- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


William III., of Orange, was inclined to observe, in good faith, the articles agreed upon at the surrender of Limerick, namely, to allow the conquered liberty of worship, citizen rights, so much as remained to them of their property, and the means for personal safety recognized before the departure of Sarsfield and his men.

The lords justices even issued a proclamation commanding "all officers and soldiers of the army and militia, and all other persons whatsoever, to forbear to do any wrong or injury, or to use unlawful violence to any of his Majesty's subjects, whether of the British or Irish nation, without distinction, and that all persons taking the oath of allegiance, and behaving themselves according to law, should be deemed subjects under their Majesties' protection, and be equally entitled to the benefit of the law."--(Harris, "Life of William.")

This first proclamation not having been generally obeyed, another was published denouncing "the utmost vengeance of the law against the offenders;" and the author above quoted adds that "the satisfaction given to the Irish was a source of lasting gratitude to the person and government of William."

It is even asserted that, not only did the new monarch thus ratify the treaty of Limerick, but that "he inserted in the ratification a clause of the last importance to the Irish, which had been omitted in the draught signed by the lords justices and Sarsfield. That clause extended the benefits of the capitulation to "all such as were under the protection of the Irish army in the counties of Limerick, Clare, Kerry, Cork, and Mayo. A great quantity of Catholic property depended on the insertion of this clause in the ratification, and the English Privy Council hesitated whether to take advantage of the omission. The honesty of the king declared it to be a part of the articles."

The final confirmation was issued from Westminster on February 24, 1692, in the name of William and Mary.

But the party which had overcome the honest leanings of James I., if he ever had any, and of his son and grandson, was at this time more powerful than ever, and could not consent to extend the claims of justice and right to the conquered. This party was the Ulster colony, which Cromwell's settlement had spread to the two other provinces of Leinster and Munster, and which was confirmed in its usurpation by the weakness of the second Charles. The motives for the bitter animosity which caused it to set its face against every measure involving the scantiest justice toward its fellow-countrymen may be summed up in two words--greed and fanaticism.

Until the time when the first of the Stuarts ascended the English throne, all the successive spoliations of Ireland, even the last under Elizabeth, at the end of the Geraldine war, were made to the advantage of the English nobility. Even the younger sons of families from Lancashire, Cheshire, and Dorsetshire, who "planted" Munster after the ruin of the Desmonds, had noble blood in their veins, and were consequently subject more or less to the ordinary prejudices of feudal lords. The life of the agriculturist and grazier was too low down in the social scale to catch their supercilious glance. The consequence of which was, that the Catholic tenants of Munster were left undisturbed in their holdings. Instead of the "dues" exacted by their former chieftains, they now paid rent to their new lords.

But the rabble let loose on the island by James I. was afflicted with no such dainty notions as these. To supercilious glances were substituted eyes keen as the Israelites', for the "main chance." The new planters, intent only on profit and gain, thought with the French peasant of an after-date, that, for landed estate to produce its full value, "there is nothing like the eye of a master." The Irish peasant was therefore removed from at least one-half the farms of Ulster, and driven to live as best he might among the Protestant lords of Munster. And in order to have an entirely Protestant "plantation," it became incumbent on the new owners so to frame the legislation as to deprive the Irish Catholics of any possibility of recovering their former possessions. Thus, laws were passed declaring null and void all purchases made by "Irish papists."

Who has not witnessed, at some period in his life, the effect produced on the people in his neighborhood by one avaricious but wealthy man, intent only on increasing his property, and profiting by the slavish labor of the poor under his control? Who has not detested, in his inmost soul, the grinding tyranny of the miser gloating over the hard wealth which he has wrung from the misery and tears of all around him, and who boasts of the cunning shrewdness, the success of which is only too visible in the desolation that encircles him? Imagine such scenes enacted throughout a large territory, beginning with Ulster, spreading thence to Munster and Connaught, and finally through the whole island, and we have an exact picture of the effects of the Protestant "plantation." Each year, almost, of the seventeenth century witnessed fresh swarms of these foreign adventurers settling on the island, interrupted in their operations only by the Confederation of Kilkenny, but multiplying faster and faster after the destruction of that truly national government, until at the time now under our consideration, "Scotch thrift," as it is called, had become the chief virtue of most of the owners of land--Scotch thrift, which is but another name for greed.

It were easy to show, by long details, that this great characteristic of the new "plantation" would suffice to explain that general and terrible pauperism which has since become the striking feature of once-happy Ireland. But only a few words can be allowed.

It is the fanaticism of the new "planters" which will chiefly occupy our attention. These were composed, first, of the Scotch Presbyterians of Knox, whom James I. had dispatched, and afterward of the ranting soldiers and officers of Cromwell's army, more Jew than Christian, since their mouths were ever filled with Bible texts of that particular character wherein the wrath of God is denounced against the impious and cruel tribes of Palestine. It is doubtful whether the ideas of God and man, promulgated and spread among the people by Calvin and Knox, have ever been equalled in evil consequences by the most superstitious beliefs of ancient pagans. Let us look well at those teachings. According to them, God is the author of evil: he issues forth his decrees of election or reprobation, irrespective of merit or demerit; inflicting eternal torments on innumerable souls which never could have been saved, and for whom the Son of God did not die. What any rational being must consider as the most revolting cruelty and injustice, these men called acts of pure justice executed by the hand of God. God saves blindly those whom he saves, and takes them home to his bosom, though reeking with the unrepented and unexpiated crimes of their lives--unexpiable, in fact, on the part of man--merely because they persuade themselves that they are of "the elect."

In that system, man is a mere machine, unendowed with the slightest symptom of free-will, but inflated with the most overbearing pride; deeming all others but those of his sect the necessary objects of the blind wrath of God, cast off and reprobate from all eternity in the designs of Providence; for whom "the elect" can feel no more pity or affection than redeemed men can for the arch-fiend himself, both being alike redeemless and unredeemed.

No system of pretended religion, invented by the perverted mind of man, under the inspiration of the Evil One, could go further in atrocity than this.

Yet such was the pure, undiluted essence of Calvinism in its beginning. In our times its doctrines have been radically modified, as its adherents could not escape the soothing operations of time and calm reason. But, at the period of which we speak, its absurd and revolting tenets were fresh, and taken religiously to the letter.

The new colonists, therefore, believed, and acted on the belief, that all men outside of their own body were the enemies of God and had God for their enemy. What a convenient doctrine for men of an "itching palm! " The papists, in particular, were worse than idolaters, and to "root them out" was only to render a service to God. In the event of this holy desire not being altogether possible of execution, the nearest approach to the goodly work was to strip them of all rights, and render the life of such reprobates more miserable than the death which was to condemn them to the eternal torments planned out for them in the eternal decrees, and so give them a foretaste here of the life destined for them hereafter.

The reader, then, may understand how the Scotch Presbyterians of the time, overflowing as they were with free and republican ideas as far as regarded their own welfare, when it came to a question of extending the same to their Catholic fellow-men, if they would have admitted the term, scouted such a preposterous and ungodly idea. These latter were unworthy the enjoyment of such benefit. And thus the hoot of Protestant ascendancy, "Protestant liberty and right! " came up as war-cries to stifle out all efforts tending to extend even the most ordinary privileges of the liberty which is man's by nature, to any but Protestants of the same class as themselves.

Here a curious reflection, full of meaning, and causing the mind almost to mock at the type of a free constitution, presents itself. The eighteenth century witnessed the development of the British Constitution as now known. It embraced in its bosom all British citizens, raising up the nation to the pinnacle of material prosperity, while at the same time and all through it, whole classes of citizens of the British Empire, both in Great Britain and Ireland, were openly, unblushingly, legally, without a thought of mercy or pity--not to mention such an ugly word as logic--denied the protection of the common charter and the common rights.

Under Cromwell the doctrines of Calvin and Knox did not show themselves quite so obtrusively. The officers and soldiers of his armies, in common with their general, thought the Presbyterian Kirk too aristocratic and unbending. They formed a new sect of Independents, now called Congregationalists. But the chief feature of the new religious system became as productive of evil to Ireland as the stern dogmas of Calvin ever could be. The principle that the Scriptures constituted the only rule of faith was beginning to bear its fruits. It is needless to remark that Holy Scripture, when abandoned to the free interpretation of all, becomes the source of many errors, as it may be the source of many crimes. The historian and novelist even have ere now frequently told us to what purpose the "Word of God " was manipulated by Scottish Covenanter and Cromwellian freebooter.

The Covenanter, or freebooter, saw in the antagonists of his "real rebellion" and opposers of the designs of his dark policy, only the enemies of God and the adversaries of his Providence. He believed himself divinely commissioned to destroy Catholics and butcher innocent women and children, as the armies of Joshua were authorized to fight against Amalek, and possess themselves of a country occupied by a people whose cruel idolatry was ineradicable, and rendered them absolutely irreconcilable. Thus to the stern and odious tenets of Calvinism the new invaders joined the fanaticism of self-deluded Jews, never having received any commission from the God whom they blasphemed, yet bearing themselves with all the solemnity of his instruments.

