Secret Service Under Pitt



Thirty years ago I published in ‘Notes and Queries'[427] an exposé of McNally, so far as it could then be done on circumstantial evidence. His secret letters to the Irish Government were not accessible when I first touched the subject, but these have become very familiar to me of late, and it will be seen that all I sought to show is proved by the revelation of McNally’s own testimony. Before I come to these letters, some of the remarks with which I had long previously prefaced my doubts may perhaps be allowed to stand.

It is an object with Mr. Froude to show–and evidently as pointing a moral–that men who posed as the greatest patriots were secretly betraying the plans of their colleagues. But although Mr. Froude mentions McNally more than once, it does not appear that he was an informer. When describing the arrest and death of the Rev. Wm. Jackson in 1794, he mentions McNally as ‘a popular barrister,’ and further on his name is given with that of Curran, Ponsonby, Emmet, and Guinness, as constituting ‘the legal strength of Irish Liberalism.’ This remark is made in connection with an episode told with such dramatic effect by Mr. Froude that it remains merely for a minor pen to unmask ‘the popular barrister.’

Charles Phillips, although he had made the lives of famous Irish barristers his study, as shown in ‘Curran and his Contemporaries,’ refused to believe any tale to the prejudice of McNally. In the last edition of his popular book Phillips declares that

The thing is incredible! If I was called upon to point out, next to Curran, the man most obnoxious to the Government–who most hated them, and was most hated by them–it would have been Leonard MacNally–that MacNally, who, amidst the military audience, stood by Curran’s side while he denounced oppression, defied power, and dared every danger![428]

In this impression he was supported by W. H. Curran, afterwards judge–a man who, unlike his illustrious father, was of the hardest and coldest nature. He travelled out of his path, in writing that father’s life, to pronounce a panegyric which is quite a curiosity to exhume:–

Among many endearing traits in this gentleman’s private character, his devoted attachment to Mr. Curran’s person and fame and, since his death, to the interests of his memory, has been conspicuous. The writer of this cannot advert to the ardour and tenderness with which he cherishes the latter, without emotion of the most lively and respectful gratitude. To Mr. McNally he has to express many obligations for the zeal with which he has assisted in procuring and supplying materials for the present work. The introduction of these private feelings is not entirely out of place–it can never be out of place to record an example of steadfastness in friendship. For three and forty years Mr. McNally was the friend of the subject of these pages; and during that long period he performed the duties of the relation with the most uncompromising and romantic fidelity. To state this is a debt of justice to the dead. The survivor has an ampler reward than any passing tribute of this sort can confer, in the recollection that during their long intercourse not even an unkind look ever passed between them.[429]

These remarks were elicited by a scene which occurred in Finney’s trial[430] in ’98. John Philpot Curran, embracing McNally, said, ‘My old and excellent friend, I have long known and respected the honesty of your heart, but never until this occasion was I acquainted with the extent of your abilities. I am not in the habit of paying compliments where they are undeserved.’ Tears fell from Mr. Curran as he hung over his friend.[431] Emotion spread to the Bench, and Judge Chamberlain, and Baron Smith warmly complimented McNally. Poor Curran! He

loved to recall the past moments so dear
When the sweet pledge of faith was confidingly given,
When the lip spoke in voice of affection sincere,
And the vow was exchanged and recorded in Heaven.[432]

In 1817, when Curran died in England, Burton–afterwards judge–singled out McNally, as the attached friend of the illustrious dead, to tell him the sad news.[433]

It does not surprise one that Phillips should have expressed the scepticism he puts on record. No man was more deeply versed in Bar traditions. He loved to question its oldest members about their contemporaries; and amongst all their ana he never heard, as regards McNally, a dark doubt started. ‘Dr. Madden in his “Life of Robert Emmet,”‘ writes Phillips, ‘broadly states the fact [that he was in Government pay], but does not give, as he usually does, his grounds for so stating it.'[434] Madden, replying to Phillips, said, ‘I acknowledge I am ignorant of the time when the pension of 300l. was conferred.’

We now know not only the date, but the nature of the service by which the pension was earned.

Under-Secretary Cooke, in the year 1800, drew up for Castlereagh’s information a confidential memorandum respecting ‘Secret Service Pensions’ for those who had given important assistance during the Rebellion. ‘Mac,’ for a pension of 300l. a year, is the first name recommended.[435] On the following page, Mr. Cooke–obliged to be explicit–writes the name Leonard MacAnally in full, with the amount 300l. as his annual wages.

Major Sirr was chief of the police system in Dublin. His papers contain no letters from McNally; but Thomas O’Hara, writing to Sirr on November 11, 1800, proffers his services as a spy, and requests Sirr to address his answer to ‘Leonard McNally, Esq., 20 Harcourt Street, Dublin.'[436] McNally, irrespective of the knowledge he possessed as counsel for the rebels, was himself a ‘United Irishman.’ An organ of that body, the ‘Northern Star,’ on March 3, 1797, proudly describes him as such in connection with the fact that, some days previously, he challenged and fought Sir Jonah Barrington for having used disparaging language towards the United Irishmen. In this combat he lost his thumb. The two Sheareses and Bagenal Harvey–all hanged the following year–escorted McNally to the ground.

A number of receipts for quarterly payments of Secret Service money were stolen from Dublin Castle during the thirties, and came to the hammer at a literary sale-room. Among them is the following:–

Received from William Taylor, Esqr., Seventy-five pounds, due the 25th June last.

J. W.

Endorsed (by Mr. Taylor)–5th July, 1816, 75l. L. M‘N.

S. A.[437]

McNally seems to have been the only recipient who was permitted to use false initials. The handwriting in the above is identical with some acknowledged autograph lines of Leonard McNally; but ‘trifles light as air’ at first encouraged my suspicions. For instance: there appears in the ‘Cornwallis Papers,’ some five hundred pages away from the part which mentions him, a letter signed ‘J. W.'[438] The able editor, Mr. Ross, cannot guess the writer; but the information given deals with matters arising out of legal proceedings, and thereby points to a barrister as the spy.

In the same letter,[439] ‘J. W.’ states that a man named Bird is determined to ‘let the cat out of the bag.’ Here it may be observed in passing, that a pamphlet of the day is entitled ‘The Cat let out of the Bag,’ and, though published anonymously, the copy now before me displays his well known autograph, ‘By Leonard McNally, Barrister-at-law.'[440]

John Pollock was Clerk of the Crown for the Leinster Circuit in 1798. The Book of Secret Service Money[441] records frequent payments, through his hands, to ‘J. W.’ These entries appear from February 16, 1799, to June 16, 1801, when the words ‘repaid from pension’ are added. McNally, it will be remembered, received his pension the previous year. Cooke, in a confidential memorandum for Castlereagh, writes:–

Pollock’s services ought to be thought of. He managed Mac—-, and MacGuicken,[442] and did much. He received the place of Clerk of the Crown and Peace, and he has the fairest right to indemnification.[443]

Thus we see how weak was the attempt made by McNally’s friends to explain away his secret pension. It was plausibly alleged that McNally, having been refused a silk gown in 1808, the pension was then conferred to compensate for his disappointment. So popular was this barrister, that the refusal of the Crown to give him silk was voted a grievance. Indeed, so far as outward appearance went, he uniformly took the popular side on all questions. The Bar meeting, to denounce the proposed Legislative Union, held on December 9, 1798, includes, among the patriotic orators, Leonard McNally.

Some of the reasons given by Phillips for refusing to doubt McNally’s patriotism were, that he declined to join the lawyers’ corps of yeomanry in 1798, and that his was the last hand Curran grasped when leaving Ireland! These waifs and strays only prove how well McNally played his part. As a successful dramatic author, and one who had been himself upon the stage, theatrical effect was at all times easy to him.

It is now time to appeal to direct evidence, not until recently accessible. Mr. Lecky, in examining the archives of the Home Office, has found record of McNally’s fall, and the virtuous historian describes it as a ‘peculiarly shocking one.'[444] It will be remembered that the Rev. Wm. Jackson, a parson, came to Ireland in 1794 on a secret mission from France. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. McNally now found, it is said, that if he did not become an informer the halter would soon encircle a neck previously dignified by forensic bands.

Jackson, shortly before his death [Mr. Lecky goes on to say], found an opportunity of writing four short letters, recommending his wife and child, and a child who was still unborn, to two or three friends, and to the care of the French nation, and he also drew up a will leaving all he possessed to his wife, and entrusting McNally with the protection of her interests. He wrote at the bottom of it, ‘Signed and sealed in presence of my dearest friend, whose heart and principles ought to recommend him as a worthy citizen–Leonard McNally.’ These precious documents he entrusted, when dying, to his friend, and about three weeks after the death of Jackson, McNally placed them in the hands of the Irish Government.

