilate with the conquered, to adopt their manners, their language, and even their dress. The Anglo-Normans became Irish; they exchanged their feudal titles of earl and baron for patronymic surnames; the Dubourgs called themselves Mac-William-Bourg; the De Veres, Mac-Swine; the Delangles, Mac-Costilagh; the Fitz-Urses, Mac-Mahon; and the Fitz-Geraulds, Mac-Gheroit. They acquired a taste for Irish song and poetry, they invited the bards to their tables, and entrusted their children to women of the country. The Normans of England, so haughty towards the Saxons termed this degeneration.
To check the degeneration, and maintain entire the ancient manners of the Anglo-Irish, the kings and parliament of England made many laws, most of them very severe. Every Norman or Englishman by race, who married an Irishwoman, or wore the Irish dress, was treated as an Irishman—that is to say, as a serf in body and goods. Royal ordinances were published, regulating the cut of the hair and beard in Ireland, the number of ells of stuff that were to go to a dress, and the colour of the stuff. Every merchant of English race who traded with the Irish was punished by the confiscation of his merchandise; and every Irishman found travelling in the part of the island inhabited by the Anglo-Normans, especially if he were a bard, was considered and treated as a spy. Every lord, suspected of liking the Irish, became, for that sole offence, the mark of political persecution; and, if he were rich and powerful, he was accused of seeking to become king of Ireland, or, at least, of a desire to separate that kingdom from the crown of England. The great council of barons and knights of Ireland, who, like those of England, assembled every year in parliament, was regarded with almost as much scorn and hatred as were the national assemblies held by the native Irish on the hills. Every sort of freedom was refused to the parliament of Ireland: it could not assemble until the king sanctioned the purposes of its convocation, and even then it only passed laws sent ready drawn up from England. At the same time, the English government employed all its means of action upon the native Irish, to make them renounce their national customs and their ancient social order. It caused the archbishops, nearly all of them men from England, to declare that the ancient laws of the country, those which had governed Ireland in the ages when she was called the Island of the Saints, were abominable to God. Every Irishman convicted of having submitted any case to judges of his nation, was excommunicated, and ranked among those whom the ordinances of England called les irreys anemis nostre seigneur le rey.
To counteract the efforts made by the English government to destroy their ancient manners, the Irish applied themselves with obstinate pertinacity to maintain them. They manifested a violent aversion to the polish and refinement of the Anglo-Norman manners: “Ne faisant compte,” says the historian Froissart, “de nulle jolivetè, et ne volant avoir aucune connoissance de gentillesse, mais demeurer en eur rudesse première.” This rudesse was only external, for the Irish, when they chose, could live with foreigners and gain their affection, especially if they were enemies to the English. They concluded against the latter political alliances with several of the continental kings; and when, in the fourteenth century, the Scot, Robert Bruce, was named king by his countrymen, bodies of Irish volunteers crossed the sea to support him. After the entire enfranchisement of Scotland, Edward Bruce, brother of Robert, made a descent upon the north of Ireland, to aid the natives to regain their country, and the Anglo-Norman degenerates, to take vengeance for the vexations inflicted on them by their king. In fact, several of the latter, and among others, the Lacys, joined the Scottish army, which, in its march southwards, sacked several towns and dismantled many castles built by the sons of the companions of John de Courcy, the first conqueror of Ulster. Several families, who possessed great domains in those parts, such as the Audelys, the Talbots, the Touchets, the Chamberlains, the Mandevilles, and the Sauvages, all Normans by name and origin, were obliged to quit the country. On his arrival at Dundalk, Edward Bruce was elected and crowned king of Ireland, despite the excommunication pronounced by the pope against him, his aiders and abettors.
But his reign lasted only a year, and he was killed in a battle lost against considerable forces sent from England. The Scottish troops were recalled to their own country, and by degrees the Anglo-Normans regained their domination in Ireland, without, however, attaining their former limits towards the north. Most of Ulster remained Irish, and the few Norman families seen there after these events were poor, or had formed relations with the natives. By degrees, even the descendants of the conqueror, John de Courcy, degenerated. Notwithstanding the short duration and the little effect of the conquest of Edward Bruce, its recollection remained deeply imprinted on the mind of the Irish people. His name was applied to many places he had never visited, and many a castle, not built by him, was called Bruce Castle, as in Wales, and in the south of Scotland, many ruins bear the name of Arthur.
Things in Ireland resumed the same situation as before; the natives making no further conquests over the Anglo-Normans by their arms, did so by their manners, and the degeneration continued. The measures taken against this evil, consisting, for the most part, of laws as to the manner in which people should divert themselves and dress, and of prohibitions of the stuffs most common in the country, and consequently the least expensive, occasioned daily inconvenience and loss to the English population established in Ireland, whose resentment confirmed their attachment to the manners it was sought to compel them to quit, against their will and against the nature of things. As to the Irish by race, the action of the government upon them was limited in time of peace to the attracting to England their numerous chiefs and princes, and to the procuring for the king of England the guardianship and custody of their sons. It was considered a great achievement to give them a taste for the lordly pomp and aristocratic manners of the time: this was called first the reform, and then the civilization of Ireland.
But the habit of familiarity between persons of different conditions was so deeply rooted in this country, that the Anglo-Norman knights, charged with the education of the young heirs of the ancient kings of Erin, could never make them discontinue the custom of eating at the same table with their bards and followers, or from shaking hands with every one. Few of the Irish chieftains who, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, obtained charters of Anglo-Norman nobility, and the titles of earl or baron, long retained these titles, foreign to their language, and having no relation to the history, manners, and social order of their nation. They became weary of bearing them, preferring to be called, as before, O’Neil or O’Brien, instead of earl of Thomond or of Tyrone. Even where they did not themselves adopt this course, public opinion often obliged them to renounce these signs of alliance with the enemies of their country; for public opinion had organs respected and feared by every Irishman.