There is consequently nothing to surprise us in the atrocities committed by the Scotch troops in 1641, when they first invaded the island from the north, as little as there is in the numerous massacres which first attended the march of the troops of Cromwell, Ireton, and other leaders, and which were only discontinued when the voice of Europe rose up in revolt at the recital, and they themselves became thoroughly convinced that the complete destruction of the people was impossible, and the only next best thing to be done was to export as many as could be exported and reduce the rest to slavery.

Thus did the new colony commence its workings, and it is easy to comprehend how such intensely Protestant doctrines, remaining implanted in the breasts of the people who came to make Ireland their home, could not fail to oppose an insurmountable barrier to the fusion of the new and the old inhabitants, and impart a fearful reality to the theory of "Protestant ascendancy" and "Protestant liberty and right "--the liberty and right to oppress those of another creed.

These watchwords form the key to the understanding of all the miseries and woes of Irishmen during the whole of the eighteenth century. We now turn to contemplate the commencement of the workings of this fanatic intolerance which ushered in the century of gloom.

The lords justices had just returned, after concluding the treaty of peace with Sarsfield, when the first mutterings of the thunder were heard that presaged the coming storm. Dr. Dopping, the Protestant Bishop of Meath, while preaching before them on the Sunday following their return to Dublin, reproached them openly in Christ Church for their indulgence to the Irish, and urged that no faith was to be kept with such a cruel and perfidious race. This sort of doctrine has been heard before, and from men of the stamp of Dr. Dopping; it is still heard every day, but it is generally thrown into the teeth of Catholics and saddled on them as their doctrine, however frequently refuted.

The doctor stated broadly that with such people no treaties were binding, and that therefore the articles of Limerick were not to be observed.

William and his Irish government endeavored to check this intemperance; but the feelings of the sectarians were too ardent to be thus easily smothered, and the greater the opposition they encountered, the more they insisted on proclaiming their views, to which naturally they gained many adherents among the colonists of the Protestant plantation.

The Irish Parliament soon assembled in Dublin. The majority, imbued with the gloomy Calvinism of the times, and fearing to face the opposition of the respectable minority of Catholic members, who had come to take their seats, passed an act imposing a new oath, in contradiction to one of the articles of the treaty. That oath included an abjuration of James's right de jure, a renunciation of the spiritual authority of the Pope, and (as though that were not enough to exclude Catholics) a declaration against the doctrine of transubstantiation and other fundamental tenets of their creed. Persons who refused to take this oath were debarred from all offices and emoluments, as well as from both Houses of the Irish Parliament.

The Catholic members were compelled to withdraw at once; and no Catholic ever took part in the legislation of his own country from that day until the Emancipation in 1829.

After this withdrawal, which in the times of the French Convention would have been called an epuration, the Irish Parliament became the bane of the country. In fact, it only represented parliamentary England, and subjected Ireland to every measure required by English ultraists for the attainment of their selfish purposes. Possessed by a gloomy fanaticism, its main object was to root out of the island every vestige that remained of the religion which had once flourished there. All its legislative spirit was concentrated in the two questions: Are the laws already in existence against the further growth of Popery rigidly enforced? and, cannot some new law be introduced to further the same object.?

Many a time were these two questions put in the assembly called the Irish Parliament, until near the end of the eighteenth thunder were heard that presaged the coming storm. Dr. Dopping, the Protestant Bishop of Meath, while preaching before them on the Sunday following their return to Dublin, reproached them openly in Christ Church for their indulgence to the Irish, and urged that no faith was to be kept with such a cruel and perfidious race. This sort of doctrine has been heard before, and from men of the stamp of Dr. Dopping; it is still heard every day, but it is generally thrown into the teeth of Catholics and saddled on them as their doctrine, however frequently refuted.

The doctor stated broadly that with such people no treaties were binding, and that therefore the articles of Limerick were not to be observed.

William and his Irish government endeavored to check this intemperance; but the feelings of the sectarians were too ardent to be thus easily smothered, and the greater the opposition they encountered, the more they insisted on proclaiming their views, to which naturally they gained many adherents among the colonists of the Protestant plantation.

The Irish Parliament soon assembled in Dublin. The majority, imbued with the gloomy Calvinism of the times, and fearing to face the opposition of the respectable minority of Catholic members, who had come to take their seats, passed an act imposing a new oath, in contradiction to one of the articles of the treaty. That oath included an abjuration of James's right de jure, a renunciation of the spiritual authority of the Pope, and (as though that were not enough to exclude Catholics) a declaration against the doctrine of transubstantiation and other fundamental tenets of their creed. Persons who refused to take this oath were debarred from all offices and emoluments, as well as from both Houses of the Irish Parliament.

The Catholic members were compelled to withdraw at once; and no Catholic ever took part in the legislation of his own country from that day until the Emancipation in 1829.

After this withdrawal, which in the times of the French Convention would have been called an epuration, the Irish Parliament became the bane of the country. In fact, it only represented parliamentary England, and subjected Ireland to every measure required by English ultraists for the attainment of their selfish purposes. Possessed by a gloomy fanaticism, its main object was to root out of the island every vestige that remained of the religion which had once flourished there. All its legislative spirit was concentrated in the two questions: Are the laws already in existence against the further growth of Popery rigidly enforced? and, cannot some new law be introduced to further the same object.?

Many a time were these two questions put in the assembly called the Irish Parliament, until near the end of the eighteenth Popery, and, in the next place, it makes evident the necessity there is of cultivating and preserving a good understanding among all Protestants in this kingdom."'

Let the reader bear in mind that language such as this, and its result in the shape of atrocious legislation, continued throughout the whole of the eighteenth century in Ireland, and he will find no difficulty in understanding the meaning of Edmund Burke's words when he said : "The code against the Catholics was a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance; and as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man." And, elsewhere: "To render men patient under the deprivation of all the rights of human nature, every thing which could give them a knowledge and feeling of those rights was rationally forbidden. To render humanity fit to be insulted, it was fit that it should be degraded."

But it is very pertinent to our purpose to give a sketch of those good laws, as Wharton calls them, before seeing how the Irish preferred to submit to them rather than lose their faith by "conforming." The subject has been already investigated by many writers, and of late far more completely than formerly. But the authors never presented the laws as a whole, contenting themselves, for the most part, by transcribing them in the chronological order in which they were enacted, or, if occasionally they endeavored to combine and thus present a more striking idea of the effect which such laws must have produced on the people, they were never, as far as is known to the writer, reduced to a plan, and consequently fail to bring forth the effect intended to be produced by them.

It is impossible here to give the text of those various laws-- impossible even to give a fairly accurate idea of the whole. They shall be classified, however, to the best of our ability, and as fully as circumstances permit.

Mr. Prendergast seems to consider their ultimate object always to have been the robbing of the Irish of their lands, or securing the plunder if already in possession. That this was one of the great objects always kept in view in their enactment, we do not feel inclined to contest; but that it was their only or even chief cause, we may be allowed to question, with the greatest deference to the opinion of the celebrated author of the often-quoted "Cromwellian Settlement."

We believe those laws to have been produced chiefly by sectarian fanaticism; or, if some of their framers, such as Lord Wharton, possessed no religious feelings of any kind, and could not be called fanatics, their intent was to pander to the real fanaticism of the English people, as it existed at the time, and particularly of the colony planted in Ireland, which hated Popery to the death, and would have given all its possessions and lands for the destruction of the Scarlet Woman.

In order to attain the great result proposed, the aim of the "penal statute" was one in its very complexity. For it had to deal with complex rights, which it took away one after another until the unity of the system was completed by the suppression of them all.

We classify these under the heads of political, civil, and human rights. The result of the whole policy was to degrade the Irish to the level of the wretched helots under Sparta, with this difference: while the slaves of the Lacedaemonians numbered but a few thousands, the Irish were counted by millions.

The system, as a whole, was the work of time, and, under William of Orange--even under Queen Anne--it had not yet attained its maturity, though the principal and the severest measures were carried and put in force from the very beginning. The ingenious little devices regarding short and small leases, the possession of valuable horses, etc., were mere fanciful adjuncts which the witty and inventive legislators of the Hanoverian dynasty were happy enough to find unrecorded in the statute-books, and which they had the honor of setting there, and thus adding a new piquancy and vigorous flavor to the whole dish.

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century, the system may be said to have reached its perfection. After that time it would, in all likelihood, have been impossible to improve further, and render the yoke of slavery heavier and more galling to the Irish. The beauty and simplicity of the whole consisted in the fact that the great majority of these measures were not decreed in so many positive and express terms against Catholics in the form of open and persecuting statutes. It was merely mentioned in the laws that, to enjoy such and such a particular right, it was necessary that every subject of the crown should take such and such an oath, which no Catholic could take. Thus, the entire Irish population was set between their religion and their rights, and at any moment, by merely taking the oath, they were at liberty to enjoy all the privileges which rendered the colonists living in their midst so happy and contented, and so proud of their "Protestant ascendency."

