Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter XI.

Reign of Charles II.—Loyalty of the Irish a superfluous Luxury.—Cromwell, Ireton, &c. declared loyal Protestant Subjects.—Their Followers rewarded.—Catholic Loyalists ruined.—Satirical Fictions.—Unsuccessful Attempt to get up a Rebellion in Ireland.—Only one Catholic Primate hanged.

“Loyalty,” Swift says, “is the foible of the Irish”—and it is certain that, whenever an opportunity has been allowed them, they have indulged in this “graceful weakness,” even more than was either dignified or necessary. As it has been always, however, their fate to be equally ill-treated when loyal as when rebellious, their loyalty, except as a matter of needless luxury to themselves, makes no difference in the relations between them and their rulers whatever.

The Catholics were the last in the three kingdoms to lay down the Royal banner, after suffering all but utter extermination in its defence. Yet, how was their devotedness rewarded at the Restoration? In one of the very first Acts that issued from the Royal hand—in order to furnish a pretext for confirming all the robberies of Cromwell—it was coolly and unblushingly declared that they were rebels*; and that, having been conquered by his Majesty’s Protestant subjects, (meaning Cromwell, Ireton, Lord Broghill, &c.) their estates and possessions became vested in the crown. This point once established, the path of iniquity lay clear and open; and upon such monstrous and insulting falsehoods was that Act of Settlement founded; “by which,” says Lord Clare, “seven millions eight hundred thousand acres of land were set out to a motley crew of English adventurers, civil and military, nearly to the total exclusion of the old inhabitants of the island**.

If such things were read in Gulliver, Candide, or any such satirical fiction, they would be regarded as caricatures, too extravagant and distorted, of the perfidy and injustice of Kings and Governments. But when we not only know that such proceedings once took place, but see actual, existing men, who still cling to the principle of those proceedings, and dignify it with the name of “the wisdom of our ancestors,” we feel that no romance can do justice to such perverse absurdity; and that Klemius***, who represents a man as ready to swear that the sun is triangular, in order to qualify for a place which requires that particular belief, would feel ashamed of the tameness of his satire, if he could but know how some of our statesmen transcend it.

*These “rebels” when they were conquered, fought under the command of the Marquis of Ormond, his Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and of Lord Clanrickard, who was Deputy after him.

**“And thus,” adds Lord Clare, “a new colony of new settlers, composed of all the various sects which then infested England, Independents, Anabaptists, Seceders, Brownists, Socinians, Millenarians, and dissenters of every description, many of them infected with the leaven of democracy, poured into Ireland, and were put into possession of the ancient inheritance of its inhabitants.”—Speech on the Union.

***Journey under-Ground.

It was, indeed, among the authors and patrons of this memorable Act of Spoliation that the idea of excluding Catholics from the House of Commons (one of the boasted proofs of the “wisdom of our ancestors”) first originated. As Catholics were to be the persons despoiled, their concurrence could hardly be expected; and though the House was of Cromwell’s own packing, and almost entirely composed of those soldiers and adventurers, who were to become, by this measure, the proprietors of near three-fourths of Ireland, yetunwilling that Catholics should have a share even in their debates—they endeavoured to exclude them altogether from the House, by rendering the Oath of Supremacy an indispensable qualification for a seat in it. The attempt, however, was resisted, at the time, as an invasion of the prerogative; and the few Catholics who were members had the melancholy privilege of witnessing the formal transfer of so large a portion of their country to men, “who,” as Swift says, “gained by rebellion what they and their fellow-countrymen lost by loyalty*.”

It may be perceived that, in remarking on the transactions of this and other reigns, I seem for the moment to lose sight of my own personal interest, and to kindle into serious indignation against measures, on which the renown and prosperity of my family are founded. But, whether it be that, like the man in Xenophon, I have two souls—a soul for right, and a soul for riot—or that, in such cases, I speak as a mere citizen of the world, certain it is that I am not the less grateful to the “wisdom of our ancestors,” for that inexhaustible Fund of Discord which it has bequeathed to me and my family; nor a whit the less alive to the merits of those personages of our own times, whether Chief Secretaries, Lord Chancellors, Aldermen, or Archbishops, who contribute weekly, monthly, and annually their quotas to this venerable Fund, and promise to make it as large and lasting a blessing as the Debt of England itself.

