Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter XII.

The Captain’s views of his own interest.—the Government acts up to them.—Rebellion of 1798.—the People provoked into it.—The Union.—Secular Odes of Ireland.-Conclusion.

I have already, in a preceding Chapter, acknowledged, that the lucidinterval of Lord Fitzwilliam’s administration alarmed me. At that moment, could I have introduced myself, as a sort of political Mephistopheles, into the confidence of Mr. Pitt, I would have said to him, “Great minister! this will never do—it is contrary to the whole natural course of rule in Ireland. Here is Lord Fitzwilliam, not only about to deprive of their birth-right that select knot of Protestant gentlemen, who have derived from their ancestors, the privilege of misgoverning Ireland—but even forming a plan to introduce, in place of their monopoly, a system of law, moderation, and equal rights. Never was such a thing heard of since the days of Brian Borumhe!

“Still worse-there is, at this moment, a. conspiracy organizing; and such a one as a Government with any taste for phlebotomy would rejoice at. It is, as yet, confined to the Protestants and Presbyterians of the North; but the Catholics, if left in their present state of discontent, or, at all events, if goaded according to the old established method, will inevitably join it. Yet, so lost are the examples of history upon Lord Fitzwilliam and Mr. Grattan, that—instead of availing themselves, as they ought, of such a glorious opportunity for confusion—they are actually, while Laddress you, meditating a measure, which will content the Catholics, disconcert the United Irishmen, squeeze the black drop (as the angel did with Mahomet) out of the heart of the Protestant Ascendancy-and, inshort, make eleven twelfths of the people happy and peaceable, to the utter extinction of the tyranny and mischief of the remaining handful!

“This, I repeat it, will never do-shades of Sir William Parsons and Primate Boulter forbid it ! You must recal Lord Fitzwilliamrestore the Ascendancy to that power, which it knows so well how to abuse—send us over a Governor, not too wise, who will let Lord Clare and the Beresfords be viceroys over him—give full loose to the loyalty of the Orangemen, those hereditary scourges of the country*-let them again yell in the ears of the Catholics the old Cromwell cry of ‘to Hell or Connaught,’ and, lest any fear of the laws should damp their generous ardour, let Indemnity shine out in the distance, as their beacon through desolation and blood-confine not the exercise of tyranny to the Government, but delegate it throughout the whole privileged class; and multiply the scorpions on your whip, till you leave no single part of the victim unreached by them—‘do this, and Cato will be Caesar’s friend’—do this, and, depend upon it, the results will be such, as even the “wisdom of our ancestors would not have blushed to acknowledge.

*These wishes and plans of the Captain were all realized. “The Orangemen, in 1796,” says a Protestant writer, well acquainted with those times, “commenced a persecution of the blackest dye. They would no longer permit a Catholic to exist in the County (Armagh). They posted up on the cabins of those unfortunate victims this pithy notice, “to Hell or Connaught, and appointed a limited time, in which the necessary removals of persons and property were to be made. If after the expiration of that period, the notice had not been entirely complied with, the Orangemen assembled, destroyed their furniture, burnt the habitations, and forced the ruined family to fly elsewhere for shelter. In this way upwards of 700 Catholic families in one County were forced to abandon their farms, their dwellings, and their properties, without any process of law, and even without any alleged crime, except their religious belief be one.”

Out of this aggression, naturally rose that asso. ciation of the lower orders, called Defenders; and while these were hanged without mercy wherever they appeared, the Orangemen, on the contrary (says Mr. Grattan) “met with impunity, and success, and triumph. They triumphed over the law—they triumphed over the magistrates, and they triumphed over the people.”