It was hoped, no doubt, that, if at first and for a certain time, the faith of the Irish would stand proof and prompt them to sacrifice every thing held dear in life, rather than surrender that faith, nevertheless, worn out at length, and disheartened by wretchedness, unable longer to sustain their heavy burden, they would finally succumb, and, by the mere action of such an easy thing as recording an oath in accordance with the law, though against their conscience, become men and citizens. It was what the French Conventionalists of 1793 called "desoler la patience" of their victims.

This unholy hope was disappointed; and, with the exception of a comparatively few weak Christians among their number, the nation stood firm and preferred the "ignominy of the cross of Christ" to the enjoyments of this perishable life.

Their political rights were, as was seen, the first to be taken away. The Parliament of 1691 required of its members the oath referred to, and for the repudiation of which, all the Catholic members were compelled at once to withdraw. But the contrivance of swearing being found such an excellent instrument to use against men possessed of a conscience, the ruling body--now reduced to the former Protestant majority--required that the same oath be taken by all electors, magistrates, and officers of whatever grade, from the highest to the lowest in the land.

The oath itself was an elastic formula, capable of being stretched or contracted, according to circumstances, so that, by the addition of an incidental phrase or two, it might be framed to meet new exigencies, and give expression to the lively imagination of ingenious members of Parliament. It would be curious to collect an account of the variety of shapes it assumed, and to comment on the different occasions which gave rise to these different developments. A long history of persecuting frenzy might thus be condensed into a commentary of a comparatively few pages. Even at the so-called Catholic Emancipation it was not abolished; on the contrary, it was sacredly preserved, and two new formulas drawn up, the one for the Protestant and the other for the Catholic members of the legislature, Lords and Commons, and so it remains, to this day, except that the most offensive clauses of the last century have disappeared.

Imagine, then, the spectacle offered by the island whenever an election for representatives, magistrates, or petty officers, took place; whenever those entitled to select holders of offices which were not subject to election, made known the persons of their choice. This vast array of aristocratic masters was chosen from the ranks of the English colonists, and had for its avowed object to preserve the Protestant ascendency, and consequently grind under the heel of the most abject oppression the whole mass of the population of the island. There was no other meaning in all these political combinations and changes, recurring periodically, and heralded forth by the voice of the press and the thunder of the hustings. Politics in Ireland was nothing else than the expression given to the despotism of an insignificant minority over almost the entire body of the people. For, despite all their repressive measures, the enemies of the Catholic faith could never pretend even to a semblance in point of numbers, much less to a majority, over the children of the creed taught by Patrick. Ireland remained Catholic throughout; and its oppressors could not fail to feel the bitter humiliation of their constant numerical inferiority. Hence the words quoted in the speech of Wharton, the lord-lieutenant.

This has always been the case, in spite of the combination of a multitude of circumstances adverse to the spread of the Catholic population. It may not be amiss to give room for the statistics and remarks of Abbe Perraud on this most interesting subject, contained in his book on "Ireland under British rule."

"In 1672, the total population of Ireland was 1,100,000 (it is to be remembered that this was after the massacres and transportations of Cromwell's period). Of that number

800,000 were Catholics.

50,000 " Dissenters.

150,000 " Church-of-Ireland men.

"In 1727, the Anglican Primate of Ireland, Boulter, Archbishop of Armagh, wrote to his English colleague, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that 'we have, in all probability, in this kingdom, at least five Papists for every Protestant.' Those proportions are confirmed by official statistics under Queen Anne.

"In 1740, according to a kind of official census, confirmed by Wakefield, the number of Protestant heads of families did not exceed 96,067.

"Twenty-six years later, the Dublin House of Lords caused a comparative table of Protestant and Catholic families to be drawn up for each county. The result was the following:

Protestant families . . 130,263
Catholic families . . 305,680

"In 1834, exact statistical returns being made of the members of each communion, the following was the result: The total population being estimated at 7,943,940, the Church-of-Ireland members amounted only to the number of 852,064. The remaining 7, 091,876 were thus divided:

Presbyterians . . . . . . 642,350
Other Dissenters . . . . 21,808
Catholics . . . . . . . 6,427,718

"The censuses of 1841 and 1851 contained no information upon this important question. Thirty years had therefore elapsed since official figures had given the exact proportions of each Church.

"This silence of the Blue Books had given rise, among the Protestant press of England and Ireland, to the opinion, too hastily adopted on the Continent by publicists of great weight, that emigration and famine had resulted in the equalization of the numbers of Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. The evident conclusion joyfully drawn from this supposed fact by the defenders of the Anglican Church was, that the scandal of a Protestant establishment in the midst and at the expense of a Catholic people was gradually dying away.

"The forlorn hope of the Tory and Orange press went still further. They boldly disputed Ireland's right to the title of Catholic. So, although, ten years and twenty years before, these same journals furiously opposed the admission of religious denominations into the statistics of the census, yet, when the census of 1861 drew near, they quite as loudly demanded its insertion. They made it a matter of challenge to the Catholics.

"The ultramontane journals accepted the challenge. The Catholics unanimously demanded a denominational census. The results were submitted to the representatives of the nation in July, 1861. No shorter, more decisive, or more triumphant answer could have been given to the sarcasms and challenges of the old Protestant party."

We confine ourselves here to the total sums, leaving out minor details:

Catholics . . . . . . . . 4,490,583
Establishment . . . . . . 687,661
Dissenters . . . . . . . 595,577
Jews . . . . . . . . . . 322

Thus in this century, as throughout the whole of the century of gloom, the island is truly and really Catholic.

By way of contrast, a few words on the same subject may not be out of place with reference to England. We have already stated, and given some of the reasons for so doing, that, at the death of Elizabeth, England was already Protestant to the core.

In his "Memoirs," vol. ii., Sir John Dalrymple has published a curious official report of the numbers of Catholics in England, in the reign of William of Orange, found after his death in the iron chest of that vigilant monarch. From this authentic document we take the following extract:

Number of Freeholders in England.1 (1 Dr. Madden's "Penal Laws.")

Province of
Conformists. Papists. Non-Conformists.

Province of
2,123,362 93,151 11,878
York, 353,892 15,525 1,978
Totals 2,477,254 108,676 13,856

It is known also that, under George III., the number of Catholics in the whole of Great Britain did not exceed sixty thousand, so thorough had been the separation of England from the true Church.

To return to the ostracism of a whole nation from its political rights. No individual really belonging to it could take the slightest share in the administration of its affairs. They were all left to the control of aliens, whose boast it was that they were English; and whose chief object was to secure English ascendency, and subject every thing Irish to the rule of force.

Yet all this while a new era was dawning on the world; a multitude of voices were proclaiming new social and political doctrines; all were to be free, to possess privileges that might not be intrenched upon--to wit, a voice in the affairs of the nation, trial by their peers, no taxation without due representation, and the like--while a whole nation by the unanimous consent of the loudest of these freedom-mongers was excluded from every benefit of the new ideas, was literally placed in bondage, and left without the possibility of being heard and admitted to the enjoyment of the common rights, because the one voice which would have declared in their favor, which in former times had so often and so loudly spoken, when so to speak was to offend the powers of this world, was deprived of the right of being heard. The doctrine that the Papal supremacy was a usurpation, and the Pope himself an enemy of freedom, was laid down as a cardinal principle. After such public renunciation of former doctrines, all these new and so-called liberal theories were a mere delusion and a snare. There was no possibility of effectually securing freedom, in spite of so much promised to all and granted to some; no possibility of really protecting the rights of all. The public right newly proclaimed ended finally in might. Majorities ruled despotically over the minorities, and, as the despotism of the multitude is ever harsher and more universal than that of any monarch, the reign of cruel injustice was let in upon Ireland. And in her case the injustice was peculiarly aggravated, inasmuch as it was a small alien minority which trampled under foot the rights of a great native majority.

But, although the deprivation of political rights is perhaps more fatal to a nation than that of any other, on account of what follows in its train, particularly in the framing of the laws, nevertheless the deprivation of civil rights is generally more acutely felt, because the grievances resulting from it meet man at every turn, at every moment of his life, in his household and domestic circle. In fact, the penal laws stripped Catholics of every civil right which modern society can conceive, and it was chiefly there that the ingenuity of their oppressors labored during the greater part of a century to make a total wreck of Irish welfare.

Those rights may be classified generally as the right of possessing and holding landed property, the right of earning an honorable living by profession or trade, the right of protection against injustice by equal laws, the right of fair trial before condemnation: such are the chief. It is doubtful if there is any thing of importance left of which a citizen can be deprived, unless indeed he be openly and unjustly deprived of life.

It has been already indicated how the policy of England, with regard to Ireland, from that first invasion, in the time of Henry II., was prompted by the desire of gaining possession of the soil, and how after seven hundred years of struggle it succeeded in attaining its object; so that the whole island had been confiscated, and in some instances two or three times over. The object of the penal laws, therefore, could not be to deprive the Irish of the land which they no longer possessed, but to prevent them acquiring any land in any quantity whatever, and from reentering into possession, by purchase or otherwise, of any portion of their own soil and of the estates which belonged to their ancestors. So harsh and cunning a design, we doubt not, never entered the minds of any former legislators, even in pagan antiquity.