A few days later, Camden sent a copy of them to England, with a ‘most secret and confidential letter.’ ‘The paper which accompanies this,’ he said, ‘was delivered to Counsellor McNally, from whom Government received it. There is so much evidence against this person, that he is–I am informed–completely in the power of Government. Your Grace will observe that the care of Mrs. Jackson is recommended by her husband to the National Convention, and that Mr. McNally is desired to assist her by every means in his power to procure her assistance from them. It has occurred to me that an excuse might be made for Mr. McNally’s being allowed to enter France for the purpose of attending to this woman’s fortunes, that he should go through London, and in case your Grace should wish to employ him, I would inform you when and where he will be found.’

Portland replied that he was perfectly ready to make use of the services of McNally in France, if Camden thought that he might be safely trusted, but he suggested that this was very doubtful. The control which Government possessed over him depended entirely upon the conclusive evidence of treason they had against him. Would that control continue in a foreign country? Camden, on reflection, agreed that it would not be safe to try the experiment. McNally, however, he was convinced, would be very useful at home.[445]

Jackson, finding no chance of acquittal, took poison and died, just as Lord Clonmell was about to sentence him to be hanged. Shortly before his death in the dock, seeing McNally pass, he grasped his hand and is said to have whispered, ‘We have deceived the Senate!’ This was true of McNally, but Jackson did not suspect him; nor did Curran, or the many other shrewd scribes who have chronicled the touching incident.

Mr. Lecky thinks that McNally’s fall dates only from 1794: my belief is that he had previously evinced some frailty. In 1790, when counsel for Lord Sherborne, Beresford Burston accused him of ‘doing dirty work,'[446] and McNally thereupon challenged Burston. Dr. Madden says that, in 1792, at the time of Napper Tandy’s action against the Viceroy, some of Tandy’s legal advisers were suspected of having disclosed their ingenious case to the Crown. McNally was certainly counsel in this cause. St. John Mason, brother-in-law of Addis Emmet, broadly charges McNally with perfidy committed in 1792.[447] Previous to this date Collins the spy calls McNally ‘one of us,’ in a secret letter to the Government agent, Jack Gifford.[448] Who Gifford was is shown by Curran, who complains to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that ‘Gifford, a note-taker for your Government, had the daring to come up to me in the street and shake his stick at me.'[449]

Mr. Lecky says that McNally often betrayed to the Crown the line of defence contemplated by his clients, and other information which he could only have received in professional confidence, and the Government archives contain several of his briefs annotated in his own hand. Mr. Lecky finds that

he was also able, in a manner not less base, to furnish the Government with early and most authentic evidence about conspiracies which were forming in France. James Tandy[450] … was his intimate friend; McNally, by his means, saw nearly every letter that arrived from Napper Tandy, and some of those which came from Rowan and Reynolds. The substance of these letters was regularly transmitted to the Government, and they sometimes contained information of much value. Besides this, as a lawyer in considerable practice, constantly going on circuit, and acquainted with the leaders of sedition, McNally had excellent opportunities of knowing the state of the country, and was able to give very valuable warnings about the prevailing dispositions.[451]

Among the earlier victims to the severe legislation of that time was Laurence Conner, a poor schoolmaster of Naas, charged with Defenderism, whose case has been invested with interest by Sir Jonah Barrington, Dr. Madden, and others. A moving speech from the dock failed to avert his doom, and his head, for years after, grinned from a stake at the top of the gaol. McNally, who had defended him, stated in his secret report to Pelham that a provision had been offered for Conner’s family if he would make discoveries; but his reply was, ‘He who feeds the young ravens in the valley will provide for them!'[452] It is strange that McNally should report to his employers this chivalrous speech, which places in marked contrast his own frailty and disgraceful fall. But corrupt as his heart had now become, he could not help admiring magnanimity wherever he met it. The man who sought to make Conner inform was, doubtless, McNally himself, at the instance of Crown Solicitor Pollock, who, as the ‘Cornwallis Papers’ record (iii. 120), ‘managed Mac.’

This is the man whose name Earl Russell erased from Moore’s Diary of February 27, 1835, leaving merely the initials ‘L. McN.,’ because some doubts of his honesty had been expressed postprandially by Plunket, a man more clear-sighted, it appears, than Charles Phillips. Succeeding chapters will show Plunket associated with McNally during the State trials of ’98.

Lord Holland amused with my saying how much I used to look up to this L—- McN—- [writes Moore], on account of some songs in a successful opera which he wrote, ‘Robin Hood.’ ‘Charming Clorinda’ was one of the songs I used to envy him being the author of.

‘Your profession should have taught you principles of honour,’ McNally writes in the piece which first roused the muse of Moore. With such fine sentiments it must have caused him a struggle to betray. All will rejoice that he who sang

Let Erin remember the days of old
Ere her faithless sons betrayed her–

escaped the blight of McNally’s breath. Moore was the bosom friend of Emmet, sympathised with the ’cause,’ and wrote for the organ of the United Irishmen. Shortly after ’98, however, he entered at the Middle Temple, London, and saw McNally no more. Plunket told Moore that it was in a duel McNally received the wound in the hip that lamed him, and on a subsequent occasion, when he was again going out to fight, a friend said, ‘I’d advise you, Mac, to turn the other hip to him, and who knows but he may shoot you straight.'[453]

McNally was indeed a brave man. If anyone seemed to doubt him, he would be called out and probably shot. In early life he practised at the English Bar. It is recorded in the ‘Cyclopædian Magazine,’ for 1808, that during the Gordon Riots, when the mob had smashed down the Bishop of Lincoln’s coach, had dragged him out, and were beating him with bludgeons, McNally, at the risk of his life, rescued Dr. Thurlow, on whose forehead, he heard them say, they meant to cut the sign of the cross. This prelate, who somewhat favoured Catholic Relief, was the brother of Lord Chancellor Thurlow; and the young barrister may have had an ulterior object in thus exposing himself to danger. McNally himself evidently supplied the account, of which but a few details are here borrowed, and we learn that ‘the Bishop required, and received, the address of his protector, but never after acknowledged the obligation.'[454] Some pamphlets on the Regency struggle, and the ‘Claims of Ireland’ vindicated on the principles of the English Whigs, introduced him to Fox, for whom he acted as counsel at an election for Westminster. ‘By whatever right England possesses Liberty,’ he said, ‘by the same right Ireland may claim it!’

McNally as an orator was declamatory, and at times theatrical. His outward man has been often caricatured, but John O’Keefe tells us that he had ‘a handsome, expressive countenance, and fine sparkling dark eyes.'[455] Sir Jonah Barrington recognises the same features. Contemporary memoirs of him supply a long list of his dramas, farces, comic operas, touching lyrics, prologues and masques, all produced at Covent Garden. But when in England he was a genuine, thoroughgoing Irishman very unlike the sham which he afterwards became; and why he resigned a dramatic for a forensic career is curiously shown by ‘Sylvanus Urban.’ The opening of Covent Garden Theatre, on September 23, 1782, was commemorated by a prelude from McNally’s pen.

The author, with a partiality to his own countrymen which we know not how to censure, has drawn the character of an Irishman as one possessed of qualities which he had rather imprudently denied to the other persons of the drama–English, Scotch, Welsh, and French. This circumstance gave offence, and before the conclusion of the piece the clamour became too great for anything to be heard. It was, therefore, laid aside.

No name seems to have been more popular with the pit and galleries, and the admiration of his countrymen for him showed itself in odd ways. Kemble somewhere describes an Irishman at Drury Lane indignantly claiming one of Shakespeare’s plays for McNally: and when a spectator, duly challenged, replied that he did not want to dispute the point with him, his tormentor said, still trying to foster a quarrel, ‘but perhaps you don’t believe me?’ Again the man received a polite assurance which seemed quite satisfactory; but five minutes later ‘Pat,’ observing Kemble whispering to a companion, came over in an attitude still more menacing–‘Maybe your friend doesn’t believe that the play is written by Leonard McNally?’ and to avoid a scene both were glad to decamp. Those were the days when the voice of national predilection made itself heard and felt in dramatic criticism. Home scored a success with ‘Douglas:’ ‘and where be your Wully Shakespeare noo?’ was shrieked by some clannish Scots that night. McNally’s friends regretted more than once that he ever left London. A book called ‘Five Hundred Celebrated Authors of Great Britain now living’ was published here in 1788,[456] and it is amusing to find McNally’s name included with those of Burke, Gibbon, Walpole, Crabbe, Burns, Cowper, De Lolme and Mackenzie, who at the close of a century were helping to educate the minds which were to adorn its successor.

One day Lord Loughborough, finding McNally ill prepared in a case which came before the Court, advised him to abandon the Muses and study Blackstone; but the cacoëthes scribendi burned too strongly within him to relinquish more cultured pursuits. His ‘Sentimental Excursions to Windsor’ appeared, and on rejoining the Irish Bar he produced ‘The Irish Justice of the Peace,’ for which 2,500l. was paid by Hugh Fitzpatrick, the Catholic publisher; ‘but it contained so much bad law,’ writes Charles Phillips, ‘that it proved a treasure not to the J. P’s., but to the country attorneys.’ Sadly soon the former had practical experience of a writ; and Michael Staunton told me, that if McNally’s law points often served culprits, they hanged as many more.[457] ‘In Dublin,’ records a contemporary scribe,[458] ‘he has now very considerable law business.’