In the first place, by your adoption of this system, we shall none of us be disappointed of our rebellion—neither the Faction of the Rocks, whom centuries of defeat have not discouraged, nor the Faction of the Ascendancy, whom cen: turies of triumph have not satisfied. In the next place, by lashing up the lowest of the populace,* into a fury as blind as that of the Cyclops in his cave, but only the more ferocious for being unenlightened, you will throw the tarnish of bigotry over the banner of Freedom, and bring disgrace for ever upon the cause of the people in Ireland. In the third place, by the opportunity of abundant blood-letting, which the popular inflammation you have provoked will furnish, you will be enabled to cool down the temperament of the country, into a state tame enough for the reception of a Union**—and finally, by that Act, will deliver up Ireland, bound hand and foot, into the fangs of Captain Rock and the Ascendancy, to be their joint prey through all succeeding times.”

*So little was this intention concealed in 1797, that an English fencible regiment actually issued a sort of manifesto to the Catholics of Ireland, calling them “infamous and dastardly,” and challenging them to stand forth—adding that, “they did not come into this country to be trifled with.”

**In a communication from the English Cabinet to Lord Fitzwilliam at the time, this design was pretty clearly intimated. The postponement (it was there said) of the intended concessions to the Catholics, “would be not merely an expediency or a thing to be desired for the present, but the means of doing a greater good to the British empire than it had been capable of receiving since the Revolution, or at least since the Union” Lord Fitzwilliam, too, in his answer, appears to have fully understood the stimulating system that was about to be pursued as he refused “to be the person to raise a flame, which nothing but the force of arms could keep down.”—Letters to Lord Carlisle.

Compare these circumstances with the delay of the promised Graces under Charles, and observe how closely the parallel is preserved throughout. It was said of Ovid “Non ignoravit vitia sua, sed amavit,” and a similar love for their own iniquities is observable through every page of the history of our rulers.

Such was the advice, dictated by the truest spirit of Rockism, and founded on a familiar acquaintance with the wisdom of other times, which I would, at that moment, have given worlds to whisper into the ear of the British minister. But I soon found it unnecessary—a Mephistopheles was not wanting. Mr. Beresford, on the first alarm of the intended inroad upon monopoly, had hastened over to London, and pleaded the cause of the Ascendancy and injustice with such success, that all idea of disturbing their ancient reign was abandoned. No sooner had the Minister obtained the enormous grant of one million seven hundred thousand pounds, which, on the faith of the promised measures was patiently acquiesced in, than those measures were withdrawn-Lord Fitzwilliam recalled*—and the system which I had set my heart upon instantly put into practice, with a vigour of execution** which surpassed my most sanguine expectations.

*Mr. Duquerry, who had opposed Lord Fitzwilliam’s administration on the subject of the war, yet strongly felt and deprecated the dangerous consequences of his recal; and severely animadverted upon the conduct of Mr. Pitt, who, “not satisfied,” he said, “with having involved the empire in a disastrous war, intended to complete the mischief by risking the internal peace of Ireland—making the friends of the country the dupes of his fraud and artifice, in order to swindle the nation out of 1,700,000l. to support the war, on the faith of measures which he intended should be refused.”

**The scene that followed is thus forcibly and truly described in a publication of that time. “Coercion and terror became the order of the day. The astonished citizen beheld laws of death daily issuing from that seat of legislation, where a few weeks before, he had fondly hoped to see the peace-offering of a united people received with gratitude by an honoured government. The lash, the prison and the rope were rapid, yet too slow in their devastation; foreign troops poured in from every quarter, and military superseded civil law. But law of any kind, even military law was thought too merciful; &c. &c.

I have already had occasion, in remarking upon some extracts from a Journal, kept by one of my ancestors in the great Rebellion of 1641, to compare briefly the events of that period with those of 1798, and to show the family resemblance that existed between the two Rebellions. Both born in the perfidy of the government, and both nurtured into strength by its cruelties, they each ran the same career of blood, and each, in expiring, left its unburied corpse, to poison the two parties that still sullenly contended over it.

As the policy of our rulers was so like at both periods, so the persons, selected to carry it into effect, were equally well suited to the mission intrusted to them; and the names of Coote, St. Leger, Tichborne, &c. in 1641, may find pendants among our military heroes of 1798-too recent, perhaps, to be hung up in the Gallery of History, but quite as worthy of the cause in which their zeal was signalised.