These organs of popular praise or blame were the bards, poets, and musicians by profession, whose immemorial authority was founded on the passion of the Irish for poetry and song. They formed in Ireland a sort of constituted body, whose advice was sought in all important matters; and the duties of a good king, according to ancient political maxims, were to honour the bards and to conform to the laws. Ever since the invasion of the Anglo-Normans, the corporation of bards had taken part against them, and not a member of the body had ever belied his attachment to the ancient liberty of the country. The chief objects of praise in their verses were the enemies of the English government, and they pursued with their most biting satire all who had made peace with it, and had accepted any favour from it. Lastly, they boldly ranked above the princes and chiefs, friends to the kings of England, the rebels and bandits, who, from hatred to the foreign power, exercised armed robbery, and pillaged by night the houses of the Saxons. Under this name the natives comprised all the English or Normans who did not speak the Erse language, but, probably, a mixed dialect of French and old English. They accorded the name of Irish only to themselves and to those who had adopted their idiom, while in England the name of English was denied to the men of that nation established in Ireland, who were called Irois in the Norman language, and, in the English, Irse or Irisch, the only distinction between them and the genuine Irish being that the latter were called wild Irish.
The situation of the Anglo-Irish, detested by the natives around them, and despised by their countrymen across the Channel, was one of singular difficulty. Obliged to struggle against the action of the English government, and, at the same time, to resort to the support of that government against the attacks of the ancient population, they were, by turns, Irish against England, and English against the inhabitants of Gaelic race. This embarrassment could only be terminated by the rupture of the tie of dependence which bound them to England, and by the complete establishment of their domination over the natives. They simultaneously aimed at this double object; and, on their side, the natives also endeavoured to separate themselves from England, by recovering their lands and throwing off all authority not purely Irish. Thus, though the policy of the Irish by conquest and that of the Irish by race were naturally based upon mutual hostility, there was still a common point at which the views of these two classes of men concurred: the desire to restore to Ireland its independence as a state. These complex interests, which the natural course of things was ill calculated to bring to a simple order of relations, were complicated still more in the sixteenth century, by a revolution which added the seeds of religious dissension to the ancient elements of political hostility.
When king Henry VIII. had, for his own benefit, abolished the papal supremacy in England, the new religious reformation, established without difficulty over the eastern coast of Ireland, and in the towns where English was spoken, made little progress in the interior of the country. The native Irish, even when they understood English, were little inclined to hear sermons preached in that language; and, besides, the missionaries sent from England, acting upon the instructions they had received, enjoined it upon them as an article of faith to renounce their ancient usages, and to adopt the manners of the English. Their aversion to those manners, and to the government which sought to impose them, extended to the Reformation and to the reformers, whom they were accustomed to designate by the simple name of Saxons, Sassons. On the other hand, the Norman or English families, settled in places remote from the sea, and in some measure beyond the reach of authority, resisted the attempts made to persuade or force them to change their religion. They clung to catholicism, and this again knitted fresh ties of sympathy between them and the Irish. This change had also the effect of connecting with the general affairs of Europe, the quarrel of the native Irish against the sons of their invaders, a quarrel hitherto confined to the corner of land which it actually occupied. It became, thenceforward, a portion of the great contest between catholicism and protestantism; and the demands for foreign aid made by the population of Ireland, were no longer addressed merely to tribes of the same origin, peopling part of Scotland, but to the Catholic powers, to the pope, and to the kings of Spain and France.
The popes, more especially, those ancient enemies of Ireland, who had authorised its conquest by Henry II., and had excommunicated all the natives who armed against the English power, now became their firm allies, and were loved by them with all their soul, as they loved whatsoever gave them the hope of recovering their independence. But the court of Rome in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries converted this unfortunate country into the focus of political intrigues, entirely foreign to its enfranchisement. By means of their apostolic nuncios, and more especially of the order of the Jesuits, who, on this occasion, displayed their wonted ability, the popes effected the formation in Ireland of a party of pure catholics, as hostile to the Irish of race, become protestants, as to the English themselves, and detesting the latter, not as usurpers, but as anti-papists. In the rebellions which afterwards broke out, this party played a part distinct from that of the Irish catholics who took up arms from simple motives of patriotism; it is easy to perceive this difference, even in the enterprises wherein these two classes of men acted together and in concert.
Under favour of the troubles resulting from religious contests, and the encouragement which the Catholic powers afforded to the insurgents of all parties, the old cause of the native Irish seemed to regain some force; their energy was aroused, and the bards sang that a new soul had descended upon Erin. But the enthusiasm created by religious dissensions had also communicated itself to the Anglo-Irish reformers, and even to the English, who, about the end of the sixteenth century, served in the wars of Ireland with more ardour than ever, as in a sort of protestant crusade. Their zeal furnished queen Elizabeth with more money and troops for these wars than any English monarch had obtained before her. Resuming with great means and vast activity the incomplete work of the conquest, Elizabeth recovered the northern provinces, and invaded the west, which had hitherto resisted. All this territory was divided into counties, like England, and governed by English, who, with a view, as they said, to civilise the wild Irish, made them perish by thousands of hunger and misery.
