The divided Irish; an historical sketch


Some years after the Union the European wars of Napoleon the First produced a remarkable effect in Ireland. Napoleon, though a nominal Catholic, quarreled with the Papacy, and roused Catholic as well as Protestant nations against him. Without favouring Protestantism, or indicating any intention of leaving the Romish Church, he grievously offended the Pope by supplanting the strictly Catholic French monarchy, whose rights he claimed or usurped for himself and his descendants. The deposed royal family was the historical foe of England, and especially of English Protestantism. Yet, now England opposed Napoleon in behalf of this same family, allied with the Catholic and Protestant monarchies of Europe. This alliance was highly favoured by the Papacy. Napoleon was finally overcome by this combination, but the general who chiefly caused his defeat was an Irish Protestant. The divided people of Ireland viewed the Duke of Wellington with different feelings. Among the Protestants, who completely identified themselves with England, the Waterloo victory was thought a glorious triumph over historical enemies. Among many Irish Catholics the French, who, except their clergy, were mostly devoted to Napoleon, were sympathised with, owing to the historical anti-English alliance between them. The Irish priests, however, in common with all the Catholic clergy in Europe, rejoiced at Napoleon’s defeat, and the consequent restoration of the old French monarchy. All British Roman Catholics were delighted at Napoleon’s fall, and thoroughly loyal to their Protestant government. From this time the French royal family, Ireland’s historical ally against England, owing its restoration chiefly to the latter, no longer encouraged Irish revolution.

In Great Britain tolerant principles became so prevalent after the battle of Waterloo, perhaps owing to foreign intercourse, influence, and alliances, that Roman Catholics were admitted to the united Parliament, and were mostly returned from Ireland.* These Irish Catholic members soon increased in numbers and influence. Their ablest specimen, Daniel O’Connell, for the first time probably since the fall of James the Second, showed the British public an Irish Catholic both loyal to England, yet immensely popular among Catholic fellow-countrymen. He was consequently distrusted and even feared by many loyal Irish Protestants. O’Connell, who understood Irishmen far better than the fanciful ’98 leaders did, well knew intemperance was their special curse and misfortune. Indeed the importance, influence, and prevalence of drunkenness in Irish life and character are only known to residents in Ireland. Instead of being confined, as in most countries, to the thoughtless, the ignorant, or the unfortunate, it is in many places not only the chief pleasure, but the general custom. While some real friends to humanity oppose it by precept or example, a vast number, including, strange to say, people of intelligence, education, and easy circumstances, indulge in it habitually without shame or scruple. Alike on merry or sad occasions, at pleasure parties, excursions, bargains, social meetings, even at funerals, this degrading vice is both common and popular. It seems, indeed, to accommodate itself to almost every circumstance, as well as class, in Irish life. It rouses anger, yet reconciles foes, it rewards success, and consoles failure. Its frequency, therefore, may be imagined, even by those whose happier experiences afford no personal information. Another feature, especially in Irish drunkenness, is that few are the least ashamed of it, either in themselves or others, while habitual sobriety is often attributed to mere selfishness. O’Connell, therefore, availed himself of the excellent Father Mathew’s great but short-lived influence in promoting sobriety.** In a spirit different, indeed, from the drunken frenzies of Tone, as revealed in his extraordinary journal, the fanciful eloquence of Robert Emmet, or the reckless daring of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, these two practical Irishmen, lay and clerical, laboured in concert to improve their fellow-countrymen both in common sense and Christian duty. Their joint success was brilliant and unprecedented, but of short duration.