There was, however, in the choice of instruments at this latter period, one egregious mistake committed by the Government. The bravery, good sense, and humanity of sir Ralph Abercromby were all misplaced in that wretched warfare, where the soldier was sent to make, not to meet enemies, and the lash and the picket went before, to cater for the bayonet.*

* The following is by no means an overcharged statement of some of the means by which the rebellion was ripened. “If industrious peasants are to be, at the beck of any spy, informer, or perjured approver, dragged from their habitations, and the embraces of their wives and children, parents or relatives, at the dead hour of the night, and hanged and shot at their own thresholds, without the semblance of trial, or time to implore the mercy of heaven in their last moments—if the cottage of the husbandman is, upon similar grounds, to be consigned to conflagration, and its miserable inhabitants shot or stabbed for endeavouring to escape from the flames:—if the peaceable Catholics of a whole district, nay, of whole counties, are to be banished from their country, their little property and means of livelihood, by the edict of a paid, protected, and nefarious banditti called Orangemen, and their houses burned about their ears for non-compliance, &c.”

When some of these outrages were stated by Lord Moira in the English House of Lords, a Noble Minister, in denying the truth of the statement, said that “the people would resist and resent, if it was so.” The people took the hint.

Accordingly, during the short time of this gallant soldier’s command, his moderation and good feeling stood considerably in the way of his employers. When sent into Kildare to quell an insurrection, he found all quiet—and understood his orders so little as to leave all quiet as he found it. The army, too, which, before he took the command, was cheered along in its course of devastation both by Church and State, and could hardly burn, shoot, stab and violate fast enough for its patrons and admirers, was by him branded with a public and indignant rebuke for its licentiousness, and pronounced to be “in a state which made it formidable to every one but the enemy.”

Such honesty was, of course, out of harmony with the existing system, and Sir Ralph Abercromby found it necessary to resign—well repaid for the loss by his own heart’s approval ever after, and by that blessing which consecrates the memory of the few, who have, in Ireland, stood between the oppressor and the oppressed.

With respect to the atrocities committed by some members of my Family, during the paroxysm of that reaction which the measures of the Government had provoked, it is far from my intention to enter into any defence of them. I will merely say, that they who, after having read the preceding pages, can still wonder at such events as even the massacre of Scullabogue,* have yet to learn that simple theory of the connexion of effects with their causes, which is the sovereign cure for wonder on all such occasions.

*Even this, too, may be traced to the panic which the severities of the Government had diffused. “Some run-away rebels,” says Mr. Gordon, “declaring that the royal army in Ross were shooting all the prisoners, and butchering the Catholics who had fallen into their hands, feigned an order from Harvey (the rebel leader) for the execution of those persons at Scullabogue. This order, which Harvey, himself a Protestant and a man of humanity, was utterly incapable of giving, Murphy is said to have resisted— but his resistance was in vain.”

We now come to the consummation—to the harvest reaped from all this blood. Forfeitures were, as we have seen, the price paid by Ireland for her former rebellions—and the forfeiture of her existence as a nation was the mulct imposed upon her for this.

So proud was Mr. Pitt of his achievement of the Union, that he regarded it as a matter of triumph to begin the century with it. Alas for the Muse of Ireland! Her Secular Odes have thus always been dirges of slavery and sorrow. The Seventeenth Century opened with the perfidy of James, who first flattered the hopes of the Catholics, and then persecuted and plundered them afterwards—the birth of the Eighteenth was signalized by the violation of the Article, of Limerick-and the Union, a measure rising out of corruption and blood, and clothed in promises put on only to betray, was the phantom by which the dawn of the Nineteenth was welcomed.