James I. pursued the work of this civilization by seizing a number of chiefs, and having them tried at London for past or present rebellion. According to the old Anglo-Norman law, they were condemned to lose their domains, as felons to their liege lord; and, under this name of domains, care was taken to comprise the whole extent of country occupied by the clans whom they ruled, seeing that in England the tenants of every lordship were only the farmers of the lord for longer or shorter terms. By means of this arbitrary assimilation of two orders of things entirely different, king James confiscated in Ireland whole districts, which he sold, in lots, to adventurers, as they were called. The dispossessed clans sought refuge in the mountains and forests, whence they soon issued in arms to attack the new English colonies; but they were repulsed by superior forces, and the province of Ulster, which had been the principal theatre of the war, was declared forfeit, and all titles of proprietorship within it declared null and void. They were not even allowed to remove their furniture; and a company of capitalists was established in London to effect the colonization of this district upon an uniform plan. They hired a number of Scottish labourers and artisans, who sailed from Galloway, and established themselves in Ireland, in the neighbourhood of Derry, which, under the name of Londonderry, became a manufacturing town. Other emigrants from the same nation passed in succession into the north of Ireland, and formed there a new population and a new religious party; for they were zealous presbyterians, and, in point of creed, equally hostile to the Anglicans and to the catholics.
The troubles arising in England at the beginning of the reign of Charles I., again encouraged the party of old Ireland and of the Irish papists; at first, because the struggle in which the government was engaged with the English people, lessened its means of action externally, and, afterwards, because the king’s marked inclination for catholicism seemed to promise the catholics his support, or, at least, his sanction. The purely religious faction, under the command of an Anglo-Irishman, George Moor, was the first to rise up against what it called the tyranny of the heretics. It obtained little success, so long as that portion of the people which nourished political hatred against the English remained quiet, or did not assist it; but as soon as the native Irish, led by Phelim O’Connor, took part in the civil war, that war was pushed forward more vigorously, and had for its object, not the triumph of the catholics, but the extirpation of all the foreign colonists, of ancient or of recent date. The presbyterian colonists of Ulster and the Anglican inhabitants of the western provinces were attacked in their houses, amid cries of Erin go Bragh! (Hurrah for Ireland!) and it is calculated that forty thousand persons perished at this time, in various ways.
The news of this massacre produced a great impression in England, and although the victory obtained by the men of Irish race was in reality a great blow to the power of the king, the parliament accused him of having promoted the slaughter of the protestants. He warmly vindicated himself from the accusation, and, to remove all suspicion, sent to Ireland troops that he would fain have retained in England for the maintenance of his authority. The parliament gave, by anticipation, the lands of the rebels to those who would furnish money for the expenses of the war. The English army gave no quarter to any Irishman, rejecting even the submission of those who offered to lay down their arms. Despair communicated fresh strength to the fanatics in religion or patriotism. Though their military resources were far inferior, they resisted the English, and even recovered from them the province of Ulster, whence they expelled many families of Scottish race. Become thus again masters of the greater part of Ireland, they formed a council of national administration, composed of bishops, ancient chiefs of tribes, feudal lords of Anglo-Norman origin, and deputies chosen in each county by the native population.
When the civil war broke out between the king and the parliament of England, the national assembly of the Irish carried on a correspondence with both these parties, offering to join that which should most amply recognise the independence of Ireland. Whatever may have been the diplomatic skill natural to the Irish, it was difficult to effect a formal union between them and the parliamentarians; for the latter were at this time animated with a fierce hatred to the papists; the king came to terms more easily and more promptly with the confederates. By a treaty signed at Glamorgan, they engaged to furnish him with ten thousand men; and, in return, he made concessions to them, which were almost equivalent to the abdication of his royalty, as far as Ireland was concerned. This union did not hold, but it was the king who first violated it, by substituting for it a private treaty with those of the Anglo-Irish who had espoused the quarrel of the royalists of England, at the head of whom was the duke of Ormond. The mass of the confederates, who, their object being a total separation, were not a whit more royalist than parliamentarian, were not comprehended in this alliance, and even the papist party was excluded from it, because political interests alone were contemplated. Under the conduct of the papal nuncio, this party formed a stricter alliance than ever with the native party, which recognised as its chief a man of the name of O’Neil; but the intrigues of the nuncio and the intolerance of the priests, who had obtained great influence over the unenlightened multitude, again embroiled the affairs of the Irish, by confounding the religious with the patriotic cause. A few of the stronger minded alone continued to view these two interests in a distinct manner; and, after the condemnation to death of Charles I., they opened negotiations with the founders of the republic, while the Anglicans and presbyterians of Ireland, joining the duke of Ormond, proclaimed Charles II.
The alarmed republicans despatched to Ireland their best captain, Oliver Cromwell, who, in the ardour of his zeal and the inflexibility of his policy, carried on against all parties a war of extermination, and even undertook to complete fully and finally the conquest of the island. After having distributed among his troops, who were in arrears of pay, the lands taken from the rebels, he renewed, upon a larger scale, the great expropriation executed by James I. Instead of expelling the Irish, house by house and village by village, which enabled them to collect in the neighbouring forests, the western province of Connaught was assigned as the sole habitation for all the natives and for the Anglo-Irish catholics. All such received orders to repair thither, within a given time, with their families and goods; and when they were assembled there, a cordon of troops was formed round them, and death was denounced upon any who should cross that line. The vast extent of territory thus rendered vacant was sold by the government to a company of rich capitalists, who retailed it in lots to new colonists and speculators.
