Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter XIV.
1727-1760.

Reign of George II.—An Event of much Importance to the Rock Family.—The Clergy among our best Friends.—Abolition of the Agistment Tithe.—Its Consequences.—Conclusion of the First Book.

In the eighth year of the reign of George II., some twenty-seven years before I was born, an event happened, whose consequences have been so important to me and my family, that it deserves a more than ordinary notice in this Sketch.

Of all the purveyors of grievances to whom The Rocks have been indebted, the Clergy, it must be owned, have not been the most backward—but have gone on regularly supplying us with that raw material of discontent, which we know so well how to manufacture to our own taste afterwards. They began these services to us immediately at the Reformation, as appears from Spenser’s description of the Protestant clergy of that time. “Besides these vices (he says, after running through some trifling items of “gross simony, greedy covetousness, fleshly incontinence,’ &c. &c.) they have particular enormities. They neither read the scriptures, nor preach to the people; only they take the tithes and offerings, and gather what fruits they can off their livings, which they convert as badly.”

Of the Bishops of that period, too, the same author says: “They do not at all bestow the benefices which are in their own donation upon any (clergyman), but keep them in their own hands, and set their servants, or horse-boys, to take up the tithes and fruits of them.”—Thus we see how worthy of the divine origin attributed to them, is the mode in which tithes have always been collected and managed in Ireland,—beginning with the “horse-boys” of the newly-reformed Bishops, and ending with the drunken drivers and constables, employed in the service of the Church at present.

It cannot be doubted, that these Reverend gentlemen and the Rocks must, from the first, have come frequently into collision with each other; but, in the reign of George II., the Parliament interfered between them, and, with the usual object of such interpositions—to plunder both.

The Tithe of Agistment, the least objectionable of any, as falling upon that class of occupiers which could best afford to pay it, was, nevertheless, considered by these Honourable land proprietors (who were of Falstaff’s opinion, that “base is the slave that pays,”) a burthen not fit for gentlemen to bear. They accordingly abolished it*—at the same time,assuring the Clergy, whom they thus despoiled of their most profitable tithe, that it was all for the “Protestant Interest” they did so; and handing them over for their support to the “tillers of the land,” and to those wretched cottiers—the very poorest of poverty’s children—upon whom the burthen of the Protestant establishment has, ever since, principally lain. The consequences of this Vote to me and my family, and the increased sphere of activity which it has opened to us, may be judged from the events of the last sixty years.

“Inde (fide majus) glebae caepere moveri:
. . . crescitgue seges clypeata virorum.
OVID.

Then first the Men of Glebes awak’d to strife,
And pike-arm’d Crops sprung every where to life.

———————

I have thus given a faint and rapid sketch of the chief measures taken by our English masters, from the time of Henry II. to the accession of his late Majesty, to civilize and attach the Irish people. I shall now proceed to show, in a brief review of my own times, how steadily the same system has been pursued ever since, with the same happy results to the government, to the people, and to me.

Matthew Lanesburgh—the Francis Moore of the Continent—in apologizing for the delay of his Almanack for 1824, pretty plainly intimates that it was owing to the interference of the Holy Alliance, who had denounced some parts of his works as dangerous to the peace of Europe; “I have, therefore,” he says, “consented to sacrifice these passages, because, je tiens infiniment a ce qu’on me lise.”

From the same motive I have, myself, in the course of these pages, rejected many historical facts and documents, though of considerable importance to the illustration of my subject; because I am well aware that, in the present times, matter-of-fact has got much into disrepute, and that statements, to be at all listened to, must be measured by a minuteglass—because I know, too, that of all the bores of the day, poor Ireland is (what some of her antiquarians wish to prove her) Hyperborean—and because, in short, like the worthy almanack-maker just mentioned, “je tiens infiniment a ce qu’on me lise.”

*For a full account of the proceedings on the Agistment Tithe at this period, see Mr. William Monck Mason’s laborious and valuable “History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” Mr. Mason’s notices of the Life and Writings of Swift are full of new and interesting matter, and his enthusiasm for the memory of that great man (though sometimes carried a little too far) is highly honourable to his feelings as an Irishman.

END OF THE FIRST BOOK.

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