The great stimulus to exertion in civil society consists of the acquisition of property, chiefly of land. In feudal times seignorial estates could be purchased by none but those of noble blood; but with allodial estates it was different all through Europe. Yet just at the time when feudal laws were passing into disuse the Irish were prevented, by carefully-drawn enactments, from purchasing even a rood of their native soil. "The prohibition had been already extended to the whole nation by the Commonwealth government, and when the lands forfeited by the wars of 1690 came to be sold at Chichester House in 1703, the Irish were declared by the English Parliament incapable of purchasing at the auction, or of taking a lease of more than two acres."--(Prendergast.)

The same author adds in a note: "But it was when the estate was made the property of the first Protestant discoverer, that animation was put into this law. Discoverers then became like hounds upon the scent after lands secretly purchased by the Irish. Gentlemen fearing to lose their lands, found it now necessary to conform--namely, to abjure Catholicism. Between 1703 and 1709 there were only thirty-six conformers in Ireland; in the next ten years (after the Discovery Act), the conformists were one hundred and fifty."

But the full object was not only to prevent the Irish from becoming even moderately rich in land; they were to be reduced to actual pauperism. Hence the prohibitory laws did not stop at this first outrage; almost impossible occurrences were supposed and provided for, lest there might be a chance of their realization at some time. It was actually provided that, if the produce of their farms brought a greater profit to the Irish than was expected, notwithstanding all these measures against the possible occurrence of such an evil, the lease was void, and the "discoverer" should receive the amount.

There was no loop-hole by which the people might escape from this degradation. But there was still the chance left of engaging in trade, acquiring personal property by its practice, and becoming the owners of a sum of money in bank, or of a dwelling-house in the city. The English law of succession was understood to be a law for all, and consequently, in some out-of- the-way cases, a stray Irish family might be found in course of time with an elder branch possessed of a fair amount of property, and able to emerge from the dead level of the common misery. Such a possibility could not of course be permitted by the English colonists who ruled the land. So the law of gavelkind, to which the Irish had at one time been so attached, was now to be forced upon them, and upon them alone of all the British subjects. It was decreed that, upon the death of every Irishman, whatever of personal property he left behind him was to be divided equally among all his children, who, being generally numerous, would each receive but a trifle, and so perpetrate the pauperism of the race.

Where the surprise, then, in finding the whole nation reduced since that time to a state of the most abject poverty? It was the will of the rulers that so it should be, and their scheme, guarded and enforced by so many legislative acts, could not fail to succeed in producing the effect intended. Granting even the smallest amount of truth in what is so often flung at the Irish as a reproach--their carelessness and want of foresight--how could it be otherwise, to what cause can such failings, even if they exist, be assigned, save to the utter impossibility of succeeding in any effort which they chose to make?

The true origin of the state in which the Irish at home now appear to the eyes of foreign travellers, is the deliberate intention, sternly acted upon for more than a century, to make the island one vast poorhouse.

The wretched situation in which they have ever since remained, confessed by all to be without parallel on earth, is certainly not to be laid at the door of the present population of England, nor even to the colony still intrenched on Irish soil; but with what right can it be brought forward as a reproach against the Irish themselves, when its real cause is so evident, and when history speaks so plainly on the subject?

All sensible Englishmen of our days will readily acknowledge that, without indulging in mutual recrimination, the duty of all is to repair the injuries of the past, and to do away with the last remnants of its sad consequences. Wounds so deep and many in a nation cannot be healed by half measures; and it is only a thorough change of system, and a complete reversal of legislation, that can leave the English of to-day without reproach.

Pauperism, then, is the necessary misfortune, not the crime of Ireland; we may even go further, and assert that, if millions of Irishmen have lived and died paupers, owing to the barbarous laws enacted for that special purpose, few indeed among them have been reduced even by hard necessity and the extreme of misery to manifest a pauper spirit and a miserly bent.

There is no doubt that the almost invariable result of suffering and want is to create selfishness in the sufferer, and cause him to cling desperately to the little he may possess. Self preservation and self-indulgence, in such a case, form the law of human nature, and no one even expects to find a really poor man generous, when he can scarcely meet his bare necessities and the imperious wants of his family. It is the peculiarity of the Irish to know how to combine generosity with the deprivation almost of the common necessaries of life. When masters of their own soil, a large hospitality and a free-handed "bestowing of gifts"--such, we believe, was the Irish expression--was universal among them; the poorest clansman would have been ashamed not to imitate, in his degree, the liberal spirit of his prince. They often gave all they had, regardless of the future; and, when their chieftains demanded of the clansmen what the Book of Rights imposed upon them, their exclamation was, "Spend me but defend me."

Though the people of Erin have been reduced to the sad necessity of forgetting that old proverb of the nation, the spirit which gave rise to it lives in their hearts and is proved by their deeds. What other nation, even the richest and most prosperous, could have accomplished what the world has seen them bring to- pass during this century? The laws which, so long ago, forbade them to be generous, and prohibited them from providing openly for the worship of their God, for the education of their children, for the help of the sick and needy among them, have at last been made inoperative by their oppressors. But, when they were at length left free to follow the freedom and generosity of their hearts, they found--what? In their once beautiful and Christian country, a universal desolation; the blackened ruins of what had been their abbeys, churches, hospitals, and asylums; the very ground on which they stood stolen away from them, and the Protestant establishment in full enjoyment of the revenues of the Catholics. They found every thing in the same state that they had known for centuries. Nothing was restored to them. They were at liberty to spend what they did not possess, since they were as poor as men could be. Every thing had to be done by them toward the reestablishing of their churches, schools, and various asylums, and they had nothing wherewith to do it.

There is no need of going item by item over what they did. The present prosperous state of the Irish Catholic public institutioris-- churches, schools, and all--is owing to their poorly-filled pockets. God alone knows how it all came about. We can only see in them the poor of Christ, rich in all gifts, "even alms-deeds most abundant."

It is only too evident that the degradation which the English wished to fasten upon them forever, could not be accomplished even by the measures best adapted to debase a people. The Celtic nature rose superior to the dark designs of the most ingenious opponents, and continued as ever noble, generous, and openhearted. Nevertheless, the sufferings of the victims were at times unutterable; and one of the inevitable effects of such tyrannical measures soon made itself fearfully active and destructive in the shape of those periodical famines which have ever since devastated the island.

In the days of her own possession, there was never mention of famine there. The whole island teemed with the grain of her fields, consumed by a healthy population, and was alive with vast herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. What were the heca- tombs of ancient Greece compared with the thousands of kine prescribed annually by the Book of Rights? Who ever heard of people perishing of want in the midst of abundance such as this? Even during the fiercest wars, waged by clan against clan, we often see the image of death in many shapes, but never that of a large population reduced to roots and grass for food.

When, later on, the wars of the Reformation transformed Munster into a wilderness, and we read for the first time in Irish history of people actually turning green and blue, according to the color of the unwholesome weeds they were driven to devour in order to support life, at least it was in the wake of a terrible war that famine came. It was reserved for the eighteenth century to disclose to us the woful spectacle of a people perishing of starvation in the midst of the profoundest peace, frequently of the greatest plenty, the food produced in abundance by the labor of the inhabitants being sold and sent off to foreign countries to enrich absentee landlords. Nay, those desolating famines at last grew to be periodical, so that every few years people expected one, and it seemed as though Ireland were too barren to produce the barely sufficient supply of food necessary for her scanty population. The people worked arduously and without intermission; the land was rich, the seasons propitious; yet they almost constantly suffered the pangs of hunger, which spread sometimes to wholesale starvation. This was another result of those laws devised by the English colonists to keep down the native population of the island, and prevent it from becoming troublesome and dangerous. Such was the effect of the humane measures taken to preserve the glory of Protestant ascendency, and secure the rights and liberties of a handful of alien masters.

It is proper to describe some of those awful scourges, which have never ceased since, and at sight of which, in our own days, we have too often sickened. For the Emancipation of 1829 was far from removing all the causes of Irish misery. On the 17th of March, 1727, Boulter, the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, wrote to the Duke of Newcastle: "Since my arrival in this country, the famine has not ceased among the poor people. The dearness of corn last year was such that thousands of families had to quit their dwellings, to seek means of life elsewhere; many hundred perished."

At the same period Swift wrote: "The families of farmers who pay great rents, live in filth and nastiness, on buttermilk and potatoes."

The following is a short and simple description of the famine of 1741, given by an eye-witness, and copied by Matthew O'Connor from a pamphlet entitled "Groans of Ireland," published in the same year:

"Having been absent from this country some years, on my return to it last summer, I found it the most miserable scene of distress that I ever read of in history. Want and misery on every face, the rich unable to relieve the poor, the roads spread with dead and dying bodies; mankind the color of the docks and nettles which they fed on; two or three, sometimes more, on a car, going to the grave for want of bearers to carry them, and many buried only in the fields and ditches where they perished. The universal scarcity was followed by fluxes and malignant fevers, which swept off multitudes of all sorts, so that whole villages were laid waste. If one for every house in the kingdom died--and that is very probable--the loss must be upward of four hundred thousand souls. If only half, a loss too great for this ill-peopled country to bear, as they are mostly working people. When a stranger travels through this country, and beholds its wide, extended, and fertile plains, its great flocks of sheep and black cattle, and all its natural wealth and conveniences for tillage, manufacture, and trade, he must be astonished that such misery and want should be felt by its inhabitants."