Thus arose in Ireland, beside the Irish of race, the old Anglo-Irish, and the Scotch presbyterians, a fourth population, distasteful to the former, both on account of its origin and of its recent establishment in the country. No serious discord took place between them so long as the republic of England remained powerful under the protectorate of Cromwell; but after his death, when the English government fell into anarchy, there was formed in Ireland, for the restoration of the Stuarts, a party composed, for the most part, of Anglo-Irish protestants or catholics, with a small minority of natives. The bulk of the latter, hostile by instinct to every enterprise tending to place the country under the power of an Englishman, far from giving their adhesion to the party of Charles II., openly opposed his being proclaimed king of Great Britain and Ireland. The dispute between the pure Irish and the royalists grew so warm, that both sides took up arms, and several engagements took place; but the friends of the Stuarts, comprising all the colonists, old and new, got the better of a population which the late government had disorganized and impoverished.
Charles II., who felt that his re-establishment was owing to the lassitude of parties, carefully avoiding whatever might revive them, made little change in Ireland. He resisted the demands made by the papists and the natives to resume possession of their property, occupied by the soldiers or the new colonists; but under the reign of his successor, James II., himself a catholic, the catholic party, aided by the royal authority, acquired great ascendancy in Ireland. All the civil and military offices were given to papists, and the king, who doubted the result of the struggle he was maintaining in England against public opinion, essayed to organize in Ireland a force capable of supporting him. It was in this island that, after his deposition, he sought refuge. He assembled at Dublin a parliament, composed of papists and native Irish. The latter, previous to any other discussion, called upon king James to recognise the entire independence of Ireland; the king refused, unwilling to abandon any of his ancient prerogatives, but offered, as a compromise, not to tolerate any other religion than catholicism. The Irish, inflexible in their purpose of political enfranchisement, answered by a message, that since he separated himself from their national cause, they would manage their affairs without him. It was amidst these dissensions that the new king of England, William III., landed in Ireland with considerable forces, and gained, over the two confederate parties of the old Irish and the papists, the decisive battle of the Boyne.
The conquest of Ireland by William III. was followed by confiscations and expropriations which planted in the island one more English colony, round which rallied the zealous protestants and all the friends of the revolution, who assumed the appellation of Orangemen. The entire administration of public affairs passed into their hands, and the catholics no longer filled any office; but the protestants who oppressed them, were themselves oppressed by the government of England, as, for five centuries past, the English established in Ireland had ever been. Their industry and commerce were cramped by prohibitive duties, and the Irish parliament was seldom permitted to assemble. Under queen Anne, this parliament was deprived of the few rights that remained to it; and, as if to extenuate the wrong in the eyes of the Anglicans, and to blind them to their own interest by flattering their religious animosities, the papists were fiercely persecuted. They were disqualified from holding landed property or farms on long terms, and even from bringing up their children at home. But community of suffering, though in a very unequal degree, united in one opposition the protestants and the Anglo-Irish catholics, or Irish by race, who formed a new party, entirely political, under the name of Patriots. They all agreed upon one point, the necessity of rendering Ireland independent of England; but the former desired this solely out of hatred to the government, and the latter out of hatred to the English nation, or, rather, to the English race. This is proved by satires, composed in the middle of the last century, against the sons of Erin who learned and spoke English.
The patriot party augmented by degrees, and, on several occasions, came to blows with the English party, on the report, true or false, that it was intended finally to suppress the parliament of Ireland. At about the same time, the great landed proprietors of the south and the east began to convert their arable lands into pasture, with a view to increase their revenues by the breeding of cattle. This agricultural change occasioned the expulsion of a great number of small farmers, the ruin of many poor families, and a great cessation of work for the labourers, who were mostly Irish by race, and catholics. The discharged labourers, and others who were without work, and who thought they had as much right as the lord himself to the lands on which, from time immemorial, they had fed their sheep, assembled in organized troops. Armed with guns, swords, and pistols, and preceded by bagpipes, they overran the country, breaking down the fences, levying contributions on the protestants, and enrolling the catholics in their association, assuming the title of White Boys, from the white shirt they all wore as a rallying token. Several persons of Irish origin, and of some fortune, joined this association, which, it would appear, was negotiating with the king of France and the son of the Pretender, Charles Edward, when the latter was defeated at Culloden. It is not precisely known what their political projects were; it is probable that they would have acted in concert with the French expedition, which was to be commanded by M. de Conflans; but when France renounced this plan, the efforts of the White Boys were confined to a petty warfare against the agents of the royal authority.
In the northern counties, another association was formed under the name of Hearts of Oak; its members, for mutual recognition, wore an oak branch in their hats: farmers, evicted on the expiration of their lease, also united and armed, under the name of Hearts of Steel; and, at last, a fourth society, still more closely knit together, appeared in the southern counties, under the name of Right Boys. All those who joined it, swore to pay no tithes to any priest, not even to catholics, and to obey the orders of no one, except those of a mysterious chief, called Captain Right. This oath was so strictly observed, that in many places the officers of the government could not, at any price, obtain men to execute the sentences pronounced upon Right Boys.
While the struggle between these various associations and the civil and military authority was occasioning infinite disorder and spoliation in the country, some landed proprietors and young men of rich protestant families formed, under the name of Volunteers, a counter-association for the sole purpose of maintaining the public peace; at their own expense they furnished themselves with horses and arms, and patrolled night and day the places where there was any disturbance. The rupture of England with her colonies of North America had just involved her in a declaration of war from France, Spain, and Holland. All the troops employed in Ireland were recalled, and this country remained exposed to the aggressions of these three powers, and of the privateers which infested the seas. The great Anglo-Irish proprietors making loud complaints on this subject to the ministry, the answer was, “Arm, and look to yourselves.”
