The suppression of the Fenian movement is instructive and interesting to all historical students. It cannot be thoroughly understood without a glance at Continental history immediately before and during its existence. Although the Pope had lost all temporal power, he was at Rome protected by the King of Italy’s troops, who undertook to guard his person and dignity from the violence of the extreme Republicans or Communists. This party throughout Europe always detested the Papacy and Roman Catholicism, though, to the disappointment of many Protestants, few of them were disposed to profess any other form of Christianity.* The religious strife in Catholic Europe from the French revolution in the last century to the present time has been between Catholicism and infidelity, the latter being generally allied with republicanism.** The Catholic clergy in Europe have consistently supported monarchy against republicanism. Thus European republicans were almost always hostile to Catholic priests. A few years before the Fenian conspiracy republicanism was greatly checked throughout Europe, partly through their influence and always with their approval. As a rule, the most devout in France, Spain, and Italy opposed republicanism owing to its being often associated with infidelity. In Ireland alone, amid European countries, republican principles in many Catholic minds were mingled with love for the same Church that condemned them throughout Europe.
*”The irreligious Italians simply disbelieved Christianity without hating it. They looked at it as artists or as statesmen, and so looking at it, they liked it better in the re-established form than in any other. ‘We think it a most remarkable fact that no Christian nation which did not adopt the principles of the Reformation before the end of the sixteenth century should ever have adopted them. Catholic communities have since that time become infidel and become Catholic again, but none have become Protestant.'”—Macaulay’s “Essay on Ranke’s History.”
**”The struggle against the Church of Rome in the present day is not strictly theological. Its real adversary is now no longer the Protestant divine. The theological doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was the basis of the government of Catholic Europe.”—Lecky’s “Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland,” p. 304.
The political ascendancy of Protestantism first established by revolution, had in that exceptional country often inclined Catholic priests to become demagogues, the very class to whom, on the Continent, they were implacably opposed. During the Fenian agitation, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland was Cardinal Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin. This prelate, on arriving in Ireland from Italy, where he had long resided, found himself in a new and extraordinary position. Yet his conscientious mind never wavered, never allowed him for a moment to deviate from the path of religious duty, which he well understood and performed. He perceived that many of his people, if not avowed republicans, regarded revolutionary principles with approval. Some loyal Irish Protestants indignantly assured the British public in speeches and newspapers that “Popery and Rebellion” were allied in Ireland against England. It appeared, indeed, to use Macaulay’s words about the ’98 revolt, that Popery and Jacobinism were joined together in an unnatural and portentous union. The Irish in America encouraged discontent among their countrymen at home by praising the Republic of the United States, and ardently wishing to establish one like it in Ireland, in place of what they called British tyranny. These American Irish were usually very different from the Irish who travelled or resided on the Continent. The latter, by intercourse with foreign society, generally returned home enlightened by acquaintance with accomplished foreigners and the improving influences of artistic or classical information. The Irish in the United States had very different experiences; they usually associated together in towns more than with American society. They habitually excited one another by deploring their country’s past history, and abusing British rule. The example, moreover, of the Americans .freeing themselves from British control always presented a dangerous temptation to needy or discontented Irish emigrants. Instead, therefore, of becoming enlightened or pacific, the Irish in America have usually become more prejudiced than ever against Britain by seldom hearing any arguments or reasoning but their own. Their past and present hardships or troubles, freely communicated between them and their friends in Ireland, were usually directly or indirectly attributed to British misrule. Thus they acquired little, if any, European knowledge, while confirming each other in partial views of Irish history, in which British rule was exclusively made responsible, not only for ancestral wrongs, but for personal misfortunes.** No more, as in former times, were France and Spain appealed to for the rescue of Ireland. Yet enmity to England, almost as violent as in the days of Sir Phelim O’Neill or the siege of Limerick, prevailed throughout part of the island. But the Irish disaffected no longer needed sympathy from European monarchs, or even aid from European revolutionists. They fixed their hopes on fellow-countrymen in the United States of America.*** A new Ireland was now arising there, constantly reinforced by fresh emigrants from the mother country, often ardent and enterprising, but often vindictive and desperate, full of new hopes and old memories. Some were inspired with a vague idea of substituting a happy and prosperous in place of a discontented Ireland. Others, again, were animated by the more practical intention of taking unscrupulous revenge on supposed descendants of alleged British oppressors.