The proclamation of the Herald in the Secular Games of the ancients, was—“Come ye unto sports which no mortal hath ever seen nor ever shall see.” But to us the revolution of ages brings ne such novelty, and the words of our Herald, Time, should be—“Come ye unto the misery and the slavery which your fathers endured before you, and which it is the will and the wisdom of the Legislature that your children should suffer after you!”

I clearly foresaw the advantages that a Union would bring to my Family; nor was I singular in this view of the consequences of that measure. Mr. Saurin (the late Attorney General) in a Speech delivered on the 21st of February, 1800, in the Irish House of Commons, thus strongly foretold the great accession of strength, which would ensue from a Union to the Rock interest:

“Is it by such a project and such a measure that we believe Ireland can be tranquillized, or her distractions and dissensions removed? No, Sir;—is it not, on the contrary, adding to and augmenting her divisions and distractions, by a new sort of division and distraction, which will last, in all human probability, for another century, with rancour and fury?” Mr. Foster, too, (now Lord Oriel) was equally clear-sighted in prophesying the consequences that have since resulted from the measure-declaring that a Union would have no other effect than that of turning Ireland into “a discontented province.”

Aware, however, as I was of all this—and. fondly as my fancy already revelled in the clear field of combat, which the removal of the Parliament would leave to me and the Ascendancy, yet could I not help shuddering, from a sort of Irish instinct, at the act of national degradation that was now about to be exhibited to the world.

When I saw the boon of Emancipation held temptingly to the lips of the Catholic, like that dear-bought draught at Cleopatra’s banquet, with the pearl of his country’s Independence dissolved within it—scarcely could I help joining the few voices that exclaimed, “What! will you surrender your country for a shadow? Will you trust to those, who have deceived you so often, and cease to be Irishmen, in the vain hope of becoming freemen?

“The bargain of our parliamentary Judases is, at least, intelligible and tangible, and the “thirty pieces of silver” on the palm acquits them of being romantic in their treason. But, what have you in exchange for this surrender of national existence? The verbal pledge of a minister—the fairy money of Hope, which seems gold to the eye, but will turn into dust in the hand!

“Be assured that a Union will put Emancipation farther off than ever. ‘ Once merged in the Empire (say your deceivers), your numbers will be no longer formidable, and you may with safety be admitted into the Constitution.* Once merged in the Empire, (say I) your numbers will, indeed, cease to be formidable-but, therefore, you will no longer be of importance, and, therefore, you will not be emancipated. It was only from the fears and interests of a resident Legislature, acted upon at every point by the pressure of your increasing population, that the few immunities you now enjoy could ever have been extortedand had the Union been achieved, as was contemplated, in 1785, it would have been then, as it will be now, an estoppel to your enfranchisement for ever!”

*Mr. Grattan thus states this argument of the Minister;—“For this hope he exhibits no other ground than the physical inanity of the Catholic body, accomplished by a Union, which, as it destroys the relative importance of Ireland, so it destroys the relative proportion of its Catholic inhabitants, and thus they become admissible, because they cease to be anything. Hence, according to him, their brilliant expectation. “You were,” says he, “before the Union as four to one-you will be by the Union as one to four.”

In my younger and romantic days, I might, perhaps, have been generous enough, to waste (for it would have been no more) a few such warnings on the Catholics. But-even had I been so singularly disinterested as to sacrifice my own advantage to that of my country-the current had then set too strongly in my favour to be resisted, and the projects of the Government for my aggrandizement would, as usual, have succeeded in spite of me.

The shame of Corruption, like the blessing of Mercy, falls alike on “him who gives, and him who takes,”—and at the period of the Union this reciprocity of disgrace was perfect. The Protestant Parliament was purchased with solid bribes—the Catholic People were won over with deceitful promises, and the Minister, glorying in his triumph over both—“Gave Liberty the last, the fatal shock, “Slipp’d the slave’s collar on, and snapp’d the lock.”