‘He had a shrill, full, good bar voice,’ writes Barrington, in bestowing other praise. Sir Jonah occupied the judgment seat, and was famous for his power of discerning character; but, although he impugns the good name of many men, he does not distrust McNally. According to Barrington, ‘Mac’ was ‘good-natured, hospitable, and talented.'[459] It is to be feared that hospitality with the popular barrister was but a means to an end. ‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the spider to the fly. McNally, in some of his letters to the Government when requesting money, urges as an extra reason the necessity of entertaining friends in order to get at new information.

Without money [he writes] it is impossible to do what is expected. Those Spartans wish to live like Athenians in matters of eating and drinking. They live so among each other, and without ability to entertain I cannot live with them, and without living with them I cannot learn from them.[460]

McNally knew human nature quite as well as Bishop South, who says of the bacchanal that his ‘heart floats upon his lips, and his inmost thoughts proclaim and write themselves upon his forehead;’ and he adds that, just ‘as a liar ought to have a good memory, so a person of guilt ought to be also a person of great sobriety.'[461] McNally’s dinner in honour of unfortunate ‘Parson Jackson’ and of the man who shadowed him to the grave, suggests that it was not the only occasion when death sat at the table.

In midsummer 1798 the clangour of battle filled the air. ‘Fear prevails, and all jovial intercourse has ceased, so far as my experience goes,'[462] he writes; but when hostilities ceased, amenities were renewed.

After he had ceased to produce ‘masques’ at Covent Garden, and entered on his new career of a barrister and a spy, one great effort of his energetic life was to divert suspicion and puzzle posterity. He saw the wisdom of the proverb, ‘Show me your company,’ and thus he had a double object to gain by cultivating touch with patriotic men. In 1790 he was admitted a Freeman for–as the address to him said–his services to his country. In 1802 he published ‘The Rules of Evidence, or Pleas of the Crown.’ It is dedicated to John Philpot Curran, ‘from an affectionate attachment,’ writes McNally,

and from a proud wish to make known to posterity that a reciprocal and an uninterrupted amity subsisted between the Author and the man whose transcendent genius and philosophic mind soar above all competition–whose honest and intrepid heart was never influenced in the Senate, nor intimidated at the Bar, from exerting, with zeal, independence, and spirit, his love to his country and his duty to his client.

The ‘authorised’ memoir of McNally in the ‘Cyclopædian Magazine’ quotes the above, adding, ‘The relatives of Mr. Curran may extract from this dedication an epitaph worthy of his memory.’ The whole object of the memoir, one evidently inspired by McNally himself, is to foster a feeling of respect for and confidence in his own pretensions. No wonder that, in the eyes of Young Ireland one hundred years ago, a halo encircled McNally’s head. Some of the spirited efforts which roused the Muse of Moore and Drennan are found in the organ of the United Irishmen. The ‘Northern Star’ of November 10, 1792, contains rebellious verses signed L. M. N.

Mr. Lecky has not examined McNally’s secret reports after the year 1800, and his impression is that he ‘did not wish to implicate “persons.”‘[463] It would appear, however, on Mr. Lecky’s own showing, that McNally was not squeamish–even during the reign of terror–in pointing to men by name.

In September and October 1797 he told them [writes Mr. Lecky] that Bond was the treasurer of the conspiracy; that the chief management was now transferred from Belfast to Dublin and confined to a very few; that Keogh, McCormick, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Arthur O’Connor, Sweetman, Dixon, Chambers, Emmet, Bond, and Jackson were in the secret.[464]

On February 5, 1797, McNally warns the Government that O’Coigly (hanged the following year) was in Ireland on a political mission, and reports the pith of his conversation.[465] ‘O’Connor, Macnevin and Lord Edward Fitzgerald,’ he whispers, ‘are the advocates of assassination,'[466] which, indeed, there is great reason to doubt.[467] On November 19 Grattan is put in jeopardy.[468] Next month ‘a most circumstantial and alarming story,’ writes Lecky, had come from McNally. ‘It was, that Lord Edward received, some days since, orders from Paris to urge an insurrection here with all speed, in order to draw troops from England. In consequence of it, there was a meeting of the head committee, where he and O’Connor urged immediate measures of vigour;’ and thereupon their plans are laid bare: but how Emmet, Chambers, etc., opposed. McNally lived in Dominic Street, near the Dominican Fathers. In letters to Cooke he points to MacMahon and other of his reverend colleagues; and I learn from the present custodian of the ‘Dominican Records’ that Fathers MacMahon, Bushe, and Mulhall were arrested in ’98, but at last suffered to leave Ireland for America. On May 24, 1798, J. W. mentions that MacMahon had called on him the previous day. But so early as June 14, 1797 the falcon eye of McNally had become fixed on this friar. He and other priests, he states, meet weekly at Herbert’s tavern, Clontarf. ‘Reilly, an officer who served in Germany, is often with them. Individually, no doubt, they are all concerned in the politics of the day, and they act when together with a caution certainly suspicious. Vernon, of Clontarf, offered the waiter 100l. to make discoveries, which he refused.’

‘Troy may be up,'[469] McNally reports, meaning that the Catholic archbishop had been probably enrolled a United Irishman. Henceforth his Grace’s letters were regularly opened at the Post Office.[470] Minor names are often breathed, and who can doubt that, with the Habeas Corpus Act suspended, advanced men stood upon the brink of an abyss? Carhampton, Commander-in-Chief, sent numbers of untried men out of the country,[471] and threatened to do the same with the Rev. Edward Berwick,[472] and others. Hundreds were seized on bare suspicion and expatriated without even knowing their accusers, or hearing the charge for which they suffered.[473]

The acts of no member of the Directory are more regularly reported than those of Arthur O’Connor. McNally seems to have been in his confidence as political ally and legal adviser. In turning over his letters I met one much more voluminous than the rest, furnishing a complete list of all the witnesses to appear at Maidstone for O’Connor’s defence, and the facts to which they were prepared to testify.[474] These witnesses included Erskine, Fox, Grattan, Sheridan, Whitbread, Lords Moira, Suffolk, Thanet, and Oxford.

Throughout the State Trials men stalked who, as Curran said, measured their value by the coffins of their victims, and gloom was relieved by forensic persiflage. The duel already described left McNally lame, and another limping barrister one day asked Parsons in ‘the Hall’ of the Court, ‘Did you see McNally go this way?’ ‘I never saw him go any other way,’ was the reply.

Ned Lysaght had his skit, too:–

One leg is short which makes him lame,
Therefore the legs don’t tally;
And now, my friends, to tell his name,
‘Tis Leonard MacAnally.

He had been urged to join a Volunteer corps; but Curran told him that serious trouble might result, for, when ordered to ‘march,’ he would certainly ‘halt.'[475] When writing to Cooke on the subject of the Lawyers’ Corps, J. W., in a secret letter of June 12, 1798, introduces his real name, no doubt to puzzle outsiders into whose hands it might fall: ‘It would be well perhaps if some of the judges would institute a Corps of Invalids. McNally might lead blind Moore to battle.’

Mr. Lecky thinks that McNally after his fall ‘retained all the good nature and native kindness of his disposition.'[476] I fear that this redeeming virtue cannot be safely assigned to him. A careful sketch of the man appears in a local publication of the year 1806; and we learn that among his characteristics are–

Satire–oft whetted on ill-nature’s stone,
Which spares no other’s failings, nor his own.
But well may Leonard wield that branch of trade
Where cunning comes to penetration’s aid;
–No logic closer–strong his declamation,
But his best leg is cross-examination.[477]

This, as we now see, was done quite as much in the privacy of his study as in the forensic arena.

Curran’s great speech in Hevey v. Sirr contains a passage which has often been quoted:–

A learned and respected brother barrister had a silver cup; Major [Sandys] heard that for many years it had borne an inscription of ‘Erin go bragh’–which meant ‘Ireland for ever.’ The Major considered this perseverance for such a length of time a forfeiture of the delinquent vessel. My poor friend was accordingly robbed of his cup.