*”The Irish in America have always persisted against their own interests in keeping up their distinctiveness of race and religion in a manner antagonistic to the great mass of the American people. The Roman Catholic clergy have built up the greatness of their Church in the United States by means of the Irish masses, whom they persuaded and commanded to settle in the great cities for ecclesiastical purposes when the great emigration commenced.”—Bagenal’s “American Irish,” p. 696.
**”Assimilating rapidly with the thoughts and by the influences of their surroundings, the Irish began to look back upon their old life and position in Ireland with distaste. The only tangible and constant idea present came to be one of hatred and abhorrence of that system of government which they were sedulously taught to believe was the fountain of all their woes, real and imaginary.”—Bagenal’s “American Irish,” p. 131.
***”The result of the abortive insurrection of 1848 was to change the base of Irish revolution from Ireland to America. It was received with open arms by those Irish who were already settled there, a goodly section of the population, and eager,y espoused by the million and a half emigrants who had contemporaneously left the shores of Ireland.”—Bagenal’s “American Irish,” p. 111.
Amid and nominally over such revolutionary spirits, often suspected by loyal Protestants, and opposed by rebellious Catholics, Cardinal Cullen found himself placed. His Italian experiences of Catholic clergy always combating revolutionary principles were now greatly changed. He found many of his Church directly or indirectly advocating rebellion, and most Irish Protestants supporting the monarchy and preserving law and order, while believing, and trying to make others believe, that the Irish revolutionary spirit, secret, plotting, and dangerous, was chiefly caused by the Romish Church. For this vehement assertion, uttered in speeches, published in newspapers, even expressed in sermons, there seemed some cause. Catholic journals abounded with incentives to revolt against British rule. Many influential Catholic speakers, perhaps irritated by Protestant loyalists’ denunciation of their Church, inveighed against England with a violence hardly consistent with obedience to existing law. Probably no Catholic layman at this time had much influence in recommending moderation among his party. They required spiritual direction even in political conduct. Meanwhile, during the Fenian movement, the Orange society, which in times of comparative quiet attracted little public attention, came boldly forward as the champion of Protestant monarchy, now threatened by an apparent combination of what they called “Popery” and infidelity. Thus many Irish Catholics, tempted by republican sympathisers and irritated by Protestant loyalists, were fast becoming what their foes described them—dangerous rebels to existing law—when Cardinal Cullen, as if the spirit of his Church in its early ages had inspired him, appeared upon the political as well as the religious scene of action. His course was alike calm, firm, and immovable.* In a spirit somewhat like the Grand Master of the Templars in Scott’s “Ivanhoe,” he resolved to call back his people to their historical rule of obedience to existing laws, while maintaining above all contact with the politics of a temporal world the sacred principles of the unchangeable Church.** He had, therefore, to encounter the distrust of suspicious Protestants, as well as the passionate, if not mutinous, remonstrances of excitable Catholics. To both, however, the Cardinal showed the inflexible resolution of a firm religious mind, defying all opposition to what he believed his duty to maintain. He steadily resisted the Irish Fenian movement with a success which, perhaps, few men could have achieved, yet in so doing he gave no triumph to Irish Protestants. He opposed all doctrine he believed heretical with as much zealous energy as if, like the Cardinals of old, he could invoke the political power of a Catholic monarch to enforce his will. He was in himself the incarnation of historical Catholicism at this time in Ireland. He possessed that rare knowledge of his Church’s true interest which a long residence in Italy could well impart, and his foreign experiences peculiarly fitted him to calmly preserve its dignity in Ireland, alike unmoved by Protestant hostility, Catholic complaint, or infidel temptation. His European knowledge guided or governed his Irish policy. He had, in common with most Italian priests, viewed Mazzini’s republican plots and Garibaldi’s revolutionary exploits with abhorrence and apprehension. Yet these popular leaders were each admired in England, the latter especially, from the Liberal Premier, Mr. Gladstone, and the Liberal aristocracy, to Radical or Republican artisans and workmen.***
*”His principles were framed in an atmosphere quite unlike that of Ireland. All the bent of his mind was with authority and against resistance* to the constituted powers. He had seen the evil work which revolution had wrought elsewhere. He might have been one of the early Fathers transferred from the fifth to the nineteenth century.”—Sullivan’s “New Ireland,” Vol. I.