Here ends the Manuscript of the Captain. He had prepared, as he told me, materials for the continuation of his Narrative, from the Union down to the present day; but the great press of political business which that measure brought upon him, left him but little leisure for the indulgence of literary pursuits. As the Law and the Captain are always correlative in their movements, the state of the one during any given period will always enable us to judge of the activity of the other. It has been said, that “you may trace Ireland. through the Statute-book of England, as a wounded man in a crowd is tracked by his blood”—and the footsteps of the Captain are traceable, in like manner, through the laws that have prevailed during the last four-and-twenty years. For instance:—

The Insurrection Act, in force from 1800 to 1802.
Martial Law, in force from 1803 to 1805. The Insurrection Act, in force from 1807 to 1810.
Ditto, from 1814 to 1818.
Ditto, from 1822 to 1824.*

*“In addition to these Acts (says sir Henry Parnell, in the excellent Speech from which this statement is taken), others of a similar unconstitutional kind have been passed within the same period. The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended from 1797 to 1802; again from 1803 to 1806; and again in 1822. The Arms Act, allowing domiciliary visits, and prohibiting the use of arms, was in force from 1796 to 1801, and has been in force from 1807 to the present time, and now forms part of the standing law of the country. The Peace Preservation Act, by which a regular gendarmerie was appointed, has been in force from 1814 to the present time.”

“Taking together,” he adds, “the periods of disturbances, as before mentioned, with the periods for which the Martial Law and Insurrection Acts have been in force, we shall find that out of a period of the last thirty-one years, no less than twenty-six have been years of insurrection or disturbance.”Speech, delivered Tuesday, June 24, 1823.

Well knowing how much the time of the Captain must be taken up, by the increased demands upon his activity which such a state of the law implies, I forbore to press him for the remainder of his Manuscript; choosing rather though anxious to give the public the full advantage of his lucubrations—to wait till some interval of retirement from business, should enable him, like Napoleon at St. Helena, to put a finishing hand to his Memoirs.

Such an opportunity is now but too likely to be afforded, by an event that occurred about two months since.

One evening, during the mild weather which prevailed at that time, the Captain, who is rather of a romantic disposition, was, it seems, indulging himself with a walk by moonlight on the banks of the river Suir.- meditating, no doubt, on the events of his long life, and sighing after that peace which he might have enjoyed, had the measures of the Government not forced him into such riotous distinction. From this reverie he was awakened by the tramp of horses, and saw rapidly advancing towards him a party of that gendarmerie, to whom, at present, is confided the task of civilising Ireland.

Supposing that they knew him, and that his final hour was come, he, with his usual promptitude, prepared for resistance-having long resolved (as he himself expresses it), “on the principle of the Sibyl, to sell the last leaf dearly.” Perceiving, however, that they were not aware of the rank of their antagonist, and holding it to be the part of a wise man to reserve himself for future chances, he quietly submitted, and was conducted to the gaol of Tipperary.

A Sessions under the Insurrection act being always ready in that town, he was tried the following day, and the crimes with which he was charged, were-Firstly, being out in the open air by moonlight, and Secondly, not being able to give an account of himself. Of the unfairness of the latter charge, the Public, after having read the preceding pages, can sufficiently judge—though the case, it must be owned, is somewhat different, when the autobiographer stands before a magistrate under the Insurrection Act.

It appears that there were, in the Court and the Town, at the time, a large assemblage of Rockites—any one of whom could have identified our hero, so as to give the going Judges the triumph of at last, hanging the real Captain Rock. But the only virtue, which the Irish Government has been the means of producing in the people, is fidelity to each other in their Conspiracies against it. Accordingly, the Captain-though shrewdly suspected of being the Captain—was, luckily for himself, not known to be such; and, being found guilty only of the transportable offence, namely, that of being out by moonlight, is at this moment on his way to those distant shores, where so many lads “who love the moon” have preceded him.