The rich class zealously availed themselves of this permission. The companies of volunteers previously formed, served as a model and nucleus for the organization of a body of national militia, which, under the same name, soon increased to the number of forty thousand men. As it was almost wholly composed of Anglo-Irish protestants, the government, so far from distrusting it, presented it with a large quantity of arms and ammunition. Those who conceived the original idea of this great military association, had no other object than the defence of the Irish soil against the enemies of England; but Ireland was so wretched, every class of men underwent there such vexations, that, as soon as the volunteers felt their power, they resolved to employ it in ameliorating, if possible, the condition of the country. A new spirit of patriotism was developed among them, embracing with equal kindliness all the inhabitants of the island, without distinction of race or of religion. The catholics who entered the association were eagerly received, and arms were given them, notwithstanding the old law which reserved the use of them to protestants alone. The Anglican soldiers gave the military salute, and presented arms to the chaplains of the catholic regiments; monks and ministers of the reformed church shook hands and mutually congratulated each other.
In every county the volunteers held political meetings, each of which sent deputies to form a central assembly, with full power to act as representing the Irish nation. This assembly, held in Dublin, passed various resolutions, all based on the principle that the English parliament had no right to make laws for Ireland, and that this right rested wholly in the Irish parliament. The government, entirely occupied with the war against the United States of America, and having no force capable of counterbalancing in Ireland the organization of the volunteers, acknowledged, in a bill passed in 1783, the legislative rights of the two Irish chambers. Further, the habeas corpus act, securing every English subject from illegal imprisonment, was, now for the first time, introduced into Ireland. But these enforced concessions were far from being made in good faith; and as soon as peace was concluded in 1784, the agents of the government began to suggest to the volunteers to dissolve as useless, and to order the disarming of the catholics, according to the laws. Several regiments declared that they would only lay down their arms with their lives, and the protestants, concurring in this declaration, announced that their subaltern-officers and arms should be at the service of any Irishman who wished to exercise himself in military evolutions.
This spirit of mutual toleration was considered extremely formidable by the English government, which accordingly employed itself in destroying it, and in reviving the old religious and national hatred. It effected this object to a certain extent, by impeding the political meetings, and clubs of the volunteers, and by intimidating or seducing many members of this society. The rich were the first to desert, as being, in general, more cautious and less ardent than people of inferior condition. Deprived of its ancient chiefs, the association fell into a sort of anarchy, and the influence of unenlightened men was soon apparent in the gradual abandonment of the great principle of nationality, which, for a moment, had effaced all party distinctions. Following up some personal disputes, the more fanatic protestants began, in various places, forcibly to disarm the papists; there was formed for this purpose, a society under the name of Peep-o’-day Boys, because it was generally at this hour they entered the houses of the catholics. The latter, as a security against their violence, formed, under the name of Defenders, a counter-association, which did not always confine itself to defensive measures, but attacked the protestants in reprisal; this association gradually numbered all the catholics who withdrew from the society of the volunteers, whose dissolution became complete in all the counties, except Dublin, where it was retained as a municipal police. The society of Peep-o’-day Boys having, as it would seem, no distinct political object, contented itself with partial aggressions upon its antagonists; but the Defenders, the majority of whom were of Irish race, were animated with the instinctive aversion of the natives of Ireland towards all foreign colonists. Whether from the recollection of a former alliance or from conformity of character and manners, the Irish by race had a greater inclination for the French than for any other nation; the leading Defenders, who, for the most part, were priests or monks, kept up a correspondence with the cabinet of Versailles, in the years which preceded the French revolution.
This revolution made a vivid impression on the more patriotic of the various sects of Irish. There was then at Dublin a Catholic committee, formed of rich persons and priests of that religion, who undertook to transmit to the government the complaints and demands of their co-religionists; hitherto they had limited themselves to humble petitions, accompanied with protestations of devotion and loyalty; but, suddenly changing their tone, the majority of the members of the catholic committee resolved that it was now time to demand, as a natural right, the abolition of the laws against catholicism, and to invite every catholic to arm in assertion of this right. At the same time, there was formed at Belfast, a locality occupied by the Scottish colonists introduced into Ireland under James I., a presbyterian club, whose special object it was to consider the political state of Ireland and the means of reforming it. The Dublin committee speedily proposed to this club an alliance founded on community of interest and opinion, and the presidents of the two assemblies, one of them a catholic priest, and the other a Calvinist minister, carried on a political correspondence. These amicable relations became the basis of a new association, that of the United Irishmen, whose object was a second time to rally all the inhabitants of the island in one party. Clubs of United Irishmen were established in many towns, and especially in those of the east and south, all organized on the same model, and governed by similar rules. The various parties, united in this new alliance, made mutual concessions: the catholics published an explanation of their doctrines, and a disavowal of all hostility to other Christian sects; the majority, at the same time, making a formal renunciation of all claims to the lands taken at different times from their ancestors.