At the time these lines were written, the astonishment was sincere, and the answer to the question "How can this be?" seemed impossible; the phenomenon utterly inexplicable. In our own days, when this same picture of woe has been so often presented in the island, the reasons for it are well known; and what seems inexplicable is that, the cause being so clear, and the remedy so simple, the remedy has not yet been thoroughly applied.

In 1756 and 1757, the same scenes were repeated, with the same frightful results. Charles O'Connor, at that time the champion of his much- abused countrymen, wrote thus, in his letter to Dr. Curry, May 21, 1756:

"Two-thirds of the inhabitants are perishing for want of bread; meal is come to eighteen-pence a stone, and, if the poor had money, it would exceed by--I believe--double that sum. Every place is crowded with beggars, who were all house-keepers a fortnight ago, and this is the condition of a country which boasts of its constitution, its laws, and the wisdom of its legislature."

These words, although sweeping enough, and universally applicable, are far from conveying to our minds, to-day, the real picture of the state of the country. When the writer speaks of "meal," it must be understood to mean rye, oats, and, barley; and even this coarse and heavy food being, as he remarks, inaccessible to the poor, potatoes had become the only bread of the country, and the inhabitants were perishing for the want of it.

For the first time in the history of the two nations, the English Government thought of relieving the distress of the people, and to this purpose applied the magnificent sum of twenty thousand pounds. Such was the generous amount granted by a wealthy and prosperous country to procure food for the inhabitants of an island as large as Ireland is known to be. As to effecting any change in the laws, which were really the cause of this unutterable misery, such an idea never entered into the heads of the legislators. Hence it is not surprising to hear that "the distress in the interior of the country revived the frightful image of the miseries of 1741, nor did the calamity cease, until the equilibrium between the population and the means of subsistence was restored by the accumulated waste of famine and pestilence;" that is to say, until all those had been destroyed whom the laws of the time could, as they had been designed to do, destroy.

These details appear calculated only to shock the feelings of the reader, already sufficiently acquainted with the lot of the Irish cottier and laborer, from the beginning of the last century. Nevertheless, we cannot close this part of our subject without giving publicity to the following description of the mass of the Irish population in 1762, by Matthew O'Connor:

"The popery laws had, in the course of half a century, consummated the ruin of the lower orders. Their habitations, visages, dress, and despondency, exhibited the deep distress of a people ruled with the iron sceptre of conquest. The lot of the negro slave, compared with that of the Irish helot, was happiness itself. Both were subject to the capricious cruelty of mercenary task-masters and unfeeling proprietors; but the negro slave was well-fed, well clothed, and comfortably lodged. The Irish peasant was half starved, half naked, and half housed; the canopy of heaven being often the only roof to the mud-built walls of his cabin. The fewness of negroes gave the West India proprietor an interest in the preservation of his slave; a superabundance of helots superseded all interest in the comfort or preservation of an Irish cottier. The code had eradicated every feeling of humanity, and avarice sought to stifle every sense of justice. That avarice was generated by prodigality, the hereditary vice of the Irish gentry, and manifested itself in exorbitant rack-rents wrung from their tenantry, and in the low wages paid for their labor. Since the days of King William, the price of the necessaries of life had trebled, and the day's hire- -fourpence-- had continued stationary. The oppression of tithes was little inferior to the tyranny of rack-rents; while the great landholder was nearly exempt from this pressure, a tenth of the produce of the cottier's labor was exacted for the purpose of a religious establishment from which he derived no benefit. . . . The peasant had no resource: not trade or manufactures--they were discouraged; not emigration to France-- the vigilance of government precluded foreign enlistment; not emigration to America --his poverty precluded the means. Ireland, the land of his birth, became his prison, where he counted the days of his misery in the deepest despondency."

Is it to be wondered at that conspiracies, secret associations, and insurrections, were the result; or should the wonder be that such commotions were less universal and prolonged?

The craving of hunger is perpetual in Ireland. Multitudes of details from a multitude of different and independent sources might be brought forward to show this.

Duvergier de Hauranne, a Frenchman who visited the island in 1826, writes: "Ireland is the land of anomalies; the most deplorable destitution on the richest of soils. . . . Nowhere does man live in such wretchedness. The Irish peasant is born, suffers, and dies--such is life for him."

In 1836, Dr. Doyle, Bishop of Kildare, being asked what was the state of the population, wrote: "What it has always been; people are perishing as usual."

In 1843, Mr. Thackeray, as little a friend to Ireland as he was a foe to his own country, recounting what he saw in his travels, said that, in the south and west of the island, the traveller had before him the spectacle of a people dying of hunger, and that by millions, in the very richest counties.

There is no need of repeating what has been written of the fearful scourge that swept over the country in 1846 and 1847. The details are too harrowing. At last even the London Times had to acknowledge the cause of these calamities: "The ulcer of Ireland drains the resources of the empire. It was to be expected that it should be so. The people of England have most culpably and foolishly connived at a national iniquity. Without going back beyond the Union (in 1800), and only within the last half-century, it has been notorious all that time that Ireland was the victim of an unexampled social crime. The landlords exercise their rights there with a hand of iron, and deny their duty with a brow of brass. Age, infirmity, sickness, every weakness, is there condemned to death. The whole Irish people is debased by the spectacle and contact of beggars and of those who notoriously die of hunger; and England stupidly winked at this tyranny. We begin now to expiate a long curse of neglect. Such is the law of justice. If we are asked why we have to support half the population of Ireland, the answer lies in the question itself; it is that we have deliberately allowed them to be crushed into a nation of beggars!"

The writers of the Times laid the true cause of that appalling misfortune at the door of the landlords. They would not trace back the origin of the evil beyond 1800: they could not or would not appreciate the Christian heroism displayed by the nation while under the infliction of such a fatal scourge. But it must not be forgotten by all admirers of virtue that, in the midst of a distress which baffles description, many of the victims of famine were at the same time martyrs to honesty and faith. "Come here and let us die together," said a wife to her husband, "rather than touch what belongs to another."

The civil right of acquiring land and enjoying its products has so far been the only one considered by us; and the subject has been entered upon at some length, as agriculture has at all times formed the chief occupation of the Irish people. But the penal laws embraced many other objects; and, as their intent was evidently to debase the people and reduce it to a state of actual slavery and want, other civil rights were equally invaded by their tyrannical provisions.

A portion of the population in all countries devotes itself to the intellectual pursuits necessary for the life of every cultivated nation. Whoever chooses must have the right of devoting his life to the professions of medicine and law, of entering the Church or the army, if his tastes run in any one of those directions. Not so in Catholic Ireland. The oath to be taken by every barrister prevented the Catholic Irishman from devoting his powers to such a purpose. There was only one Church for him, and that one proscribed. In the army not only could he not attain to any rank, but he was not allowed to enter it even as a private, the holding of a musket being prohibited to him. So that, through mere fanatical hatred of every thing Catholic, England deprived herself for a whole century of the services of a people, forming to-day more than half of her army and navy, whose efforts have helped to cover her flag with honor, and whose memorable absence from the English ranks at Fontenoy wrung that bitter expression from the heart of George II. when the victorious tide of the English battle was rolled back by the Irish brigade, "Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such subjects!"

These few words are enough to show that the penal laws were in reality a decree of outlawry against the Irish--stamping them, not as true subjects, but as mere slaves and helots, fit only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water at the bidding of their lords and masters.

But there are mere human rights, inalienable in man, and sacred among all nations, which were trampled upon in that desolated land together with all inferior rights. Such are the rights of worshipping God, of properly educating children, of preserving a just subordination in the family and promoting harmony and happiness among its members. These natural rights were more openly and shamelessly violated, if that were possible, than all others; and this in itself would have made the eighteenth century one of gloom and woe for Irishmen.

It was for their religion chiefly that the Irish had undergone all the calamities and scourges which have been described. Had they only, at the very beginning of the Reformation, bowed to the new dogma of the spiritual supremacy of the English kings; had they a little later accepted the Thirty-nine Articles of Queen Elizabeth; had they, at a subsequent epoch, opined in chorus with the Scotch Presbyterians, and given the Bible as their authority for all kinds of absurdities and atrocities, mental and moral; had they, in a word, as they remarked to Sussex, changed their religion four times in twelve years, they would have escaped the wrath of Henry VIII., the crafty and cruel policy of Elizabeth, the shifty expediency of the Stuarts, the barbarity of the Cromwellian era, and finally the ingenious atrocities of the penal laws.

Even if, in the midst of some of the extremities to which they had been reduced, they had at any time resolved to conform and take the oaths prescribed, all their miseries would have been at an end, and their immediate admission to all the rights and privileges of British citizens secured. From time to time, in individual cases, they witnessed the sudden and magical effect produced by conformity on the part of those who gave up resistance altogether, and who, from whatever motive, bowed to the inevitable conditions on which men were admitted to live peaceably on Irish soil, and to the enjoyment of the blessings of this life; such condition being the abjuration of Catholicity. But so few were found to take advantage of this easy chance forever held out to them, that a man might well wonder at their constancy did he not reflect that they set their duty to God above all things. The fact is patent--they had a conscience, and knew what it meant.

