Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter II

Reign of Henry II.—Queues and Mustachios.—Attention to Them by the Legislature.—Fine for Killing a Mere Irishman.—The O’Driscolls’ Expensive Killing.—English and Irish Cursing Each Other.—Apostrophe to Tithes.

In the year 1180, and for some centuries after, if a man was caught in Ireland with his upper lip unshaven, he was held to be no true Englishman, and might be plundered without ceremony, or killed at a very trifling expense.

In the year 1798, under the Government of Lords Camden and Castlereagh, if a man was caught in Dublin who had no queue, he was held, in the same manner, to be no true Englishman, and might be whipped, ad libitum, by any loyal gentleman who had one.

This shows, at least, how steadily the rulers of Ireland have persevered in their ancient maxims of policy, and what importance may be given to mustachios and tails by a government that will but for six hundred years set seriously about it. In the former period, of course the whiskers of the Rock Family flourished, persecution being to whiskers more nutritive than the best Macassar oil; and, in the latter period, Crops, as we all know, became so formidable as to require not only an army of twenty or thirty thousand men, but all Lord Cornwallis’s good sense and humanity, to put them down again.

I have said that the penalty, in those times, for killing a mere Irishman was but small. Sometimes, however, the price was higher. Sir John Davies, in his Historical Relations, tells us of ‘one William, the son of Roger, who, among others, was, by John Wogan, Lord Justice of Ireland, fined five marks for killing one O’Driscoll’;* this was an unusually extravagant mulct; and it would be a curious research for an antiquary to inquire why the O’Driscolls were so much more expensive killing than other people. The following verses, addressed, I understand, to a certain personage, whose hatred of an Irishman is, at least, equal to his love of a guinea, come nearer, perhaps, to the sum at which, in the honeymoon of our English connection, the life of a merus Hibernicus was valued:

Oh, hadst thou lived when every Saxon clown First stabb’d his foe, and then paid half-a-crown; With such a choice in thy well-balanced scale, Say, would thy avarice or thy spite prevail?

It was in such times, and under such laws, that my pugnacious progenitors first rose into repute, and began that career which, under the various names of Mere Irish, Rapparees, Whiteboys, &c., they have continued prosperously down to the present day. It has usually been the policy of conquerors and colonists to blend as much as possible with the people among whom they establish themselves, to share with them the advantage of their own institutions, to remove all invidious distinctions that might recall the memory of their original invasion or intrusion, in short, to sow in their new neighbourhood the seeds of future shelter and ornament, instead of perversely applying themselves to the culture of poison, and sitting down, like witches, with a plantation of night-shade around them. Had our English conquerors adopted this ordinary policy, the respectable Family of the Rocks might never have been heard of; a few dozen rebellions would have been lost to the page of history; and Archbishop Magee would not, perhaps, at this moment, have been throwing six millions of people into convulsions with an antithesis.**

*In the 4th of Edward II R. de Wayleys was tried at Waterford for feloniously slaying John Mac Gillimorry. The prisoner confesses the fact, but pleads that ‘he could not thereby commit felony, because the deceased was a mere Irishman, and not of free blood’, &c. &c.—See the Eleventh Address of Dr. Lucas on this subject.

**See the celebrated Charge of this prelate, where, after asserting that the Presbyterians have a Religion without a Church, his Grace balances the antithesis, by adding that the Catholics have ‘a Church without a Religion’, thus nullifying, at one touch of his archiepiscopal pen, the creed of not only six-sevenths of his fellow-countrymen, but of the great majority of the whole Christian world. Never did a figure of speech produce a more lively sensation.