This ‘learned and respected barrister’ was none other than McNally himself. I have read his secret letter to Cooke on the subject, endorsed ‘June 2, 1798,’ and it makes him less a hero than he would publicly convey. He complains of the seizure of his cup, notwithstanding that, as he assured his military visitor, he had already erased the offending inscription. ‘Mac,’ in conclusion, says that the cup was value for 22l. 10s., ‘hardly earned,’ and encloses a separate paper distinctly naming that sum as his due. Four days later he writes to Cooke: ‘Major Sandys returned a sterling answer to my friend’s note,’ which means a full money remittance for the amount claimed.[478]

Below we have McNally’s version of this transaction, as supplied to Curran’s son for historic and popular purposes:–

A sergeant waited upon him, and delivered a verbal command from Major Sandys to surrender the cup. Mr. McNally refused, and commissioned the messenger to carry back such an answer as so daring a requisition suggested.[479] The sergeant … respectfully remonstrated upon the imprudence of provoking Major Sandys. The consequences soon appeared: the sergeant returned with a body of soldiers, who paraded before Mr. McNally’s door, and were under orders to proceed to extremities if the cup was not delivered up. Upon Mr. MacNally’s acquainting Lord Kilwarden with the outrage, the latter burst into tears and, exclaiming that ‘his own sideboard might be the next object of plunder, if such atrocious practices were not checked,’ lost not an instant in procuring the restitution of the property. The cup was accordingly sent back with the inscription erased.[480]

Arthur Wolfe, Lord Kilwarden, was the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and his alleged intimacy with McNally is probably exaggerated. The biographer says that Curran repeatedly told this episode of ’98, and quotes a touching peroration regarding Kilwarden’s alleged interposition: that, in fact, great was the odour of its memory and precious the balm of its consolation!

McNally’s account of the robbery of his silver cup was part of his stock-in-trade, and I am sure that for twenty times the price he would not have been without it.

William Henry Curran knew not very much of his father, whose biographer he became. John Philpot Curran had excluded him from his domestic circle, and the letters to his son which appear in the book were addressed to Richard. Who can doubt that much detail which lends interest to the ever popular ‘Life, by his Son,’ was supplied to the youth by the practised old scribe Leonard McNally? Curran’s gratitude to him for help afforded is freely expressed. McNally wrote a style clear as rock water and full of classic strength. Nothing can be finer than his secret letters to Pelham and Cooke–three of which he often despatched in one day. The wonderful anecdotes which made Curran’s Life, by his son, almost a classic have been quoted over and over, including the dinner scene at McNally’s, when the ill-fated Rev. Mr. Jackson was entertained. Curran’s son tells how the talk had been getting imprudent, when the butler, beckoning his master to the door, warned him to be careful; ‘for, sir, the strange gentleman who seems to be asleep is not so, but listening to everything said: I see his eye glistening through the fingers with which he is covering his face.’

Cockayne was, of course, a spy of Pitt’s; but some of the sensational anecdotes which McNally told of him, as also of Reynolds and Armstrong, may have been overcharged to divert suspicion from himself. These are not the only instances in which the embellishments of the professional advocate seem traceable. As regards Jackson’s death in the dock, we are told that he made an effort with his cold and nerveless hand to squeeze McNally’s, muttering a quotation from Addison’s ‘Cato’; but the lines and the adjuncts would be more likely to occur at such a moment to an old playwright like McNally than to the dying clergyman.

Emmet’s revolt took place on July 23, 1803, but was soon quelled. He remained in concealment at Harold’s Cross, and chose that position in order that he might see Sarah Curran, with her father, pass daily to Dublin. On August 25 he was arrested by Major Sirr. Popular confidence in McNally had now reached its height. A special commission for trying the insurgent leaders began on August 24, 1803. ‘Most of the prisoners chose Mr. McNally as their counsel, and Mr. L. McNally, junior, as their agent,’ records the ‘Evening Post’ of the day.

McNally had long had his eye on the gifted young orator Robert Emmet: ‘Emmet, junior, gone on business to France–probably to supersede Lewins,'[481] he writes to Cooke three years previous to the insurrection of 1803. On September 3, in the latter year, McNally sends one of his secret letters to Cooke, saying that he is authorised to treat on behalf of a person privy to the whole conspiracy.[482]

The remainder of McNally’s letters during these troubles of 1803 are yet wanting. No doubt they remain among Wickham’s papers of the period which are still a sealed book.[483] Among the sensational incidents of the hour was the outrage of searching Curran’s house, and the capture of Emmet’s love-letters to Sarah Curran–to whom the youth had been secretly engaged. Curran himself, we are told, though aware of Emmet’s visits, was ignorant of the attachment. But there was a seemingly dear old friend, having access to Curran’s domestic circle, whose eagle eye could penetrate still deeper secrets. In the absence of McNally’s private reports of that month there is, however, no absolute proof against him on this point.

Mount Jerome,[484] the seat of John Keogh, the great Catholic leader, was also searched, and his papers seized. Dr. Madden mentions that, in 1802, Emmet had dined at Keogh’s in the company of John Philpot Curran, when the probability of success in the event of a second rebellion was debated with great animation.[485] Whose was the whisper which betrayed this information never transpired. But Curran, the great depository of popular secrets, maintained, as will be shown, no reserve with McNally. So far back as 1797 McNally writes:–

Grattan and Curran are compleatly in the secret. Everything that’s done or intended is communicated to them.[486]

A quantity of information follows, and the letter ends with these pregnant words:–

Curran gives a dinner at his house. Will be there.

This is the man whom William Henry Curran describes as having been ‘from his youth to his latest hour the most affectionate, unshaken and disinterested friend’ of his father.[487]

Before and after the conviction and death of Robert Emmet, the initials ‘L. M.’ peep from the ‘Secret Service Money Book.’ On August 25, 1803 (the very day on which Emmet was captured), we read: ‘Mr. Pollock for L. M., 100l.‘ Pollock, Clerk of the Crown for Leinster, is the same man through whom the bribes for ‘J. W.’ (McNally) are paid.[488] The 100l. cannot have been for the actual capture of Emmet, for I know that in November following a bulk sum was paid for that service. The douceur to L. M. was in acknowledgment of useful information.[489]

McNally appears as counsel for Emmet in the State trial on September 19, 1803. Four days previously, namely, on September 14, 100l. is set down to ‘L. M.’ On the morning of Emmet’s execution an affecting scene took place between the rebel chief and McNally, the only friend allowed to see him. Emmet’s mother had just died, but he did not know it, and desire to see her filled him–‘Then, Robert, you shall meet her this day,’ replied McNally, pointing to Heaven in his accustomed dramatic style. A long account of the interview, doubtless supplied by ‘Mac’ himself with his usual itch for writing, and evidently designed to promote Lord Hardwicke’s popularity as Viceroy, appears in a Ministerial journal, the London ‘Chronicle,’ on September 24, 1803.

Emmet [we are told] observed that, had he not been interrupted by the Court in his address, he would have spoken as warm an eulogium on the candour and moderation of the present Government in this kingdom as his conception or language were adequate to.

After Emmet’s arrest Curran was examined by the Privy Council, when Chancellor Redesdale sought by a tone of intimidation to extort the truth; but the scowl of contempt he encountered gave his own nerves the shock he designed for another’s, and made him sink back into his chair, abashed by the failure of his rash experiment. Curran’s son speaks of the wonderful intrepidity of McNally’s language in his addresses to the Court; but it is easy to be defiant when one knows he is safe. Contemporary critics record his marvellous power of penetration in cross-examining witnesses on the State trials. A shrewd man, deep in the secrets of both sides, would not find it hard to create this impression.

Lord Cloncurry complains, in his Memoirs, that after his liberation from gaol in 1801, and for many subsequent years, no man suffered more from petty worries at the hands of the Irish Government. McNally was in the coterie of which Cloncurry formed the central figure, and it cannot be doubted that he consistently reported his fervid sentiments. The ‘Press’ was the Rebel organ, its tone distinguished, as Lord Camden said, by ‘an unheard-of boldness,'[490] and a friendly offer made by Lawless, afterwards Lord Cloncurry, to McNally is thus reported. After mentioning when the private committee of United Irishmen met, McNally[491] announces–the underlining his own:–

Lawless, principal proprietor of the ‘Press’: he has offered a share to J. W.[492]–a £50 share…. Nothing save rebellious toasts at the dinner; McNevin was there. Lawless gave ‘Cut the Painter’ [i.e. Separation from England].

An accurate and dayly [sic] account will be given. Lawless sails for London to-morrow night. It is his turn of duty,–perhaps to meet some people at the Head. He ought to be watched from George’s Quay every hour till his return.[493]

A later letter assures Pelham: ‘The fellow-travellers of Lawless shall be found out if possible.'[494]

Higgins and Magan knew nothing of Cloncurry’s movements, but between Turner and McNally he had a warm time of it. Lord Holland compared his long detention in the Tower, untried and unaccused, to the operation of the lettres de cachet in old France. In 1803, on secret but, he declares, erroneous information, that Emmet’s wounded rebels were concealed there, ‘a large military force’ searched Lord Cloncurry’s house in Kildare, and robbed it of a quantity of papers, some fowling-pieces, armour, and even plate.'[495]

No details are forthcoming as regards the intercourse which subsisted between McNally and Cloncurry throughout the eventful period subsequent to their friendly relations in ’98; but the cordiality of that intercourse may be seen from a waif or two. The ‘Correspondent,’ a Dublin journal, reports on August 27, 1817, a speech of the patriot peer, Cloncurry, in which the epithet ‘dear’ is applied to his old friend McNally. ‘There is no gentleman,’ he adds, ‘for whom I have a higher respect or esteem, and of whose knowledge, talent and elocution I am more sensible.’