Having then surrendered their all for the sake of their religion, the free exercise of that might at least have been left them; and since the choice lay between the two alternatives of enjoying the natural right of worshipping their God or submitting to all the sacrifices previously mentioned (seemingly the meaning of the various oaths prescribed by law), it can only be looked upon as an additional cruelty to violently deprive them of what they chose to preserve at all cost. But the authors of the statutes did not see the matter in this light. They could not lose such an opportunity of inflicting new tortures on their victims; on the contrary, they would have considered all their labor lost had they not endeavored to coerce the very thing least subject to coercion, the religious feeling of the human soul. Accordingly, the resolution was taken to deprive them of every possible facility for the exercise of their religion, that the fire within might give no sign of its warmth.

True, the Irish Catholics were not, as the Christians under the edicts of old Rome, to be summoned before the public courts and there abjure their religion or die. It is strange that the rulers of Ireland stopped short at this; that they invented nothing in their laws at least equivalent, unless the statutes that compelled every person under fine to be present at Protestant worship on Sundays be interpreted to mean, what it very much resembles, an attempt at coercion of the very soul. Still there was no edict openly proscribing the name of Catholic, and punishing its bearer with death.

But the measures adopted and actually enforced were in reality equivalent, and would more effectually than any pagan edict have produced the same result, if the Irish race had shown the least wavering in their traditional steadiness of purpose.

The first of the measures devised for this end would have been completely efficacious with any other people or race. It was a twofold measure: 1. All bishops, priests, and monks, were to depart from the kingdom, liable to capital punishment should they return. 2. All laymen were to be compelled to assist at the Protestant service every Sunday, under penalty of a fine for each offence: the fine mounting with the repetition of the offence, so that, in the end, it would reach an enormous sum. Only let such a policy as this be persevered in for a quarter of a century in any country on earth except Ireland, and, in that country the Catholic religion will cease to exist.

"The Catholic clergy," says Matthew O'Connor--and the reader will remember he was a witness of what he described-- "submitted to their hard destiny with Christian resignation. They repaired to the seaport towns fixed for their embarcation, and took an everlasting farewell of their country and friends, of every thing dear and valuable in this world. Many of them were descending in the vale of years, and must have been anxious to deposit their bones with the ashes of their ancestors; they were now transported to foreign lands, where they would find no fond breast to rely upon, no 'pious tear' to attend their obsequies. Yet their enemies could not deprive them of the consolations of religion: that first-born offspring of Heaven still cheered them in adversity and exile, smoothed the rugged path of death, and closed their last faltering accents with benedictions on their country, and prayers for their persecutors.

"Such as were apprehended after the time limited for deportation, were loaded with irons and imprisoned until transported, to attest, on some foreign shore, the weakness of the government, and the cruelty of their countrymen. Some few, disabled from age and infirmities from emigration, sought shelter in caves, or implored and received the concealment of Protestants, whose humane feelings were superior to their prejudices, and who atoned, in a great degree, by their generous sympathy, for the wanton cruelty of their party.

"The clause inflicting the punishment of death on such as should return from exile was suited only for the sanguinary days of Tiberius or Domitian, and shocked the humanity of an enlightened age. William of Orange, whose necessities compelled him to give his sanction to the clause, would never consent to its execution."

Nevertheless, it was afterward enforced on several occasions, and, during the whole century of penal laws, it not only remained on the statute-book ad terrorem, but whatever clergyman disregarded it could only expect to be treated with its utmost rigor. From Captain South's account, it appears that in 1698 the number of clergy in Ireland consisted of four hundred and ninety- five regulars and eight hundred and ninety-two seculars; and the number of regulars shipped off that year to foreign parts amounted to four hundred and twenty-four--namely, from Dublin, one hundred and fifty-three; from Galway, one hundred and ninety; from Cork, seventy-five; and twenty-six from Waterford.

But such a measure was of too sweeping a character to be carried out to the letter; many of the proscribed priests, seculars for the most part, escaped the pursuit of the government spies, and remained concealed in the country. The bishops had all been obliged to fly; but a few years later, under Anne, several returned, for they knew that, without the exercise of their religious functions, the Catholic religion must have perished; and, in order that they might continue the succession of the priesthood, confirm the children, and encourage the people to stand firm in their faith, they ran the hazard of the gibbet. Of this fact the persecutors soon became aware, and the Commons of Ireland declared openly that "several popish bishops had lately come into the kingdom, and exercised ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the same, and continued the succession of the Romish priesthood by ordaining great numbers of popish clergymen, and that their return was owing to defect in the laws."

To cover this defect, they invented the "registry law." They did not state in express terms their intention of exporting them again, but their object was clearly manifested by the subsequent enactment of 1704. By the registry law "all popish priests then in the kingdom should, at the general quarter sessions in each county, register their places of abode, age, parishes, and time of ordination, the names of the respective bishops who ordained them, and give security for their constant residence in their respective districts, under penalty of imprisonment and transportation, and of being treated as 'high traitors' in case of return."

It is clear that, with the execution of this law, the exertions of the police and of informers would have been superfluous, as the clergy were compelled to act as their own police and inform on themselves. The act, moreover, seems to have been prepared with a view to another bill, which was soon after passed, for total expulsion. It was therefore nothing else than a preliminary measure devised to insure the success of this second act, and prevent the recurrence of the former "defect in the laws."

A new explanatory statute was accordingly drawn up, requiring the clergy to take the oath of abjuration before the 23d of March, 1710, under the penalties of transportation for life, and of high-treason if ever after found in the country. This bill, then, set them the alternative of abandoning either their country or their principles.

At the same time, for the encouragement of informers, the Commons resolved that "the prosecuting and informing against papists was an honorable service." Never before had a like declaration issued from any body in any nation, least of all by legislators, in favor of the confessedly meanest of all occupations; and it is doubtful if the most tyrannical of the Roman Caesars would ever have thought of mentioning the "honorable service" of the delatores whom they employed for the speedy destruction of those whose wealth they coveted. "Genus hominum," says Tacitus, "publico exitio repertum."

While on this subject, it has been remarked that most of the Irish informers amassed wealth by their bills of "discovery," whereas those of the days of Tiberius generally fell victims to their own artifices.

The eagerness for blood-money tracked the clergy to their loneliest retreats, and dragged them thence before persecuting tribunals, by whose sentence they were doomed to perpetual banishment. They must all have finally disappeared from the island, if the people, at last grown indignant at such baseness and cruelty, had not, by the loudness of their execrations, checked the activity of the priest-hunters. Wherever they dared show themselves, they were pelted with stones, and exposed to the summary vengeance of a maddened people.

The detestable "profession" became at last so infamous and unprofitable that foreign Jews were almost the only ones found willing to undertake this "honorable service;" and it is stated in the "Historia Dominicana," that one Garzia, a Portuguese Jew, was the most active of those human blood-hounds, and that, in 1718, he contrived to have seven of the proscribed clergy detected and apprehended.

We cannot speak of the most revolting measure ever intended to be taken against Catholic priests; namely mutilation, so long and with such energy denied by Protestants, who were themselves indignant at the mere mention of it, but now clearly proved by the archives of France, where documents exist showing that the non-enactment of such an infamy was solely due to the severe words of remonstrance sent to England by the Duke of Orleans, regent of France during the minority of Louis XV.

As late as the middle of the century, in 1744, a sudden increase of rigor took place; intentions of conspiracy were ascribed to Catholics as usual, and without any motive whatever, unless it was caused by the sight of some religious houses, which had been quietly and unobtrusively reopened during the few years previous. All at once the government issued a proclamation for "the suppression of monasteries, the apprehension of ecclesiastics, the punishment of magistrates remiss in the execution of the laws, and the encouragement of spies and informers by an increase of reward."

It was a repetition of the old story; a cruel persecution broke out in every part of the island. From the country priests fled to the metropolis, seeking to hide themselves amid the multitude of its citizens. Others fled to mountains and caverns, and the holy sacrifice was again offered up in lone places under the bare heavens, with sentinels to watch for the "prowling of the wolf," and no other outward dignity than that the grandeur of the forest and the rugged mountains gave.

In the cities the Catholics assisted at the celebration of the divine mysteries in stable-yards, garrets, and such obscure places as sheltered them from the pursuit of the magistrates. On one occasion, while the congregation (assembled in an old building) was kneeling to receive the benediction, the floor gave way, and all were buried beneath the ruin; many were killed, the priest among others; some were maimed for life, and remained to the end of their lives monuments of the cruelty of the government. The dead and dying, and the wounded, were carried through the streets on carts; and the sad spectacle at last moved the Protestants themselves to sympathy. The government was compelled to give way, and allow the persecuted Catholics to enjoy without further molestation the private exercise of their religion.