*Mr. Canning, in supporting Catholic emancipation, alluding to the European alliance against Napoleon, said: “We are in the enjoyment of a peace achieved in a great degree by Catholic arms, and cemented by Catholic blood.” Again, alluding to the recent coronation of George the Fourth, he exclaimed: “Do you imagine it never occurred to the representatives Of Europe that, contemplating this imposing spectacle, it never occurred to the ambassadors of Catholic Austria, of Catholic France, or of states more bigoted, if any such be to the Catholic religion, to reflect that the moment this solemn ceremony was over the Duke of Norfolk [chief Catholic English peer and premier duke] would become deprived of the exercise of his privileges among his fellow-peers, stripped of his robes of office, which were to be laid aside and hung up until the distant (be it a very distant!) day when the coronation of a successor to his present and gracious sovereign should again call him forth to assist at a similar solemnisation.”—Alison’s “History of Europe,” Vol. II., chap. x.

**”O’Connell immediately saw what a strength such a move ment would have if it were incorporated with his own movement and he immediately gave all the support of his great authority and of his great name to the crusade. He praised it enthusiastically; he influenced many of his followers to join it, and he always spoke with the greatest pride of his noble army of teetotallers. Father Mathew himself was not an active politician. But he could not afford to decline the enormous assistance to the temperance movement which O’Connell’s support and O’Connell’s encouragement gave.”—Justin McCarthy’s “Ireland since the Union,” p. 113.

Probably no Irish layman except Mr. Parnell has had as much influence among Irish Catholics as Wolfe Tone and Daniel O’Connell possessed for a short time. Yet they were utterly different men. In Paris, Tone evidently pleased or interested his French allies, and had a singular, almost fantastic, influence over some enthusiastic Irishmen of education, both Protestant and Catholic. But he never really guided or even understood the Irish Catholic peasantry. This was the class which O’Connell chiefly influenced,or rather governed, with astonishing success, without either legal authority or foreign assistance.
He was, indeed, in character, as in ability, well fitted to be their leader and representative. His desire, unlike Tone, was not to introduce foreign habits, but to improve Irish ones. Tone longed to transform Ireland into a second French republic. O’Connell wished it to be made free and enlightened, but to remain not only chiefly Roman Catholic but loyal to the British sovereign. Tone failed completely. O’Connell partially succeeded, but his success was not permanent. He had no successor or even adherent worthy of him to agitate, yet control; to rouse people into great excitement, and yet induce them to obey British rule. His occasional violent language, yet thorough self-command, were among his most remarkable qualities. His terming the ’98 leaders, Fitzgerald, Tone, and Emmet, “a gang of scoundrels,” proved how freely he abused those he disapproved of, without caring about the expressions he used to denounce them.
The most eager loyalists never considered these men rascals, but O’Connell, believing they had done more harm than good to Ireland, evidently wished to extinguish any lingering admiration, or even interest, that attached to their memory. But his vehemence, instead of being a weakness, was one of his weapons, used only when required. Had he been always cool, composed, and cautious, he would at this time hardly have ruled the excitable Irish, who rather liked seeing their leader in occasional boisterous wrath, so usual among themselves, as it seemed to them an additional proof of sincerity.*
Yet he knew his own character and theirs so well that he was really master of the very passions to which he seemed to yield. He could thus be coarse and violent, quiet and pacific, whenever he chose, and so, without being really insincere, he appeared a very different man to different people. O’Connell gradually became more and more popular in England, to the indignant alarm of many loyal Irish Protestants. During his last illness the Queen sent to enquire after him, and many British statesmen of all parties had a sincere regard for him.* His Irish career was extraordinary. He had to contend somewhat like Cromwell in England with influential opponents, and yet to restrain with nearly equal energy the imprudent vehemence of his followers. In Ireland the two parties who in different ways gave him most trouble were the Orange and the Ribbon Societies, the former exclusively Protestant, the latter exclusively Catholic. Among these opposing factions were enlisted a large amount of the youthful vigour, courage.and enterprise of the divided population.**
As a rule, the greater part of Ireland is nominally owned by Protestants and occupied by Roman Catholics. In Ulster, where Protestant tenants are far more numerous than in any other part of Ireland, they dwell among Roman Catholics, and though mutually distrustful, agree with them in opposing high rents, yet are generally averse to secret combination with Catholic tenants, having many interests in common with Protestant landowners. In the middle and south of Ireland there have always been more Catholic landlords than in the north. They usually sympathise with Protestant fellow-landlords in opposing sedition among Catholic tenants, while sympathising with the latter in religious principle. This class, however, was always too small and unfriended to have much influence on the Irish community. Protestants, mostly Prelatists, therefore, usually represent landowners, and Roman Catholics land occupiers. Thus Irish non-Catholic tenants are generally allied with Protestant landlords, owing to historical enmity to Catholicism alienating them from their fellow-occupiers. Yet it has sometimes happened that in the eager competition for land purchase, so usual till lately in Ireland, needy or rapacious landlords have substituted richer Catholic tenants for poor Protestant ones.***