Sometimes McNally travelled as a spy, probably in disguise, through remote rural districts. On August 28, 1805, he announces Tipperary as ‘ready to rise.’ In September he goes up the Dublin mountains, ‘Emmet’s line,’ and the result of his inquiries was that no rising need be apprehended.[496] I do not find that McNally’s secret letters exist at Dublin Castle beyond the year 1805; I must, therefore, seek to trace from other sources the close of his career. Pecuniary need drew its toils tighter round him every day, making him, no doubt, more energetic in his effort to cast them off.[497]

Readers of the ‘Wellington Correspondence’ from 1807 to 1809 will be able to identify McNally. The subjugator of Tippoo Saib, then Chief Secretary at Dublin Castle, found Catholic Ireland galled by various disabilities. One letter, dated November 21, 1807, encloses a paper headed ‘Information received this evening from a very intelligent Priest.'[498] This, on being quoted by the reviewers of the Wellington Papers, excited disgust that a priest should be in secret correspondence with Dublin Castle; but it is quite clear to me that the letter came from McNally, and embodies merely the responses of a gossiping priest to the pumping of a practised hand–the same, I may venture to add, to whom McNally, upon dying, will be found making his own confession.

The Whig Duke of Bedford took office with Fox, Lansdowne, and Grey in the administration of ‘All the Talents,’ and ruled Ireland for one year. Curran became Master of the Rolls, and McNally thought that he himself, as the leading popular barrister, had claims for promotion. All the men who will be remembered as voting with him at the bar meeting in 1799 had got snug berths. His appeal to Bedford was referred to Wellesley, whose common sense appears in the following reply:–

I agree entirely with you respecting the employment of our informer. Such a measure would do much mischief. It would disgust the loyal of all descriptions, at the same time that it would render useless our private communications with him, as no further trust would be placed in him by the disloyal. I think that it might be hinted to him that he would lose much of his profit, if, by accepting the public employment of Government, he were to lose the confidence of his party, and consequently the means of giving us information.[499]

Curiously enough, at the time he is himself most active as a spy, Mr. T. Mulock, of Dublin, reports him, with Messrs. Hutton and O’Connell, as persons who ‘ought to be watched.'[500] An account of the first meeting for Repeal of the Union, on September 18, 1810, is preserved in the State Papers; and McNally spoke on that day ‘with great zeal and patriotism,’ as Plowden proudly[501] records. Mr. Mulock had not the knowledge of character shown by his kinswoman Miss Mulock, the novelist.

Reference has been already made to the fact that in 1811 the Irish Secretary of State, Wellesley Pole, with the object of suppressing the Catholic Committee, caused to be arrested, under the Convention Act, Lord Fingall, Lord Netterville, and the other Catholic delegates. Able counsel were retained by them, and private conferences, attended by Burrowes, Johnson, Perrin, O’Connell, Burton, O’Driscoll, and McNally, were held in order to decide on the lines of defence to be taken. The questions involved were difficult and subtle; and although the courses decided upon were equally novel, it was observed with amazement that the Orange Attorney-General, Saurin, seemed marvellously well prepared for every point, as the delegates daily fought their ground inch by inch.[502]

An aggregate meeting of Catholics was held after the arrests of their delegates. John Mitchel describes the party then in power as a ‘No Popery Administration,’ and the appearance of a Protestant on the platform was hailed as a happy incident. The following is taken from the ‘Correspondent,’ a once influential organ of Dublin Castle:–

Mr. McNally offered himself to the consideration of the Catholic body. He was anxious that his name should be coupled to the glorious cause for which, as Irishmen, they were contending–a cause that, from his earliest youth, although a Protestant, he felt as his own. He insisted that the conduct of the Lord Lieutenant was illegal–that he had not the power of arresting an individual by his own mere authority; that, not having the authority, he could not, of course, delegate it to a Magistrate.–[Here he animadverted upon the conduct of Mr. Hare, the police magistrate, who made the arrests.] The King himself, he said, possessed not the power which the Lord Lieutenant assumed in the arrest of Lords Fingal and Netterville. He instanced the case of Chief Justice Hussey and Edward IV.–The King asked the Judge whether his own warrant would not be deemed sufficient to arrest a subject?–The Chief Justice answered in the negative. And the reason was obvious. The King can do no wrong.–But the subject could have no legal redress against such an impeccable magistrate. He referred to the State trials for an exemplification and authority on this point; and he showed that a power which could not be exercised by Majesty itself, could not pass through the opaque body of his Lieutenant–a moonshine and intermitting ray.

O’Connell followed, and the clear head of that great lawyer saved the Catholic body from the deeper pitfall in which the bad law of a false adviser would have placed them. In the course of his speech he declared:–

With regard to what had been said by Mr. McNally he could not assent. The action of Mr. Hare was merely his own, as a magistrate, and the Lord Lieutenant had no concern in being responsible for it; and he [Mr. O’Connell] would not allow in that assembly anything to be laid to the charge of the Duke of Richmond for which His Grace was not in every respect accountable.

On October 19, 1811, Wellesley Pole writes from Dublin Castle to the Home Secretary regarding the proceedings of the Catholic Committee, and enclosing ‘a report from,’ as he says, ‘one of our spies.’ This document, signed ‘J. W.’ is still preserved with Pole’s letter in the Record Office, London. About the same time Pole announces to the Home Office that ‘Young Mr. Curran, son of the Master of the Rolls, has been very active in soliciting from the Catholics subscriptions for Mr. Finnerty, and letters from persons associated in London for promoting that object have been addressed to the Catholics here.'[503] These regular reportings of Curran’s domestic circle involve a degree of treachery painful to contemplate.[504]

The reports of ‘J. W.’ did not tend to make Curran a favourite with ‘the powers.’ The patriot’s son, describing a prior year, records:–

A party of seventeen soldiers, accompanied by their wives, or their profligate companions, and by many children, and evidently selected for the purpose of annoyance, were, without any previous notice, quartered on Mr. Curran’s house.[505]

The late Mr. Byrne, an old Petty Sessions clerk, informed me that when walking at this time with his cousin Mr. Phelan, an attorney of Liberal politics, McNally, with a significant wink, accosted him, saying: ‘The people are at last beginning to read; those who cannot yet read have books and papers read to them; after they read they will think, and they won’t be long thinking until they act.’

On the trial of Sheridan and Kirwan, two Catholic delegates, he spoke warmly against the sheriff and others tampering with the jury, and was checked by the bench. He excused himself by saying ‘that where the heart and the understanding went together it was difficult to keep bounds,’ etc. Great excitement prevailed by the effort made to crush the freedom of speech, in the midst of which Percy Bysshe Shelley came to Dublin, and largely helped by voice and pen to make the crisis historic. Mr. Pole declared in Parliament, that ‘if gentlemen would read the debates of the Catholic Committee they would find separation openly and distinctly recommended.’ O’Connell, on February 29, 1812, replied: ‘Why, my lord, this is a direct accusation of high treason, and he who would assert it of me, I would brand with the foulest epithets. I defy the slightest proof to be given of its veracity.’ The Duke of Richmond, then Viceroy, writes at great length to the Home Secretary, speaks of his ‘secret information,’ and flutters the Cabinet.[506]

It was during the same year that Roger O’Connor, of Dangan Castle–father of Feargus, member for Nottingham–headed a band of rude retainers and robbed the Galway mail coach on Cappagh Hill. Though somewhat daft, he had method in his system, and when, five years later, he found himself a prisoner in Newgate, pending the long averted prosecution, he directed his attorney, named Maguire, to draw up a fictitious case, including a false line of defence, and lay it before McNally, taking for granted that he would betray to the Crown the person he supposed to be his client. The prosecution strangely broke down, and O’Connor, although notoriously guilty, was acquitted.[507] This trial took place in 1817: the death of Curran followed soon. A man named Waring having been indicted for perjury, McNally is found saying: ‘Oppressed by the loss of my earliest friend, I have not strength for the task. But I wish to repel the stigma thrown out against my client, though I should die in the trammels.'[508]

The letters of McNally to Curran would be curious to read; ‘but,’ writes his daughter-in-law, ‘they were destroyed by my late husband when he became so disgusted by the knowledge of the double face McNally must have worn for so many years as the friend of his father.'[509]

Although McNally’s are destroyed, some characteristic letters from Curran to him were supplied by the spy to Curran’s biographer. It was a constant effort of McNally to engraft himself on the fame and name of Curran. A touching document in the romance of real life is the letter addressed by Curran to McNally in 1810. He exhibits a kind solicitude for the improved health of his false friend, and alludes to their future meeting where secrets and sorrow would be no more.

Godwin’s, 41, Skinner Street, London.