But that this was not a willing concession on the part of the reigning power is manifest enough from the steady, unswerving, contrary policy pursued until that time. It was simply forced to give way to outraged public opinion, then openly opposed throughout Europe to persecution for conscience' sake.

With religion education was also proscribed. Already, under William of Orange, had papist school-masters been forbidden to teach, but the penalty of their disobedience to the law did not go beyond a fine of a few pounds. So that the Irish youth could still, with some precautionary prudence, find teachers of the Greek and Latin languages, of mathematics, history, and geography. In Munster particularly schools and academies of literature flourished; the ardor of the people for the acquirement of knowledge could not be balked by such paltry obstacles as the laws of William III.

But the Irish Parliament under Anne could not rest satisfied with such mild measures. By the "Explanatory Act" of 1710, the school-master in Ireland was subjected to the same punishment as the priest whom he accompanied everywhere. Prison, transportation, death itself, became the reward of teaching. And in proportion as other laws, severer yet, prevented the people from sending their children abroad to be educated, and these laws were renewed occasionally and made more stringent and effective, the result was the total impossibility of Catholic children receiving any education higher than that of the house.

The final result is known to all. The "hedge-school" was established, that being the only way left of imparting elementary knowledge; and it required Irish ingenuity and Irish aptitude for shifts to invent such a system, for system it was, and carry it through for so long a time.

But even the last sanctuary of home was yet to be sacrilegiously invaded; the most sacred of human rights could not be left to the persecuted people, and the strongest bonds of family affection were if possible to be broken asunder. What tyranny had never yet dared attempt in any age or country was to become a law in Ireland; and that holy feeling by which the members of a family are held together, in obedence to one of the most necessary and solemn commandments of God, could not be left undisturbed in the bosom of an Irish child. The father's rule over his children and the honor and love due by the child to its parent, were, in fact, declared by English legislation of no value, and fit subjects for cruel interference, introducing irresistible temptation.

Yes, by the laws enacted in the reign of Anne, the son was to be set against the father, and this for the sake of religion! It was a part of the Irish statutes, and for a long time it took occasional effect, that any son of a Catholic who should turn Protestant at any age, even the tenderest, should alone succeed to the family estate, which from the day of the son's conversion could neither be sold nor charged even with a debt of legacy. From that same day the son was taken from his father's roof and delivered into the custody of some Protestant guardian. No tie, however sacred, no claim, however dear, was respected by those statesmen, who at the very time were the loudest to boast of their love for freedom, while trampling under foot the most indispensable rights of Nature.

The wickedest ingenuity of man could certainly not go beyond this to debase, degrade, and destroy a nation. After unprecedented calamities of former ages, we find millions of men reduced by other men, calling themselves Christians, to a condition of pagan helots, deprived of all rights and treated more barbarously than slaves. And all the while they were allowed, induced, encouraged to put an end to their misery by simply saying one word, taking one oath, "conforming " as the expression had it. Nevertheless they steadily refused to speak that word, to take that oath, to conform; that is to say, to abjure their religion. A few, weak in faith, or carried away by sudden passion, a burst of despair, subscribe to the required oath, assist as demanded at the religious services on Sunday, suddenly rise to distinction, are sure of preserving their wealth, or even enter into sole possession of the family property, to the exclusion of all its other members. But such rare examples, instead of rousing the envy of the rest, excite only their contempt and execration. To them they are henceforth apostates, renegades to their faith, cast out from the bosom of the nation; and their countrymen hug their misery rather than exchange it for honors and wealth purchased by broken honor, lost faith, and cowardly desertion of the cause for which their country was what it was.

While the cowards were so few, and the brave men so many, the latter constituting indeed the whole bulk of the people, they were knit together as a band of brethren, never to be estranged from each other. If any thing is calculated to form a nation, to give it strength, to render it indestructible, imperishable, it is undoubtedly the ordeal through which they passed without shrinking, and out of which they came with one mind, one purpose, animated by one holy feeling, the love of their religion, and the determination to keep it at all hazard.

Yes, at any moment throughout this long century, they might have changed their condition and come out at once to the enjoyment of all the rights dear to men, by what means is best expressed in the few words of Edmund Burke:

"Let three millions of people" (the number of Irishmen at the time he spoke) "but abandon all that they and their ancestors have been taught to believe sacred, and forswear it publicly in terms most degrading, scurrilous, and indecent, for men of integrity and virtue, and abuse the whole of their former lives, and slander the education they have received, and nothing more is required of them. There is no system of folly, or impiety, or blasphemy, or atheism, into which they may not throw themselves, and which they may not profess openly and as a system, consistently with the enjoyment of all the privileges of a free citizen in the happiest constitution in the world."

Thus does the reason of man commend their constancy; but that constancy required something more than human strength. God it was who supported them. He alone could grant power of will strong enough to uphold men plunged for so long a time in such an abyss of wretchedness. To him could they cry out with truth: "It is only owing to Divine mercy that we have not perished;" misericordias Domini, quod non sumus consumpti!

But human reason can better comprehend the effect produced on a vast multitude of people by oppression so unexampled in its severity. An immense development of manhood and self-dependence, an heroic determination to bear every trial for conscience' sake, and a certainty of succeeding, in the long-run, in breaking the heavy chain and casting off the intolerable yoke --such was the effect.

It has been asserted by some authors, who have written on that terrible eighteenth century in Ireland, that the spirit of the people was entirely broken, that there was no energy left among them, and that the imposition of burdens heavier still, were such a thing possible, could scarcely elicit from them even the semblance of remonstrance. It was only natural to think so; but, in our opinion, this is only true of the external despondency under which the people was bowed, but utterly false with respect to a lack of mental energy.

There certainly was no general attempt at insurrection on their part; nor did they take refuge in that last resource of despair-- death after a vain vengeance. If the writers referred to would have preferred this last fatal resource of wounded pride, they are right in their estimate of the Irish; but they forget that the victims were Christians, and could lend no ear to a vengeance which is futile and a despair which is forbidden. There was a better course open before them, and they followed it: to resign themselves to the will of a God they believed in and for whom they suffered, and wait patiently for the day of deliverance. It was sure to come; and if those then living were doomed not to see that happy day, they knew that they would leave it as an inheritance to their children.

Those writers would doubtless have been satisfied of the existence of a will among the people, and their conduct would have met with greater approval, had the attempts of some individuals at private revenge been more general and successful; if the bands of Rapparees, White Boys, and others, had wrought more evil upon their oppressors, although they could not prepare them to renew the struggle on a large scale with better prospect of success.

But this could not be; success could never have been reached by such a road, and it was useless to attempt it. At that time, there existed no possibility of the Irish recovering their rights by force. Meanwhile Providence was not forgetful of those who were fighting the braver moral battle of suffering and endurance for their religion. It was preparing the nation for a future life of great purposes, by purifying it in the crucible of affliction, and preserving the people pure and undebased.

Nowhere has the period of calamity been so protracted and so severe. Ireland stands alone in a history of wretchedness of seven centuries' duration. She stands alone, particularly inasmuch as, with her, the affliction has gone on continually increasing until quite recently, unrefreshed by periods of relief and glimpses of bright hope. The sinking spirits of the people, it is true, have been buoyed up from time to time by sanguine expectations; but only to find their expectations crowned with bitter disappointment and sink deeper again in the sea of their afflictions.

Nevertheless, through all that time the Irish continued morally strong, and ready at the right moment to leap into the stature of giants in strength and resolution. How they did so will be seen, and the simplicity of the explanation will be matter for surprise. But it is fitting first to set in the strongest light the assertion that the Irish were really debased by the calamities of that age, that they possessed no self-dependence at a time when that was the only thing left to them.

This view is thus expressed in Godkin's "History of Ireland:" "Too well did the penal code accomplish its dreadful work of debasement on the intellects, morals, and physical condition of a people sinking in degeneracy from age to age, till all manly spirit, all virtuous sense of personal independence and responsibility was nearly extinct, and the very features--vacant, timid, cunning, and unreflective--betrayed the crouching slave within."

And the writer, a well-disposed Protestant, did not see how it could well be otherwise, and took it for granted that every one would admit the truth of his assertions without the slightest hesitation.

For he adds, a little farther on: "Having no rights of franchise- -no legal protection of life or property--disqualified to handle a gun, even as a common soldier or a game-keeper-- forbidden to acquire the elements of knowledge at home or abroad--forbidden even to render to God what conscience dictated as his due--what could the Irish be but abject serfs? What nature in their circumstances could have been otherwise? Is it not amazing that any social virtue could have survived such an ordeal--that any seeds of good, any roots of national greatness could have outlived such a long tempestuous winter? "

Still Mr. Godkin was mistaken; the Irish had suffered no "debasement of the intellects, of the morals, not even of the physical condition," notwithstanding the plenitude of causes existing to bring such results about.

Their intellect had been kept in ignorance. Unable to procure instruction for their children, except by stealth and in opposition to the laws, few of them could acquire even the first elements of mental culture. But the intellect of a nation is not necessarily debased on that account. As a general rule, it is true that ignorance begets mental darkness and error, and will often debase the mind and sink the intellectual faculties to the lowest human level. But this happens only to people who, having no religious substratum to rest upon, are left at the mercy of error and delusions. One great thought, at least, was ever present to their minds, and that thought was in itself sufficient to preserve their intellect from being degraded; it was this "Man is nobler than the brute and born to a higher destiny." This truth was deeply engraved in their minds; and in defence of it they battled, and fought, and bled, all down the painful course of their history.