**”He had been chosen at Rome for a great and far-reaching purpose of disciplinary transformation in Irish Catholic affairs. He was more Roman than Irish, and his design of bringing the Irish Catholic Church into stricter conformity to the Roman model incurred for him not a few conflicts among the Irish clergy.” —Sullivan’s “New Ireland.” Vol. I.
***”Mr. Gladstone was among the very first and most cordial in his welcome to Garibaldi. He was beset by dukes, mobbed by countesses.”—M’Carthy’s “History of our own Times,” Vol. III. Although English ladies may not have been quite so demonstrative as Mr. M’Carthy intimates, yet British enthusiasm for the revolutionary general astonished many English and Irish Catholics, and was disapproved of by some of the British Conservative party.
The American Irish revolutionists, perhaps, rather reminded the Cardinal of these Italian patriots or insurgents, as they were severally termed by admirers and opponents. The Italian revolution finally established the kingdom of united Italy under Victor Emanuel, formerly King of Sardinia. Nearly all the Italian clergy disapproved of his obtaining the Italian throne, especially as he included the Pope’s small territory in his new dominion. Many devout Catholics dreaded a Communist revolt in both France and Italy, owing to the popularity, influence, and success of Garibaldi among the Italians. This brave, extraordinary man, though forcibly controlled by Victor Emanuel, to whom he was only occasionally obedient, had many Red Republican or Communist allies and admirers. He was also a determined enemy to the Papacy, against which, though not much of a literary genius, he wrote rather a violent book called “The Rule of the Monk.” Cardinal Cullen, whose ideas were more Italian than Irish, was the more fitted by European knowledge to guide or control rebellious Irish Catholics, and to disregard the hostility of loyal Protestants. His mission was to preserve Irish Catholicism, strict, exact, and dutiful, unmoved either by Protestant enmity or revolutionary temptation, by which it was alike menaced.* From the former, indeed, he had little to fear. The mutual antipathy between Irish Catholics and Protestants, expressed in speeches, books and sermons, as usual discouraged conversions, owing to the anger such language aroused among both parties. Cullen, therefore, had not much cause to dread the progress of Protestantism among his people. The constant abuse of “Popery” by many Irish Protestants, whose minds were prejudiced by historical traditions against Catholics, was thus his involuntary assistance. It effectually deterred turbulent Catholics, irritated by his strictness, from inclining to such vehement foes. But from atheism or free-thinking, allied with American republicanism and sympathising with European revolution everywhere, Cullen had much to apprehend.** An earnest, though somewhat secret, contest ensued between him and some intractable Irish Catholics lay and clerical. As might have been expected, the victory, morally and politically, remained with the firm representative of Papal authority.
*”On more than one occasion the Roman Catholic bishops have hazarded their popularity in this way. They could at a signal have armed a million combatants against a persecuting Government, and that signal they refused to give.”—Father Perraud’s “Studies on Ireland,” quoted in Mitchel’s “History of Ireland,” p. 249.
**American democracy would never agree with the Roman Catholic clergy, if the following extract trom a popular American work can be trusted:—”It was clearly proven that one-half as many Catholic children attend the public schools [in the United States] as the denominational schools, notwithstanding the fulminations of the priests and the command of the Vicar of Christ, the supreme Pontiff, which is quoted in the recent attack in Pittsburg against the godless public schools. So let the Catholic Church continue to issue its mandate against free, godless education in the Republic. The Pope being infallible, must be consistent, and this is his nineteenth ceritury bull against the comet, and will probably be as efficacious as the older one.”—”Triumphant Democracy; or, Fifty Years March of the Republic,” by Carnegie, pp. 98-9.