Dear Mac,– … I am glad to hear you are letting yourself out at Old Orchard; you are certainly unwise in giving up such an inducement to exercise, and the absolute good of being so often in good air. I have been talking about your habit without naming yourself. I am more persuaded that you and Egan[510] are not sufficiently afraid of weak liquors.[511] I can say from trial how little pains it costs to correct a bad habit. On the contrary, poor nature–like an ill-used mistress–is delighted with the return of our kindness, and is anxious to show her gratitude for that return by letting us see how well she becomes it.

I am the more solicitous upon this point from having made this change, which I see will make me waited for in Heaven longer than perhaps they looked for. If you do not make some pretext for lingering, you can have no chance of conveying me to the wherry; and the truth is, I do not like surviving old friends. I am somewhat inclined to wish for posthumous reputation; and if you go before me, I shall lose one of the most irreclaimable of my trumpeters. Therefore, dear Mac, no more water, and keep the other element, your wind, for the benefit of your friends. I will show my gratitude as well as I can, by saying handsome things of you to the saints and angels before you come. Best regards to all with you.

J. P. C.

‘Mac’ stuck to him like a leech to the end. ‘As he walked through the grounds of his country seat with Mr. McNally,’ writes Curran’s son, ‘he spoke of the impending event with tranquillity and resignation:–

I melt (said he) and am not
Of stronger earth than others.

‘”I wish it was all over.“‘[512]

‘Curran’s will, which I have in the house,’ writes his daughter-in-law, ‘is dated September 14th, 1816, and the codicil the 5th September, 1817; it bears the signatures (as witnesses) of Richard Lonergan and Leonard McNally. Lonergan was editor of ‘Carrick’s Morning Post,’ a popular organ. The first of a series of papers on the Dublin Theatre, signed ‘L. M. N.,’ appears in this journal of December 16, 1817:–

A moral, well-acted play [he writes] is of more real benefit to Society at large than all the inflated harangues of puritanical declaimers. To men of letters the drama affords a most delightful recreation, after their understandings have been absorbed in perplexities, or their intellectual powers strained by continued study.

O what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive.

The elder Farran began his career in Dublin, and McNally’s criticism helped to make it a success. Mrs. Edwin, Miss Walstein, Fullam, Williams, Young, all were cleverly reviewed. It was not necessary, he said, for a tragedian to roar like a lion, or for a comedian to grin as through a horse-collar. Two letters signed ‘L. M. N.’ espouse the part of Mrs. Edwin, who had met with some unkindness. The concluding sentence is characteristic: ‘Allow me, madam, to inform you, that while I continue your Panegyrist, you shall never know me. All old men are more or less eccentric. I have my whims, and one of them is a dislike to being thanked for doing what I think to be my duty.’

Friendly relations were established between the popular journalist and his contributor, but at last they seem a little strained. The paper got into trouble with a very formidable enemy to popular principles, Jack Giffard, known as the ‘Dog in Office.’ The officiousness of McNally, if he had no deeper design, is shown by Lonergan in a hurried leader of September 17, 1818–the italics are his:–


We did not and could not anticipate that an attempt would be made to induce the Recorder to fix on a day for the trial, so early as Thursday (this day!). Now, it is certainly not our intention that one hour’s unnecessary delay should take place on the part of the proprietor of this paper, in meeting the Corporators face to face in Court, or elsewhere. It was, however, extraordinary, that a day so very early should be sought for, and that the motion should be made at a time when we could have no notice of even the Bills being found! This prosecution, in other respects unique, is equally unprecedented, we believe, in this extreme anxiety to hurry the business forward. The Recorder did not countenance this very suspicious haste. Like an upright judge, he guarded the interests of the absent.

He said it was of little consequence whether a day was fixed or not, as he supposed the case would be put off until next sessions.

Mr. M‘Nally–‘I understand, My Lord, they do not intend to traverse in prox. Suppose your Lordship says Thursday next.

Recorder–‘No, Mr. M‘Nally. I cannot fix a day for the trial of an indictment only just found; especially as there is not any reason, that I can perceive, for such haste.

We have made this extract from one of the newspapers. If it be correct, may we ask Mr. M‘Nally who instructed him to speak for us? We had no counsel or agent present–how then could the worthy gentleman, with all his shrewdness and sagacity, understand what was our intention? Mr. M‘Nally, finding that nobody present was authorised to speak in our behalf, as amicus curiæ, we suppose, states to the Court our intention; but how Mr. M‘Nally discovered that intention, it puzzles us to find out, for Mr. M‘Nally, with all his legal knowledge and abilities, is no conjuror. We wait then to hear from this gentleman by what authority, he, employed on the other side, in the absence of counsel or agent for the proprietor of this paper, did undertake to state to the Recorder what were our intentions? We think the conduct of Mr. M‘Nally, in this instance, of a piece with the rest of this curious proceeding.

Some legal proceedings are reported by the Dublin papers of September 18, 1818, as having been instituted by the histrions of Crow Street Theatre for the recovery of their salaries. McNally’s swaggering pretensions to pose as an honourable man are amusingly marked. He was counsel for the lessee, Frederick W. Jones.

Mr. MacNally–Now, Sir, you suppose your profession to be a very honourable and gentlemanlike employment–equally respectable with my own as a barrister. Now, Sir, let me ask you, are you not a servant?

Mr. Gladstone–Most certainly. I consider myself the servant of Mr. Jones and the public. But there is higher authority than mine, for the Lord Chancellor of England declared, at an investigation of the affairs of Drury-lane Theatre, that all the performers were servants, and must be paid before any other creditor.

The Lord Mayor instantly ordered Mr. Gladstone his money.

The last important case in which McNally figured was that of the Wild Goose Lodge murderers at Dundalk. This case, highly tragic in its nature, has been invested with thrilling interest by the powerful pen of Carleton.

‘From grave to gay’ marked his course on circuit. A glimpse of the ‘chaff’ which followed McNally at mess is shown by Charles Phillips.

It was a common practice with the juniors to play upon his vanity by inducing him to enumerate the vast sums he made by ‘Robin Hood.’ The wicked process was thus. They first got him to fix the aggregate amount; and then, luring him into details, he invariably, by third nights and copyright, quintupled the original. Woe to the wight, however, luckless enough to have been detected in this waggery. He was ready with his pistol.

Phillips also describes ‘Mac’ as ever varying in his account of how he lost his thumbs, and that one night, tired and perplexed by repeated questioning on the point,[513] he at last exclaimed, ‘I don’t know how I lost them!’ It seems to me that ‘Mac’ was too cool and cunning to trip. Phillips, as a most distinguished co-operator with the Catholic Board, was a man worth McNally’s while to ‘draw’; and the hoary-headed ‘father,’ in encouraging the juniors’ chaff, probably feigned features which he did not possess. We have seen how resolutely incredulous Phillips stood when the spy’s real character was first impugned. Phillips is remembered by the English bar as a very cunning man. But as regards McNally’s treachery he died unconvinced. The man whose seeming simplicity he loved to chaff was of deeper acumen. The ‘Metropolis,’ a review of the Bar, printed in 1805, indicated among McNally’s gifts–

With all he saw or learned his memory fraught
Acute perception of his neighbour’s thought.

Phillips seemed to pity the awkward simplicity of his venerable friend; but it was clearly McNally’s game at times to pose as a ‘butt,’ and Charles adds no more than the truth in saying, ‘his eyes and voice pierced you through like arrows.’

‘Howell’ should be consulted by those who care to trace the forensic career of McNally–

‘L’ stands for Lysaght, who loves a good joke;
‘M’ for MacNally, who lives by the rope!

sings ‘the Alphabet of the Bar.’ But it is McNally’s speeches as a democratic orator, delivered on all great national occasions, in which he appears to best dramatic effect.

The mission of General d’Evereux to Ireland, with the object of raising troops for Bolivar–the South American patriot–took place in 1819, and with it is involved McNally’s last important acts of espionage. A military passion had seized on the popular mind. For many weeks the streets of Dublin, gay with plumage, reminded one of Paris during the Napoleonic fever. The city swarmed with stalwart, ruddy youths, clad in uniforms of green and gold, their swords clanking at every step. Levées were held by D’Evereux with all the pomp of a court; public banquets sought to do him honour. At first these things caused alarm at Dublin Castle; but, finally, it was decided that the statute which forbade foreign enlistment might be suffered to lie dormant: after all, the opportunity was not a bad one to rid the land of those military spirits whose presence could never conduce to its repose. In this connection Dr. Scallan has something to say:–

The badge of the United Irishmen worn by Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and taken from his remains when he lay dead in Newgate, was given by Leonard McNally to General d’Evereux, who recruited a number of Irishmen and drilled them, and formed a regiment with which he sailed to Venezuela, and there attacked the Spaniards and drove them from the country and freed the Venezuelans from the Spanish yoke, which had grown into an intolerable tyranny. The badge has attached to it a paper on which is the following inscription:–

‘From Leonard MacNally, Barrister at-law, to General d’Evereux of the Irish Legion, raised by him for emancipating the oppressed inhabitants of South America, and punishing their Tyrants. 20 July, 1819.’