Thus the mainspring of English domination in Ireland was broken by the reconciliation of all the classes of her population, and the government accordingly adopted vigorous measures against what it called, by a new word, the revolutionary spirit. The habeas corpus act was suspended, but the association of United Irishmen, nevertheless, continued to recruit its numbers in all the counties, and to carry on friendly communication with the nation which invited all others to become free like itself. The festival of the French Federation was celebrated at Dublin on the 14th July, 1790, and in the course of 1791 many addresses were sent from all parts of Ireland to the Constituent assembly. When the coalition at Pilnitz declared war against France, the United Irishmen of Belfast voted supplies of money to the French armies, and on learning the retreat of the duke of Brunswick, had public rejoicings in many towns. In general, the Irish patriots aimed at following and imitating the movements of the French revolution. They established a national guard, like that of France; and the soldiers of this body, clothed and armed by subscription, saluted each other by the name of citizen. In 1793, they all became republicans, in language and in principles: Anglicans, Calvinists, and papists, united in this; and the titular catholic archbishop of Dublin, in one of his pastoral letters, endeavoured to prove from the example of the Italian republics of the middle ages, that the catholics were the creators of modern democracy.
The ill success of the French revolution struck a heavy blow at the power of the United Irishmen, by diminishing their own confidence in the infallibility of their principles, and by giving a sort of authority to the accusations of their enemies. The English ministry seized the moment at which this hesitation of opinion was manifested, to make the catholics a concession, which it had hitherto denied them; it gave them the privilege of bringing up their children themselves, and of exercising some of their political rights: the object being to represent the Irish Union to the papists as needless for the future, and, if they continued to agitate, to render them odious to the other sects, in imputing to them the secret design of exterminating the protestants. The bands of Defenders, who still overran several counties, gave weight to these imputations; and the Anglicans of Connaught, more readily alarmed in consequence of their limited numbers amidst the native Irish, armed spontaneously in the year 1795, and formed associations under the title of Orangemen. Their political dogma was the rigorous maintenance of the order of things established by William III., and of all the oppressive laws made, since his reign, against the catholics and the men of Irish race. From the outset, they displayed a fanaticism which rendered them formidable to such of their neighbours as differed from them in religion or in origin; nearly fourteen hundred families emigrated, southward and eastward, to escape this new persecution.
Several acts of cruelty, committed by the Orangemen on the catholics, excited great hatred against them; and all the violence exercised by the military and civil agents of the government were laid to their charge; such as the torture inflicted on suspected persons, and the destruction of the printing presses. A man accused of being an Orangeman at once became the object of popular vengeance; and, as this accusation was vague, it was easy for evil-intentioned men to make use of it for the purpose of destroying whom they chose; every protestant had reason to fear incurring it. The bond of Irish union was greatly weakened by this mutual hatred and distrust of the two religious parties; to remedy the evil by a more concentrated organization, the public association was replaced by a secret society, based on an oath and passive obedience to chiefs whose names were only known by a few associates. The society was divided into sections, communicating with each other by means of superior committees, composed of deputies elected from among the body. There were district committees and provincial committees; and above these was a directory of five members, who regulated the whole union, which consisted of nearly an hundred thousand members. The superior and inferior chiefs formed a military hierarchy, with the ranks of lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, general, and general-in-chief. Every associate, who possessed the means, was to furnish himself, at his own expense, with fire-arms, powder, and ball; among the poorer members, pikes were distributed, made by subscription and in great numbers by members of the union. This new plan of organization was carried into execution in 1796, in Munster, Leinster, and Ulster; but Connaught was not so prompt, owing to the vigilance of the Orangemen, and the support they afforded to the agents of authority.
The men whom the Irish Union acknowledged as their superior chiefs were of various origin and religion: Arthur O’Connor, who, in the popular opinion, was descended from the last king of all Ireland; lord Edward Fitz-Gerald, whose name connected him with the old Norman family of the Fitz-Geraulds; father Quigley, an Irishman by birth, and a zealous papist; Theobald Wolf-Tone, a lawyer of English origin, professing the philosophical opinions of the eighteenth century. Priests of every religion were members of the society; in general, they filled the higher stations; but there was no jealousy among them, or even distrust of the sceptical doctrines of some of the associates. They urged their parishioners to read much and variously, and to form reading-clubs at the houses of the schoolmasters or in the barns. Sometimes ministers of one religion were seen preaching in the church of another; an auditory, composed half of catholics and half of Calvinists, would listen with earnest attention to the same sermon, and then receive at the church-door a distribution of philosophical tracts, such as the Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine, of which many copies were printed at Belfast.
This tendency to subject their particular habits or creed to the views and orders of the Union, was exhibited in the lower classes by a total abstinence from all strong liquors, an abstinence difficult to observe in a damp, cold climate. The Directory recommended it, in 1796, to all the members, in order that each might cease to pay to the English government the duty on spirits; and towards the close of the same year, they announced by printed circulars the approaching arrival of a French fleet. Fifteen thousand men, in fact, who left France under the command of general Hoche, arrived in Bantry bay, but a tempest, which dispersed their vessels, prevented their landing.
This unexpected incident, and the tardiness of the Executive Directory of France in preparing a second expedition, gave the English government leisure to labour actively at the destruction of the Irish Union; visits by day and by night were made more frequently than ever upon suspected persons. In houses where arms were supposed to be concealed, the occupants were forced to confession, by the application, if they refused to answer, of various kinds of torture; the most usual being to half hang them, to whip them until they were half flayed, and to tear off the hair and the skin with a pitch cap. The Irish, driven to extremity by these cruelties, resolved to begin the insurrection, without waiting for the arrival of the French; pikes were fabricated, and balls cast with renewed activity. The government saw what was going on; for the larger trees near the towns were cut down and taken away at night, the leaden spouts disappeared from every house, and the catholics frequented the churches and confessionals oftener than usual. But notwithstanding this accession of zeal, their good understanding with the protestants did not cease to exist; a man who, in the beginning of 1798, was executed at Carrickfergus, as an agent of the United Irishmen, was accompanied to the scaffold by a monk and two presbyterian ministers.