*When the memorials of the Catholics, in justification of their claims, were discussed before the English Council, the Commissioners from the Irish Parliament who attended upon this occasion, however they differed (says Lord Clarendon) about their private interests, all agreed in their implacable malice to the Irish; “insomuch that they concurred in their desire that they might gain nothing by the King’s return, but be kept with the same rigour and the same incapacity to do hurt, which they were then under. And though eradication was too foul a word to be uttered in the hearing of a Christian Prince, yet it was little less or better, that they proposed, in other words, and hoped to obtain.”—Clarendon’s Life.

There is one singularity in this reign, which well deserves to be recorded—the English Ministry tried to get up a rebellion in Ireland, and could not!

When that chef-d’oeuvre of bigotry and absurdity, the Popish Plot, (whose madness has left its slaver upon the policy of England ever since,) was at the full height of its fraud and frenzy, it was thought, with justice, to be a reflection on the authenticity of the conspiracy, that Ireland did not lend it the ready sanction of her experience; and, accordingly, in addition to the usual provocations* of Penal laws, menaces of extermination, &c. &c., emissaries were despatched throughout the country in search of informers and witnesses, and the example of the pensioned Oates held out, to tempt villains of every creed and class into the same path of prosperity.

But all would not do. The Irish like their plots to be of home-manufacture, and extend their hatred of imports even to that favourite article, rebellion—so much so, that when discontent is most abundant in England (as on the recent occasion of the Queen’s trial) scarce a sample of it is to be seen in the Irish market.

*“There were too many Protestants then in Ireland,” says Carte, “who wanted another rebellion,that they might increase their estates by new forfeitures. And letters were perpetually sending into England, misrepresenting the Lord Lieutenant’s conduct, and the state of things in Ireland.” So like is one part of the history of Ireland to another, that in reading it, we are somewhat in the situation of that absent man, to whom D’Argenson lent the same volume of a work four successive times, and who, when asked how he liked the author, answered, “il me semble qu’il se repête quelquefois.” The Government of Ireland “se repête” with a vengeance!

The Duke of Ormond, too, who was Lord Lieutenant at this period, took a different method of keeping the peace from those which have been generally adopted since*. The Test Act, and the Bill for the expulsion of Popish Peers from Parliament, were among the scourges by which Shaftesbury and his party meant to lash up the people into revolt. But the Duke of Ormond by his influence prevented these measures from passing—being against them, as he expressed it, “in conscience, as well as in prudence; because he knew no reason why opinion should take away a man’s birth-right.”

The only victim that the Protestant agitators could lay their hands upon to indemnify them for their trouble, was the Roman Catholic Primate of Ireland, Plunkett—“a wise and sober man,” says Burnet, “fond of living quietly, and in due subjection to the Government, without engaging in intrigues of state.” This, however, made no difference to his orthodox persecutors—he was hurried over to England, and condemned and executed at Tyburn, on the accusation of suborned witnesses, “who (again to use the language of Burnet) hearing that England was then disposed to hearken to good swearers, thought themselves well qualified for the employment.”

*He was urged to imprison all the principal Roman Catholics of Ireland at this juncture, but he refused to do so. “It was well known,” adds Leland, “how much the imprisonments and other severities of Sir W. Parsons had contributed to hurry numbers into the last rebellion; and neither the Duke nor the Privy Council deemed it prudent to make a similar experiment.”

For this moderation and wisdom Ormond was, of course, hated and calumniated by the Protestant Ascendancy of that day—and the same honourable tribute (as Lord Wellesley well knows) awaits every Lord Lieutenant, who deviates into the same liberal Course.

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