The English, it is evident, from the very first, disdained to owe any thing to love or good will in the inamabile regnum which they established among us; and Sir J. Davis, already quoted (with a candour like that of more modern functionaries, who acknowledge the misrule of every government but their own, and grant that, up to the precise moment when they came into power, all was wrong), thus briefly describes the policy that prevailed during the first three hundred and fifty years of British domination in Ireland: ‘It was certainly a great defect in the civil policy of Ireland, that, for the space of three hundred and fifty years, at least, after the conquest first attempted, the English laws were not communicated to its people, nor the benefit or protection thereof allowed them; for, as long as they were out of the protection of the laws, so as every Englishman might oppress, spoil, and kill them without control, how was it possible they should be other than outlaws, and enemies to the crown of England?’ As, since the Reformation, a difference of creeds has been one of the chief points in that game of discord at which the Government and the Rock Family play so indefatigably together, it may be supposed that, at the period of which I am speaking, the agreement of both parties in the same belief would, at least, have narrowed the arena of dissension, and that discord being thus ‘at one entrance quite shut out’, they would have had rather more idle time on their hands than at present. But people, well inclined to differ, seldom find much difficulty in managing it. In the Arian controversy* it required but that innocent diphthong oi to set the whole Christian world by the ears for ages; and no mightier monosyllables than ‘by’ and ‘from’ have produced a schism between the Greek and Latin churches for ever.

*Tu fis dans une guerre et si triste et si longue
Périr tant de Chrétiens, martyres d’une diphtongue.

Our English polemics, however, required no such important differences, to stimulate in them the odium ecclesiasticum against their Popish brethren, but at once proceeded to burn their churches,* and murder their priests, with as right good will as if all the letters of the alphabet had been at issue between them.

The effect of this aggression was such as might be expected; and the country soon exhibited the extraordinary spectacle of two hostile altars set up by the same faith, at which believers in the same Pope knelt down to curse each other, with no other difference in the formula of their maledictions, than that one cursed in English and the other in Irish. Well might a philosophic member of the Rock Family exclaim, in witnessing this phenomenon, ‘If such is the mode in which these pious persons agree, what precious sport we shall have when they differ!’

I had almost forgot to mention, though of the utmost importance in a history of our family, that to the occupation of Ireland by the English we are supposed to be in a great degree indebted for the first regular introduction of the blessed system of tithes. Among the bribes, by which the prelates of Ireland were induced to yield obedience to the bull of Adrian, and surrender the sovereignty of their country to Henry II, was that article of reformation (as it was called), passed by the Synod of Cashel, which enjoined the payment of tithes by the laity, a mode of taxation till then, it seems, hardly known in Ireland. Mr. O’Halloran, it is true, asserts the contrary; and even represents the ancient Irish to have been such exemplary tithe-payers, that they not only contributed a tenth of their corn and cattle to the Church, but threw every tenth child,** as a make-weight, into the bargain, a species of small-tithe, by the bye, which, in the present state of the population of Ireland, and the enormous wealth of the Irish Church, it might not be unadvisable to restore to the parson.

*‘In Ireland it had long been a custom for the inhabitants to deposit provisions, and effects of greater value, in the churches, where they lay secure, amidst all their domestic quarrels, as in a kind of sanctuary, which it was deemed the utmost impiety to violate. But the English had no such superstitious scruples.’—Leland.

‘The Irish, at length, to deprive their invaders of this resource, burnt down their own churches (as their annals express it), in spite to the foreigners.’—Leland.

**Among the pastoral customs of those happy times, they used (says Dr. Milner) to baptize their children in butter-milk.

Mr. O’Halloran, however, is not always to be depended upon; and, in addition to other evidence, we have lately had the expressed opinion of a learned and right reverend Roman Catholic prelate,* that the payment of tithes, as a regular and compulsory due, may be dated from the period to which I have referred it.

Honour and praise then to the Synod of Cashel, for having planted among us this additional apple of discord, which, unlike the apples of Mr. Andrew Knight, has neither changed in character, nor degenerated in flavour; but, by the side of the Orange,** and other wholesome fruits, still blooms in the garden of the Rocks with undiminished strength and fertility! All hail, too, most ancient and venerable tithes, by whatever name ye delight to be called, praedial, mixed, or personal!, long may ye flourish, with your attendant blessings of valuators, tithe-farmers, and Bishops’ courts, to the infinite recreation of the Rock Family, to the honour and glory of parsons Morrit, Morgan, &c., and to the maintenance for ever of the Church Militant, as by law (and constables) established in Ireland!

*See the Vindication of the Irish Catholics, by Bishop Doyle, the most striking display of clerical talent and courage, that has appeared among the Catholics since the days of O’Leary.

**O sanctas gentes, quibus haec nascuntur in hortis Numina.

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