The divided Irish; an historical sketch


The ignorance or misrepresentation of history which Mr. Lecky declares so prevalent in Ireland, naturally causes misleading comparisons in the estimation both of its events and characters. For instance, it has been said in Ireland that General Sarsfield and Wolfe Tone alike desired to promote Irish liberty. This idea is at once dispelled by history, but without its impartial study it may easily obtain credit. In reality perhaps no two men could be more opposed in principle, design, or motive. Sarsfield, the firm, loyal, general of James the Second, much resembled his co-temporary, Claverhouse Lord Dundee, in political desires and military action, perhaps in personal character. Each attempted to restore the rule of James, the one in Scotland, the other in Ireland, by forcibly quelling the insurrection against their master in both countries. The very idea of popular liberty involving the moral right to resist an established monarchy was equally hateful to both these generals. They were alike trusted and honoured by their despotic master, and the dread and terror of every revolutionist in the three kingdoms. The very name of rebellion was abhorrent to each. To suppress the same revolt against the same gracious sovereign, or odious tyrant, as James was severally termed, they devoted their lives. The principle of the Divine Right of kings found in them able, practical, and gallant champions. By them William Prince of Orange was considered a foreign usurper, leading rebellious fellow-countrymen against the Lord’s Anointed. But though the revolution was in their eyes utterly unjustifiable, yet the destruction of the monarchy, by substituting a republic, would logically have appeared more sinful. Yet such was Wolfe Tone’s avowed hope and design, whom Sarsfield and Claverhouse would doubtless have executed with as little legal delay as possible, had he lived in their times.

It may reasonably be concluded from history that had Tone lived in the reign of James the Second, his sympathies would have been with William of Orange. He might indeed have preferred a republic to William, but the principle which would have made him prefer it would have made him infinitely prefer William to James. His enmity to Roman Catholicism, proved in his diary, published after his death, reveals the destructive hatred of an utter skeptic, not the discriminating, or reasoning objections of a Protestant. His idea that the Papacy was always a fraudulent imposition on European belief exceeds all Protestant aversion to it.* For all Protestant denominations respect the historical Papacy until its alleged violation of pure Christian doctrine, caused the Reformation in some countries under its spiritual sway, but which left most of them as much under its control as ever. But to men like Tone the Institution could seem nothing less than a fraud or imposture from the first. Accordingly his republican friends attempted to overthrow the Papacy in Italy without much idea of consulting the wishes of the Italian nation. The French republic, which Tone enthusiastically obeyed and admired, had little idea of being guided by the popular will anywhere, except when it agreed with its own principles. He and his French republican allies whom he made his masters, and wished to make rulers of Ireland, saw nothing in the Papacy or in Roman Catholicism but what should be destroyed. Yet while thus secretly thinking and writing, Tone actually possessed the ignorant confidence of the Irish Catholic masses, hoping to avail themselves of his republican hatred to monarchical England, to be freed from it by a French invasion. Tone, with mingled craft and energy, the former revealed in his ascendency over Irish Catholics, the latter, shown by his influence with the French republic, was certainly the leader, framer, and chief promoter of the ’98 rebellion. The success with which so reckless a skeptic, if not utter infidel, deceived thousands of devout Irish Catholics, and the popularity which his name still retains among their descendants is a decisive proof of ignorance among many shrewd, intelligent Irishmen about European history.**

*Alluding to the treatment of the Pope by the French republicans, Tone wrote: “I am heartily glad that old priest is at last laid under contribution in his turn. Many a long century he and his predecessors have been fleecing all Europe, but the day of retribution is come at last, and besides I am strongly tempted to hope that this is but the beginning of his sorrows.—Tone’s ” Memoirs,” Vol. I.

**Tone urged that republicanism must finally subvert monarchy, “as the Mosaic law subverted idolatry, as Christianity the Jewish dispensation, as the Reformation subverted Popery.”—Extract from Tone’s “Memoirs,” quoted in Lecky’s “History of Ireland,” Vol. III., chap. viii.

Tone’s hatred to the British monarchy was evidently their chief, if not only, bond of union, the one fellow-feeling, or common sentiment connecting such a man with the Irish Catholic population. But this alliance, though preserving Tone’s influence during life, and popularity after it, was mainly caused by the ignorance of the Irish, not only of their leaders’ real views, but of the political and religious state of Europe. They thought their version of Christianity had no worse foes than British rulers, or Protestant fellow-countrymen. But the Head of their Church knew very differently. To him all European Protestant monarchies, without exception, though heretical, were politically friendly, and even spiritually might become more and more reconciled through the medium of peaceful intercourse and increasing communication. But in Tone’s model of perfection, the French infidel republic, Roman Catholicism found an enemy more destructive and morally more inexcusable than the extinct Paganism of ancient Rome. No reconciliation, no peace, no confidence, nothing but the most thorough enmity could ever exist between the real principles of Tone and Roman Catholicism. Yet owing to historical ignorance, perhaps unequaled in Europe, Tone’s memory is still honoured by many devout Irish Catholics, whose faith he not only detested, but secretly wished to eradicate. Their alliance was evidently alone caused by their one feeling in common of hatred to the British monarchy. This sentiment, in its strange, and even contradictory effects in Ireland, deserves careful examination. That it originally arose from historic traditions of national conquest united with subsequent religious differences is. certain. But it is singularly contradicted by the practical loyalty with which Irish Catholic soldiers, sailors, and police, as well as judges and magistrates, help to maintain the power, influence, and interests of the British Protestant monarchy. Irish Catholics may, without clerical discouragement, highly distinguish themselves in supporting British rule, and yet often hear it abused or censured with the utmost vehemence by their fellow-Catholics, both clergy and laity. Their language, indeed, so irritates and alarms Protestant fellow-subjects, that some of the latter, despite opposing evidence, believe themselves right in declaring that all Irish Catholics are really foes to British authority. Thus Ireland, even towards the close of the nineteenth century, presents a curious and confused picture much resembling its mediaeval history in religious prejudices. These ideas, despite the secular spirit of the age in Europe and America, still surprise politicians, excite theologians, and are the real foundations of Irish popular feeling and policy to the present day.

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