This presentation would appear to be one of the, no doubt, many acts of McNally done for the purpose of concealing his perfidy and gaining his ends.

My father-in-law, Laurence Esmonde White, of Scarnagh, exerted himself very much in assisting to procure men and officers for the Legion; and very successfully, as he had much influence with the people of the County Wexford, in which he always resided, and where his family had extensive estates. General D’Evereux gave him several tokens of his gratitude, of which the badge of Lord Edward was one. He also gave him a deed of gift, witnessed by his military secretary, of 200,000 acres of land in Venezuela. Which deed I have; but no one went there to take possession of the land, and it would seem to be lost through neglect. An old friend of mine (now deceased) who travelled much in that country, told me that the land was worth at least 50,000l.

I never could understand how the badge could have got into the possession of McNally, until his perfidy was revealed by Mr. Fitzpatrick. Then all was made clear. He, no doubt, obtained the badge from his paymasters in order that he might use it as he did.[514]

During the passage from Dublin to Venezuela dissensions arose among the officers, and some came back complaining that they had been misled in the business. D’Evereux returned to justify his conduct, and a committee, consisting of Lord Cloncurry, with Counsellors Curran, McNally and Phillips, was appointed to inquire and report.

In 1820 Ireland lost her Grattan.[515] The man who had long shadowed him vanished at the same time. Catholics may care to know, though they will hardly attach much importance to the accession, that Leonard McNally, ‘after life’s fitful fever,’ sank into the bosom of Rome. Father Smith, of Townsend Street Chapel, on February 13, 1820, gave him the last rites. This priest, having got word that ‘the Counsellor’ wished to see him, went to his house in Harcourt Street, where Mrs. McNally informed him that her husband was then asleep, and must not be disturbed. McNally’s son, who happened to be coming down stairs at the moment, reproved his step-mother for the indisposition she evinced to admit the clergyman, adding, ‘Can’t you let him go to the devil his own way?'[516] He then conducted the priest to the sick man’s room. Father Smith put on his stole, and heard muttered from the parched lips of Leonard McNally a general confession, embracing the frailties of his youth and the sins of his manhood. Contrition was manifested, and the priest gave him absolution.[517] Within an hour McNally was dead. In life he had been no coward, but the death-bed was no place to show old instincts. His funeral cortège wended its way to the old graveyard of Donnybrook, where his bones now lie, near those of Dr. Madden, the historian of the ‘United Irishmen.’

McNally had married Miss Janson, the heroine of his famous lyric, ‘Sweet lass of Richmond Hill;’ but it was his second wife, née Edgeworth, who appeared to Father Smith. The son had acquired a rough reputation, and having been once robbed near Rathcoole, his father asked Parsons, ‘Did you hear of my son’s robbery?’ and received for reply, ‘No, whom did he rob?’ This son died in 1869, leaving no representative.[518]

An action was brought by old McNally’s administrator regarding the house in which he died. ‘I was present at the trial,’ writes ‘Rebellion Smyth,’ an aged correspondent. ‘Judge Burton gave McNally a high character for legal learning and worldly simplicity. “In the affairs of the world” said Burton, “he was as simple as a child.”‘[519] The eminent judge for once was mistaken.

Grattan’s name has been mentioned by McNally as privy to the plans of 1798. What truth may be in the assertion that Grattan would join in an appeal to arms is a point which may never be fully determined. It is certain that in 1782 he would not have hesitated to employ physical force. His friend Mr.–afterwards Justice–Day records of him that ‘Grattan was resolved to assist, even by arms, if driven to it, the liberties of Ireland.'[520]

Neither Grattan[521] nor Curran were United Irishmen [writes Macnevin shortly before his death]. It was known in the event of success Grattan would have accepted an important appointment in the new Government; but Curran was continually consulted by them, knew everything that was going on, and his whole heart was in the cause.


[427] Vide Notes and Queries, October 8, 1859.

[428] Curran and his Contemporaries.

[429] Life of Curran, by his Son, i. 384.

[430] McNally had spoken against time for an hour and three-quarters, as he states in an autograph note. This has been enlarged into ‘three hours and a half’ by Dr. Shelton Mackenzie in his Life of Curran, p. 228, while professing to quote from McNally’s note as given by Thomas Davis in Curran’s Speeches, p. 365.

[431] Life of Curran, v. i. 397.

[432] From Curran’s lines, ‘The green spot that blooms on the desert of life.’

[433] The Freeman’s Journal, October 13, 1817.

[434] Curran and his Contemporaries, p. 376. (Blackwood, 1850.)

[435] Cornwallis Papers, iii. 320.

[436] Sirr Papers, MS., Library, Trinity College, Dublin.

[437] Secret Aid. 75l. would be a quarter’s pay.

[438] Cornwallis, ii. 350.

[439] This letter, signed ‘J. W.’, speaks of Father Quigley, dressed à la militaire. The Cyclopædian Magazine for 1808 says that McNally had lived at Bordeaux, and spoke French well (p. 537). The proceedings of the Whig Club are reported. McNally was a member of this club.

[440] Halliday Collection, Royal Irish Academy, vol. 613.

[441] MS. now in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy.

[442] The attorney for the Ulster United Irishmen (see ante, p. 36).

[443] Cornwallis Papers, iii. 320. See Appendix to present work for some account of Mr. John Pollock, who first succeeded in seducing the once staunch patriot.

[444] Lecky, vii. 139.

[445] Lecky’s England, vii. 140. (Longmans, 1890.)

[446] The Grand Juries of Westmeath, from 1727 to 1853, by J. C. Lyons, p. 200.

[447] Madden, iii. 37.

[448] This letter reports an early meeting of the rebel conclave, and is dated March 30, 1792. (MSS., Dublin Castle.)

[449] Life of Curran, by his Son.

[450] For a notice of James Tandy, afterwards stipendiary magistrate for Meath, see Appendix.

[451] Lecky, vii. 141.

[452] Dr. Madden assigns Conner’s death to the year 1796, but McNally’s report is dated September 17, 1795.

[453] Moore’s Journal, &c., vii. 75. Edited by Lord John Russell.

[454] Cyclopædian Magazine, 1808, p. 539. A sensational and detailed account of the rescue, evidently supplied by McNally, is culled from a contemporary newspaper, and, in response to the present writer, appears in Notes and Queries, of May 19, 1860, p 293.

[455] Recollections of John O’Keefe, ii. 45.

[456] McNally’s name is amusingly mentioned by the Saturday Review (lxvi. 516) in a paper on the ‘Immortals of 1788.’

[457] Mr. Lecky thinks that, had not McNally become a spy, he might have risen to the judgment seat. This, with the testimony of Phillips and Staunton before us, is doubtful: but I am bound to say that many contemporary Irish judges were bad lawyers, who owed their promotion solely to political claims. Higgins does not seem to have known that McNally was also a spy. He often reports him to Cooke: ‘Counsellor McNally told me this night at Parisoll’s, that Government had offered a sinecure employment, which he rejected. I offered to hold him 100 guineas that his services were never sought for, which completely put him down.’–Francis Higgins to Cooke, November 18, 1797. MSS. Dublin Castle.

[458] Sketches of Irish Political Characters, 1799.

[459] Personal Memoirs.

[460] This passage has been culled by Mr. Lecky.

[461] Sermon on Concealment of Sin.

[462] J. W. to Cooke, June 5, 1798.

[463] Lecky, vii. 142, 401.

[464] All these men, Keogh alone excepted, though never brought to trial, underwent a prolonged term of imprisonment. Keogh was the highly influential leader of the Catholics, and the Crown, probably, wished to make an exception in his favour.

[465] Lecky, vii. 55.

[466] Ibid. p. 337.

[467] See O’Connor’s letter (United Irishmen, ii. 234), saying that in 1797 he expressed abhorrence of the Union Star, which had urged assassination; whereupon Cox, its editor, instantly discontinued it. Then, as regards Macnevin and Lord Edward, they are described by Reinhard as ‘of the moderate party.’ See the Castlereagh Papers, i. 283.

[468] Lecky, p. 423.

[469] Ibid. p. 331.

[470] Ibid. p. 462.

[471] Plowden’s Historic Review, ii. 537.

[472] Berwick to Grattan. See Life of Grattan, vol. v.

[473] ‘Trials, if they must so be called, were carried on without number, under martial law. It often happened that three officers composed the court, and that, of the three, two were under age, and the third an officer of the yeomanry or militia, who had sworn, in his Orange lodge, eternal hatred to the people over whom he was thus constituted a judge. Floggings, picketings, death, were the usual sentences, and these were sometimes commuted into banishment, serving in the fleet, or transference to a foreign service. Many were sold at so much per head to the Prussians. Other less legal, but not more horrible, outrages were daily committed by the different corps under the command of Government. The subsequent Indemnity Acts deprived of redress the victims of this widespread cruelty.’–Lord Holland’s Memoirs of the Whig Party.