In this state of things, one of the delegates from Leinster to the Irish Union, not pressed by any imminent danger, or gained over by considerable offers, but suddenly seized with a sort of panic terror, denounced to a magistrate of Dublin, a partisan of the government, the place where the committee of which he was a member was to hold one of its sittings. Upon this information thirteen persons were seized, with papers compromising many others. Numerous arrests took place, and four days after, an assemblage of several thousand men, armed with pikes and muskets, collected some miles from Dublin, and marched upon the city.
This was the commencement of the insurrection of the United Irishmen, which, for a moment, extended over the whole country between Dublin and the Wicklow mountains, intercepting all communication between the capital and the southern provinces. The precautions of defence adopted at Dublin, where there was plenty of artillery, secured that city from the attack of the insurgents; but several other less considerable towns fell into their hands. The first engagement between them and the royal troops took place on the hill of Tara, where, in ancient times, the general assembly of the Irish used to be held. The battalions of United Irishmen had green flags, upon which was painted a harp, surmounted, in lieu of a crown, with a cap of liberty, and the English words, liberty or death, or the Irish motto, Erin go bragh. The catholic members bore with them to the fight absolutions signed by a priest, upon which was drawn a tree of liberty; in the pockets of many of the dead were found books of litanies, and translations of the republican songs of France.
The catholic priests, who nearly all held posts in the insurgent army, employed their influence to prevent the mal-treatment of those protestants, against whom, though not members of the Union, it had no political grievance. They saved many of these from falling victims to the fanaticism which animated the lower ranks of the army, and their constant cry was: “This is not a religious war.” Whatever may have been their other excesses, the insurgents always respected women, which neither the Orangemen nor even the English officers did, notwithstanding their pretensions to honour and refinement. These soldiers, who made the murder of a single prisoner matter of bitter reproach against the rebels, handed over their own without scruple to the executioner, because they said, this was the law. There were whole counties in revolt, where not a single protestant was killed; but not one of the insurgents, taken in arms, obtained his life; so that the chiefs of the United Irishmen said emphatically: “We fight with the cord round our necks.”
According to the instructions of the Irish Directory, the insurrection should have commenced on the same day and the same hour in every town; but the arrest of the leaders, in compelling the persons compromised to hasten their outbreak, destroyed the concert, which alone could assure success to this perilous enterprise. The movement was only from place to place, and the associates remote from Dublin, having time to reflect, suspended their active co-operation until the insurrection should have attained certain territorial limits. In a short time, it extended to Wexford, where a provisional government was installed, under the name of Executive Directory of the Irish Republic. The green flag was unfurled on the arsenals and public buildings, and a few small vessels were equipped as cruizers, under the flag of the insurgents. They formed an entrenched camp, which became their head-quarters, on Vinegar Hill, near Wexford. They had some artillery there; but, entirely without field-pieces, they were, in order to make their way into towns, compelled to dash in upon the enemy’s cannon, a mode of fighting the most destructive of all, but which they practised with characteristic gaiety. At the assault upon Ross, in Cork, a piece of heavy cannon, planted at one of the gates, with its discharges of grape-shot, stayed the assailants. One of the insurgents rushed forward to the mouth of the piece, and thrusting his arm into it, shouted: “Forward, boys, I’ve stopped it!”
The insurgent chiefs, thinking that to take the capital would determine all the towns that still hesitated, made a desperate attack upon Dublin; it failed completely, and the failure was fatal to the Irish cause. Shortly after, a battle lost near Wicklow restored that town to the royal troops, and, from this time, discouragement and divisions took possession of the patriot ranks: they were accusing and repudiating their chiefs, while an English army was advancing, by forced marches, against the camp at Vinegar Hill. With the aid of its artillery, it drove out the insurgents, most of whom were armed only with pikes, and pursuing them in the direction of Wexford, obliged them to evacuate that town, where the new republic perished, after a month’s existence. The Irish made a sort of regular retreat, from hill to hill, but as they had no cannon, they could not make a stand anywhere, and the want of provisions soon compelled them to disband. The prisoners were tortured to extract from them the names of their chiefs; but they denounced none but those who were already dead or prisoners. Thus terminated the eastern and southern insurrection, but, during its last moments, another broke out in the north, among the presbyterians of Scottish race.
This population, in general more enlightened than the catholics, were calmer and more deliberate in their proceedings. They waited for news of the southern revolt to be confirmed ere they would act. But the delay occasioned by this caution gave the government time to take its measures; and when the insurrection commenced with the attack upon Antrim, this town had been strengthened by an accession of infantry and cavalry, with cannon and howitzers. The presbyterians, joined by some catholics of English or Irish origin, made the attack on three sides, having no artillery but a six-pounder, in so bad a condition that it could only be fired twice, and another without a carriage, which they had hastily mounted on the trunk of a tree and two small cart-wheels. For a moment they were masters of the town and of a part of the English artillery; but fresh reinforcements from Belfast obliged them to retire, while fifteen hundred men, posted on the Derry road, intercepted the succours they expected from that quarter.