Had the intellect of the nation been really debased, would not their religious principles have been the first things to be thrown overboard? Would they not have adopted unhesitatingly all the tenets successively proposed to them by the various "reformers" of England? What is truth, when there is no mind to receive it? It requires a strong mind indeed to say, "I will suffer every thing, death itself, rather thin repudiate what I know comes from God." It is useless to dwell longer on these considerations. The man who sees not in such an heroic determination proof of a strong and noble mind may be possessed of a great, but to common-sense people it will look like a very limited intelligence.

Mr. Godkin cannot have duly weighed his expressions when he spoke of the debasement of morals among the Irish. It is no hyperbole to speak of the nation as a martyr; a martyr in any sense of the word: to the Christian, a Christian martyr. And yet it is by that fact guilty of immorality, or, as he puts it, debased in morals! The point is not worth arguing. But in contrasting the two nations, the nation debased and the nation that wrought its debasement, we are irresistibly reminded of the words used by Our Lord in reference to John the Baptist, then in prison and liable at any moment to be condemned to death: "What went ye out in the desert to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Lo! they that are clothed in soft garments dwell in the houses of kings."

If we would find a people really debased in morals, we must go to those whose material prosperity breeds corruption and gives to all the means of satisfying their evil passions. The orgies of the Babylonians under their last king, of the effeminate Persians later on, of the Roman patricians during the empire, need no more than mention. The cause of the immorality prevailing at these several epochs is well known, and has been told very plainly by conscientious historians, some of them pagans themselves. But, that a people ground down so long under a yoke of iron, gasping for very breath, yet refusing to surrender its belief and the worship of its God as its countless saints worshipped him, to follow the wild vagaries of sectarians and fanatics, should at the same time be accused of corruption and debasement of its morals, is too much for an historian to assert or a reader to believe.

But, beyond all argument, it has been generally conceded, in spite of prejudices, that the Irish, of all peoples, had been preeminently moral and Christian. No one has dared accuse them of open vice, however they may have been accused of folly. Intemperance is the great foible flung at them by many who, careful to conceal their own failings, are ever, ready to "cast the first stone" at them. It would be well for them to ponder over the rebuke of the Saviour to the accusers of the woman taken in adultery; when perhaps they may think twice before repeating the time-worn accusation.

Coming to the "people sinking in degeneracy from age to age;" if by this is meant that, for a whole century, many of them have suffered the direst want and died of hunger, that scanty food has impressed on many the deep traces of physical suffering and bodily exhaustion, no one will dispute the fact, while the blame of it is thrown where it deserves to be thrown. But it will be a source of astonishment to find that, despite of this, the race has not degenerated even physically; that it is still, perhaps, the strongest race in existence, and that no other European, no Englishman or Teuton, can endure the labor of any ordinary Irishman. In the vast territory of the United States, the public works, canals, roads, railways, huge fabrics, immense manufactories, bear witness to the truth of this statement, and the only explanation that can be satisfactorily given for this strange fact is, that their morals are pure and they do not transmit to their children the seeds of many diseases now universal in a universally corrupt society.

There remains the final accusation of the "very features-- vacant, timid, cunning, and unreflective--betraying the crouching slave within."

Granting the truth of this--which we by no means do, every school-geography written by whatever hand attesting the contrary to-day--where would have been the wonder that they, subjected so long to an unbending harshness and never-slumbering tyranny, accustomed to those continual "domiciliary visits" so common in Ireland during the whole of last century, dragged so often before the courts of "justice," to be there insulted, falsely accused, harshly tried and convicted without proof--were obliged to be continually on their guard, to observe a deep reserve, the very opposite to the promptings of their genial nature, to return ambiguous answers, full, by the way, of natural wit and marvellous acuteness? It was the only course left them in their forlorn situation. They pitted their native wit against a wonderfully devised legislation, and often came off the victors. Suppose it were true, was it not natural that, under such a system of unrelaxing oppression and hatred toward them, their faces should be "vacant, timid, cunning, and unreflective, betraying the crouching slave within?"

Could they give back a proud answer, when a proud look was an accusation of rebellion? Are prudence, cunning, and just reserve, vacancy and want of reflection? The man who penned those words should remember the choice of alternatives ever present to the mind of an Irishman, however unjustly suspected or accused--the probability of imprisonment or hanging, of being sent to the workhouse or transported to the "American plantations."

The Irishman must have changed very materially and very rapidly since Mr. Godkin wrote. The features he would stamp upon him might be better applied to the Sussex yokel or the English country boor of whatever county. The generality of travellers strangely disagree with Mr. Godkin. They find the Irishman the type of vivacity, good humor, and wit; and they are right. For, under the weight of such a load of misery, under the ban of so terrible a fate, the moral disposition of the Irishman never changed; his manhood remained intact. To-day, the world attests to the same exuberance of spirits, the same tenacity of purpose, which were ever his. This indeed is wonderful, that this people should have been thus preserved amid so many causes for change and deterioration. Who shall explain this mystery? What had they, all through that age of woe, to give them strength to support their terrible trials, to preserve to them that tenacity which prevented their breaking down altogether? Something there was indeed not left to them, since it was forbidden under the severest penalties; something, nevertheless, to which they clung, in spite of all prohibitions to the contrary.

It was the Mass-Rock, peculiar to the eighteenth century, now known only by tradition, but at that time common throughout the island. The principal of those holy places became so celebrated at the time that, on every barony map of Ireland, numbers of them are to be found marked under the appropriate title of "Corrigan-Affrion"--the mass-rock.

Whenever, in some lonely spot on the mountain, among the crags at its top, or in some secret recess of an unfrequented glen, was found a ledge of rock which might serve the purpose of an altar, cut out as it were by Nature, immediately the place became known to the surrounding neighborhood, but was kept a profound secret from all enemies and persecutors. There on the morning appointed, often before day, a multitude was to be seen kneeling, and a priest standing under the canopy of heaven, amid the profound silence of the holy mysteries. Though the surface of the whole island was dotted with numerous churches, built in days gone by by Catholics, but now profaned, in ruins, or devoted to the worship of heresy, not one of them was allowed to serve for a place where a fraction even of the bulk of the population might adore their God according to the rites approved of by their conscience. Shut off from these temples so long hallowed by sweet remembrance as the spots once occupied by the saints and consecrated to the true worship of their God, this faithful nation was consecrating the while by its prayers, by its blood, and by its tears, other places which in future times should be remembered as the only spots left to them for more than a century wherein to celebrate the divine rites.

This was the only badge of nationality they had preserved, but it was the most sacred, the surest, and the sweetest. Who shall tell of the many prayers that went up thence from devoted minds and hearts, to be received by angels and carried before the throne of God? Who shall say that those prayers were not hearkened to when to-day we see the posterity of those holy worshippers receiving or on the point of receiving the full measure of their desires?

There, indeed, it was that the nation received its new birth; in sorrow and suffering, as its Saviour was born, but for that very reason sacred in the eyes of God and man. Their enemies had sworn complete separation from them, eternal animosity against them; the new nation accepted the challenge, and that complete separation decreed by their enemies was the real means of their salvation and of making them a People.

As has already been observed, the various attempts to make Protestants of them, attempts sometimes cunning and crafty, at others open and cruel, always persevered in, never lost sight of, began to imbue the people with a new feeling of nationality, never experienced before, and constantly increasing in intensity.

This was witnessed under the Tudors. Their infatuation for the Stuart dynasty served the same end, and it may be said that, from all the evils which that attachment brought upon them, burst forth that great recompense of national sentiment which almost compensated them for the terrible calamities which followed in its train. It was under Charles I. that the Confederation of Kilkenny first gave them a real constitution, better adapted for the nation than the old regime of their Ard- Righs.

But it was chiefly under the English Commonwealth, when they were so mercilessly crushed down by Cromwell and his brutal soldiery, when there seemed no earthly hope left them, that the solid union of the old native with the Anglo-Irish families, which had already been attempted--and almost successfull by the Confederation of Kilkenny yet never consummated was finally brought about once for all; their common misery uniting them in the bonds of brotherly affection, blotting out forever their long-standing divisions and antipathies which had never been quite laid aside.

It was thus that the nation was formed and prepared by martyrdom for the glorious resurrection, the greater future kept in store for it by Providence; the people all the while remaining undebased under their crushing evils.

Lastly, the intensity of the suffering produced by the penal laws, during the eighteenth century, linked the nation in closer bonds of union still, and this time gave them a unanimity which became invincible. Their final motto was then adopted, and will stand forever unchanged. In the clan period it was "Our sept and our chieftain;" under the Tudors, "Our religion and our native lords;" under the Stuarts it suddenly became "God and the King; "--it changed once more, never to change again: it was embraced in one word, the name of Him who had never deserted them, who alone stood firm on their side--"Our God!"

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.