As every thing that relates to such great men is, in these times, a matter of public interest, I am happy to have it in my power, from the report of an eye-witness, to state that the Captain was dressed, on the morning of his embarkation, in an old green coat-supposed to be the same, but without the yellow facings, which was made up for Napper Tandy, as an officer of the Irish National Guard—a pair of breeches, the colour of which the reporter unluckily could not ascertain, and stockings, of the staple manufacture of Mr. Dick Martin’s Kingdom of Connemara.

He was observed to smile as he mounted the side of the vessel, and trod the deck, I am assured, with a very firm step. The state of his mind, however, may best be judged, by the following Extract of a Letter which I received from him, about a week before he sailed.

Cove Harbour, 1824

“It is amusing enough that this should be my fate, after all; though to you, I know, it will afford matter of serious thought. When, after turning over the first pages of the history of our connexion, with England, you reflect that now—at the end of six hundred years an Irishman may be transported, under English laws, for being out of his house (having none, perhaps,) after sunset, it will confirm you, I think, still more in the idea impressed upon you while here—that, much as we, of the Rock race, require instruction, our rulers, of every race, require it still more,

“For myself, I am grown old in the service—repose has, at length, become welcome, if not essential, to me; and, when all that a man wishes is, to be able to say, ‘inveni Portum,’ Port Jackson, perhaps, will do as well as any other.

“For the safety of the Rock Dominion in Ireland, to which my son, now invested with the title of Captain, succeeds, I see but little in the measures or projects of our present rulers to alarm me. On the contrary, it appears to me, that I leave every thing most comfortably calculated, to render the reign of my son as tempestuous and troublesome as my own.

“A Lord Lieutenant, whose enlightened and liberal intentions alarm and offend the stronger party; while his limited powers and embarrassed position incapacitate him from gaining the confidence of the weaker—a Secretary, worthy of the good old Anti-popery times, and to whose spirit I would ensure a safe passage over Mahomet’s bridge into Paradise, if narrowness (as it is probable) be a qualification for the performance of that hair-breadth promenade—the Orange Ascendancy flourishing under the very eyes of the Government, and imitating that Oligarchy mentioned by Aristotle, whose oath was, “We will do the multitude all the evil in our power’—the Established Clergy still further enriched, and threatening to “push the Landed Gentry ‘from their stools’—more than a million spent annually upon soldiers,* to keep down the Catholics, and only a few thousands per annum given to educate them—with such actual results of the policy of our present rulers, and with Mr. Peel, Lord Eldon, and the Duke of Wellington in the Cabinet, to answer for the complexion of their future measures, I may safely, I think, reckon upon the continuance of the Rock Dynasty, through many a long year of distraction and tumult; and may lay my head upon my pillow at Botany Bay, with the full assurance that all at home is going on as prosperously as ever.

* “This enormous sum (1,334,967l. 6s. 10; d.) forms only a part of the contributions of Great Britain, to uphold that system of mis-government, to which all the miseries of Ireland, and the destitute condition of her population should be traced. The other expences, direct and indirect, would certainly increase the annual charge (1823) to two millions sterling, at least. Let the British Senator, therefore, reflect that the condition of Ireland is no longer an Irish question alone, but one most materially affecting the financial concerns of Great Britain.”-Practical Hints and Suggestions, &c. &c.

“A word or two more, my dear Sir, and I have done. As I know you are one of those who have sincerely set their hearts, upon the conversion of the Irish Roman Catholics to Protestantism, I will—to show you how little I am under the influence of bigotry—mention the only mode that has ever occurred to me, as affording even a chance of attaining that object. Let an Act be passed, transferring to the Roman Catholic Clergy all the Tithes that are at present paid to the Protestant Establishment; and, if that does not alienate the whole body of Roman Catholics from their Pastors, the case is desperate, and you must be content to let Ireland remain Popish.

“Late Captain of all Ireland.”

“P.S.. I trust to your discretion and honour for not mentioning the circumstances of my fate, till you know that I am fairly out of the hands of the Joshuaites – having hanged so many dozens of wrong Captain Rocks, they might possibly now take it into their heads to hang the right one.”


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