[474] This despatch is dated merely ‘Tuesday, 25th’; but a second on the same subject bears ‘April 27, 1798.’ (MSS. Dublin Castle.)

[475] In 1810, Sir William Stamer, who seized John Keogh’s papers in 1803, gave a masquerade. McNally went as Æsop, but scorned to wear a mask. Huband, whom he often reports, went as Pan; Dogherty, afterwards Chief Justice, as Jeremy Diddler; Wolfe, afterwards Chief Baron, as a hair-dresser; Sir Jonah Barrington as a friar; and ‘Doctor Turner’ (no doubt Samuel, LL.D.), as Punch. For a full account, see Hibernian Magazine for 1810, p. 125.

[476] Lecky’s History of England, vii. 142.

[477] The Metropolis (Dublin, 1806), p. 43, second edition.

[478] McNally always describes himself, in his secret letters, as ‘my friend.’

[479] Spy as he was, McNally trembled throughout the troubles, and is not likely to have delivered the defiant reply which he claims to have done. On May 24, 1798, he describes his family as ‘all females–all live in terror.’ He has moved them a short way from Dublin. He hopes that Cooke’s interest will prevent the impending evil of free quarters on his house. It was astutely felt at Dublin Castle, however, that the more McNally seemed to suffer persecution for justice sake, the more freely would popular confidence be reposed in him. On June 27, 1798, he writes to Cooke, bitterly complaining that his house had been attacked by soldiers, who refused to respect Castlereagh’s protection.’

[480] Life of Curran, by his Son, ii. 148-9. Compare Lecky, viii. 24, where MacNally seems humanely to lament the theft by soldiers, from a Dublin barrister, of a stand inscribed ‘Erin go bragh.’

[481] J. W. (secret), September 19, 1800.

[482] Wickham seems to allude to this fact in the Colchester Correspondence, i. 456.

[483] Mr. Ross, in his preface to the Cornwallis Papers, states that Wickham’s papers are destroyed. His grandson tells me that the papers are safely in his possession.

[484] Now the cemetery at Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

[485] Madden’s United Irishmen, iii. 330.

[486] J. W. to Mr. Secretary Cooke: endorsed ‘November 1797.’ McNally adds, of a subsequent Whig Lord Chancellor, on whom he had his eye: ‘Geo. Ponsonby is not of the private meetings at Grattan’s or Curran’s.’

[487] Life of Curran, by his Son, ii. 385.

[488] The same manuscript further records, under the respective dates, March 16, 1803, and November 26, 1803, two sums of 100l. each, paid to ‘J. W.’

[489] Mr. W. B. Kelly, who held the copyright of a book of mine called The Sham Squire, got it reprinted in Edinburgh many years ago. I had no opportunity for revising the proofs, and I am anxious to correct the strange misprint at p. 250, of ‘1,000l.‘ instead of ‘100l.‘ to McNally. The original edition, at the same page, states the amount correctly.

[490] Camden to Portland, December 2, 1797.

[491] Most of McNally’s letters are endorsed by Cooke. This is marked by Pelham, ‘November 8, 1797.’

[492] McNally himself.

[493] Cloncurry did not see Ireland again until his liberation from the Tower. The object of his mission to England was mere surmise. Pelham assumes that he carried a despatch to the French Republic (Froude, iii. 287); but Cloncurry, ignorant of the above letters, tells his law adviser: ‘No papers on politics were found on me, for I never had such’ (Memoirs, p. 138). Previously, he casually mentions that his father ‘insisted upon my going to London to keep my terms at the Temple, which I accordingly did in November, 1797,’ the very date of McNally’s letter. (Memoirs of Lord Cloncurry, p. 57.)

[494] Endorsed, ‘M. secret. November.’

[495] Personal Recollections of Lord Cloncurry, p. 219.

[496] Not one of McNally’s letters is dated beyond the day of the week; but many have a correct date endorsed. Some conjectural dates, supplied in late years by an official pencil, are often wrong.

[497] In 1807-8 he appears as a defendant in several judgments ‘marked’ by the King’s Bench. To Benjamin Bradley, 38l. 4s. 9d.; to Thomas Shaw, 56l.; to the administrators of Hatch, and others; and the search, if continued, would show the same results in after years. Curran frequently accommodated him, as well as William Godwin and others.

[498] Wellington Correspondence (Ireland), p. 192.

[499] Wellington Correspondence (Ireland), pp. 99-100.

[500] Ireland, 1810, August to December, No. 648, State Paper Office.

[501] History of Ireland since the Union, by Francis Plowden, iii. 896.

[502] The late Michael Staunton to W. J. F.

[503] Ireland, 1811, January to June, No. 652. Peter Finnerty, who, in 1798, had been pilloried as editor of the Press, was now (1811) in Lincoln Gaol for a libel on Lord Castlereagh.

[504] Mr. Lecky thinks that, so early as 1795, McNally reported to the Government a secret conference of Curran and Grattan. Hist. vii. 145.

[505] Life of Curran, i. 147.

[506] These papers are exclusively quoted in the Correspondence of Daniel O’Connell (edited by W. J. F.), ii. 420.

[507] For details, see Ireland before the Union, p. 8. (Dublin: Duffy.)

[508] The Correspondent, November 4, 1817.

[509] Letter of Mrs. John Philpot Curran, dated ‘The Priory, Rathfarnham, September 14, 1872.’

[510] John Egan, a member of the Irish Parliament, lost a judicial office he held by voting against the Union, and died in poverty. A staunch patriot to the end, he belonged to the set which numbered Curran and McNally. Curran’s first acquaintance with him was in an affair of honour. Egan, a large man, complained of the great advantage which Curran’s diminutive figure gave him. ‘I scorn to take any advantage of you, whatever,’ replied Curran. ‘Let my size be chalked out on your side, and I am quite content that every shot which hits outside that mark should go for nothing.’

[511] It is a question whether ‘Mac,’ in society, drank as much as he may have pretended to do. See ante, p. 185.

[512] Life of Curran, 1820, ii. 380. Italics in original.

[513] He seems not to have been so badly maimed as he gave Phillips to believe. John P. Prendergast, a nonagenarian, remembers McNally saying at the Trim Assizes in 1817, ‘I have a finger and thumb to tweak the nose of any man who dares to question my acts.’ Luckily the present writer did not live in those days. How one thumb went, see p. 177.

[514] Letter of J. J. Scallan, Esq., M.D., to the author. Black Rock, April 23, 1890. The Doctor may not be quite right in his assumption.

[515] Mr. Lecky says that ‘McNally had specially good opportunities of learning the sentiments of Grattan’ (vii. 281). Grattan died May 14; McNally on February 13.

[516] Rev. John Kearney, P.P., St. Catherine’s, to the author, February 10, 1860.

[517] McNally and Father Smith seem to have been old chums. So far back as 1805, ‘J. W.’ writes, in one of his undated letters: ‘Smith, the priest whom I have before mentioned, informed me last night that a person arrived here from France within these few days. The intelligence he brings is an assurance of a Descent by the French, and that the Fleet is now in the Atlantic with this object. I do not give credence to his Information. I found it impossible to extract particulars or names, but I am to see him to-morrow (Sunday).’

Smith, suspecting McNally to be a spy, is likely to have charged his news with sensationalism, and ‘Mac,’ no doubt, found him useful as a scout. That he was an open-mouthed gossiping man, his account of his very solemn mission to the death-bed of the spy shows. He never received promotion, and in the end became so deaf that when officiating in his confessional he always reiterated audibly the character of the sin disclosed, so as to be sure he heard it correctly, and the result was very painful embarrassment to such neighbouring worshippers as could not fail to become en rapport with the conscience of the penitent. Compare Wellington Correspondence (Ireland), pp. 192-3, and the ‘Information of a Priest regarding threatened Invasion.’

[518] Lyons, in his Grand Juries of Westmeath, records, deprecatingly, that Leonard McNally’s people were engaged in trade; but, according to their tombstone at Donnybrook, they once owned the castle and lands of Rahobeth. Like other Irish gentry of the proscribed faith, they sank during penal times, and the name of Leonard McNally is found in the official list of ‘Papists’ who ‘conformed’ early in the reign of George III. How this came about is traceable in Sheil’s notice of McNally in 1820: ‘His grandfather made a very considerable personal property, which he laid out in building in Dublin; but having taken leases liable to the discovery of this property, in consequence of a bill under the popish laws, he was stripped of it. His father died when he was an infant, at which time the bill of discovery was filed, and little attention was paid to his education.’ The ‘will of Leonard McNally, Dublin, merchant,’ who died in 1756, is preserved at the Record Office.

[519] William Smith, B.L., died at Torquay, April 29, 1876.

[520] See Life of Grattan, by his Son, ii. 272.

[521] One of the more voluminous of the secret reports signed ‘J. W.’ is dated March 24, 1797, and details twenty-three propositions of a plan, through which the United Irishmen were to act with Grattan. The proceedings took place at a meeting at Chambers’s, one of the Rebel Directory. (MSS. Dublin Castle.)

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