The insurrection broke out with more success in Down, where the Irish, after defeating the royal troops, formed, near Ballinahinch, a camp similar to that on Vinegar Hill. Here was fought a decisive battle, in which the insurgents were defeated, but not until they had approached the English cannon so closely as to touch them. The royal soldiers took Ballinahinch, and punished the town by burning it. Belfast, which had been, in some measure, the moral focus of the insurrection, remained in the hands of the government, and this circumstance produced upon the northern insurgents the same impression that the fruitless attack upon Dublin had made upon their northern brethren. Their discouragement was accompanied by the same symptoms of division: false or exaggerated reports of the cruelties committed by the catholics upon the protestants of the southern counties, alarmed the presbyterians, who thought themselves betrayed, and that the patriotic struggle in which they had engaged had degenerated into a war of religion; they accepted an amnesty, after which their principal leaders were tried and put to death.
The victory of the English government over the insurgents of Leinster and Ulster destroyed the Irish Union, and, in great measure, its spirit; men of different sect and origin had scarce anything further in common than their disgust at the existing state of things, and the hope of a French invasion. On the news of the late insurrections, the Executive Directory of France had, at length, yielded to the intreaties of the Irish agents, and granted them some troops, who landed in the west of Ireland a month after all was at an end in the north, east, and south. These succours consisted of about fifteen hundred men of the army of Italy and of that of the Rhine, commanded by general Humber. They entered Killala, a little town of Mayo, and after making all the English garrison prisoners, unfurled the green flag of the United Irishmen. The general, in his proclamations, promised a republican constitution under the protection of France, and invited all the people, without distinction of religion, to join him. But in this district, which had given birth to the first societies of Orangemen, the protestants were, in general, fanatic foes of the papists, and devoted to the government: few of them complied with the invitation of the French, the greater number hiding themselves or taking to flight. The catholics, on the contrary, came in great numbers, and despite all that was said at the time of the irreligion of the French, the priests did not hesitate to declare for them, and, with all their powers of persuasion, urged their parishioners to take up arms. Several of these ecclesiastics had been driven from France by the revolutionary persecutions, yet these were as ready as the rest to fraternize with the soldiers. One of them went so far as to offer his chapel for a guardhouse. New patriotic songs were composed in which the French words, ça ira, en avant! were mixed up in English verses, with old Irish burthens.
The French and their allies marched southwards. Entering Ballina, they found in the market-place a man hanging from a gibbet, for having distributed insurgent proclamations; all the soldiers, one after the other, gave the corpse the republican salute. The first encounter took place near Castlebar, where the English troops were completely defeated, and, in the following night, fires lighted on all the hills gave the signal of insurrection to the population between Castlebar and the sea. The plan of the French was to march as rapidly as possible upon Dublin, collecting on their way the Irish volunteers; but the discord which reigned between the protestants and the catholics of the west rendered the number of these volunteers much less than it would have been in the eastern provinces.
While general Humber’s fifteen hundred men were advancing into the country, their position becoming hourly more difficult, from the non-extension, in a proportionate degree, of the insurrection, thirty thousand English troops were marching against them from different points. The general manœuvred for some time to prevent their junction, but, obliged to fight a decisive battle at Ballinamuck, he capitulated for himself and his men, without any stipulations in favour of the insurgents, who retreated alone to Killala, where they endeavoured to defend themselves. They could not maintain the post; the town was taken and plundered by the royal troops, who, after having massacred a great number of Irish, drove the remainder into the neighbouring mountains and forests. Some of them formed bands there, and carried on a sort of guerilla warfare; others, to escape judicial pursuit, lived in caverns which they never quitted, and whither their relations brought them food. Most of those who could not conceal themselves in this way were hanged or shot.
Amidst the disunion of the different Irish sects and parties, their old hatred to the English government continued to manifest itself by the assassination of its agents, in the places where the insurrection had manifested itself, and elsewhere by partial revolts, which broke out a year later. In general, all classes of the population had their eyes fixed upon France: at the victories of the French they rejoiced, at those of the English they mourned. Their hope was that France would not give peace to England, without stipulating expressly for the independence of Ireland: they retained this hope up to the treaty of Amiens. The publication of this treaty created universal dejection among them. Two months after the conclusion of the peace, many refused to credit it, and said, impatiently: “Is it possible that the French have become Orangemen?” The English ministry profited by the general depression to tighten the political bond between Ireland and England by the abolition of the ancient Irish parliament. Although this parliament had never done much good to the country, men of all parties clung to it as a last sign of national existence, and the project of uniting England and Ireland under one legislature displeased even those who had assisted the government against the insurgents of 1798. They combined their discontent with that of the people, and assembled to remonstrate; but their opposition extended no further.
There is now but one parliament for the three united kingdoms, and it is from this assembly, the immense majority of which are English, that Ireland awaits the measures and laws that are to pacify her. After many years of vain solicitations, after many menaces of insurrection, one of her numerous wounds has been healed, by the emancipation of the Catholics, who may now exercise public functions and sit in the united parliament; but many other grave questions remain to be settled. The exorbitant privileges of the Anglican church, the changes violently operated in property by wholesale confiscations and spoliations, and lastly, beyond all the quarrels of race, of sect and of party, the supreme question, that of the national independence and the Repeal of the Union between Ireland and England; such are the causes whence, sooner or later, may again arise the sad scenes of 1798. Meantime, the misery of the lower population, hereditary hatred, and a permanent hostility to the agents of authority, multiply crime and outrage, and convert a fertile country, whose people are naturally sociable and intellectual, into the most uninhabitable spot in Europe.
Source: Augustin Thierry, History of the Conquest of England by the Normans; Its Causes, and its Consequences, in England, Scotland, Ireland, & on the Continent, translated from the seventh Paris edition, by William Hazlitt (London: H.G. Bohn, 1856). In 2 volumes. Vol. 2.