*”Those who assailed him he could assail again; those who abused him he could abuse yet more roundly.”—M’Carthy’s “Ireland since the Union,” p. 96.

**”His policy was to maintain in Ireland a state of things which was neither peace nor war, though rousing the [Irish Catholic] people to the utmost pitch of excitement, the dominant anxiety of his soul was to keep them out of the meshes of the law to avert collision, so that he, their leader, might fight the law within the law.”—Sullivan’s “New Ireland,” Vol. I., p. 6l.

***”The Catholics and the Presbyterians in the north had long confronted each other as two distinct and dissimilar nations, and the low standard of comfort which accompanied the inferior civilisation of the Catholics, enabling them to offer higher rents than the Protestants, gave them an advantage in the competition for farms.”—Lecky’s ” Ireland in the Eighteenth Century,” Vol. III., chap. viii.

This course, however, has been rare and exceptional. It was usually the interest, or thought to be so, of Protestant landowners to substitute Protestant for Catholic tenants, thus replacing hereditary foes by hereditary allies in religion and politics. Of course, in such changes acts of injustice and cruelty on the one side, and deceit and ferocity on the other, produced their dangerous results throughout the land.*

During many years Ireland was distracted by mutual outrages committed by Catholic and Protestant peasantry, styling themselves Whiteboys, Peep-o’-day Boys, Defenders, &c.** Each party, of course, blamed the other exclusively, the truth, probably, being that in the general exasperation crimes were committed by both parties under pretence of reprisals. These factions in the present century merged into Ribbonmen on the Catholic side, who were apparently organised chiefly to resist the rights of landowners.*** Although the Catholic clergy always denounced this society, they were placed in a difficult position in dealing with it. The Ribbonmen were not only exclusively Catholic, but had some objects in common with all Catholics, by resisting Protestant supremacy. It was, therefore, the unscrupulous means they adopted, deliberate murder, cattle maiming, house burning, &c, besides their dangerous and criminal secrecy, which their clergy were forced to condemn.

*”Between eviction and emigration it is estimated that almost a million of people left Ireland between ’49 and ’57. At that time the Ribbon organisation flourished. For more than half a century the Ribbon Society has existed in Ireland. Its aims seem chiefly to have been to defend the land serf from the landlord.”—M’Carthy’s “Ireland since the Union,” chap. xiii.

**”The Peep-o’-Day Boys [Prelatists and Presbyterians] sprang up in the County Armagh. They were so called because they visited the houses of their victims early in the morning in search of arms. The Defenders were Romanists, who committed outrages in retaliation.”—Reid’s “Presbyterian Church in Ireland,” Vol. III.

***”Throughout the half century extending from 1820 to 1870 a secret oath-bound agrarian confederation, known as the Ribbon Society, was the constant affliction and recurring terror of the landed classes in Ireland. In Ulster it professed to be a defensive retaliating league against Orangeism. Although from the first appearance of Ribbonism the Catholic clergy waged a determined war upon it, denouncing it from the altar, and going so far as to refuse the sacrament to its adherents, the society was exclusively Catholic. Under no circumstances would a Protestant be admitted.”—Sullivan’s “New Ireland,” Vol. I.

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