By losing the only bond of unity--the power vested in the Ard- Righ--which held the various parts of the island together, Ireland lost all power of exercising any combined action. The nations were as numerous as the clans, and the interests as diverse as the families. They possessed, it is true, the same religion, and in the observance of its precepts and practices they often found a remedy for their social evils; but religion, not encountering any opposition from any quarter, with the exception of the minor differences existing between the native clergy and the English dignitaries, was generally considered as out of the question in their wranglings and contentions. We shall see how the blows struck at it by the English monarchs welded into one that people, were the cause of that union now so remarkable among them, and really constituted the only bond that ever linked them together.
Before dwelling on these considerations, let us glance a moment at the state of the country prior to the attempt of introducing Protestantism there.
The English Pale was reduced at this period to one half of five counties in Leinster and Meath; and even within those boundaries the 0'Kavanaghs, O'Byrnes, O'Moores and others, retained their customs, their brehon laws, their language and traditions, often making raids into the very neighborhood of the capital, and parading their gallowglasses and kerns within twenty miles of Dublin.
The nobility and the people were in precisely the same state which they had known for centuries. The few Englishmen who had long ago settled in the country had become identified with the natives, had adopted their manners, language, and laws, so offensive at first to the supercilious Anglo-Normans.
But a revolution was impending, owing chiefly to the change lately introduced into the religion of England, by Henry Tudor. It is important to study the first attempt of the kind in Ireland; not only because it became the occasion of establishing for a lengthy period a real unanimity among the people--giving birth to the nation as it were--but also for the right understanding of the word "rebellion," which had been so freely used before toward the natives, and which was now about to receive a new interpretation.
The English had once deceived the Irish, exacting their
in the twelfth century by foisting upon them the word homage: they would deceive Europe by a constant use, or rather misuse, of the words "rebel" and "rebellion." By the enactment of new laws they pronounce the simple attachment to the old religion of the country a denial of sovereign right, and consequently an act of overt treason; and the Irish shall be butchered mercilessly for the sake of the religion of Christ without winning the name, though they do the crown, of martyrdom; for Europe is to be so effectually deceived, that even the Church will hesitate to proclaim those religious heroes, saints of God.
But the great fact of the birth of a nation, in the midst of those throes of anguish, will lessen their atrocity in the mind of the reader, and explain to some extent the wonderful designs of Providence.
From an English state paper, published by M. Haverty, we learn that, in 1515, a few years before the revolt of Luther, the island was divided into more than sixty separate states, or "regions," "some as big as a shire, some more, some less."
Had it not been for this division and the constant feuds it engendered, in the north between the O'Neills and O'Donnells, in the south between the Geraldines (Desmonds and Kildares) and the Butlers (Ormonds), the authority of the English king would have been easily shaken off. The policy so constantly adopted by England in after-times--a policy well expressed by the Latin adage, Divide et impera--preserved the English power in Ireland, and finally brought the island into outward subjection at least, to Great Britain--a subjection which the Irish conscience and the Irish voice and Irish arms yet did not cease to protest against and deny. But the nation was divided, and it required some great and general calamity to unite them together and make of them one people.
That, even spite of those divisions, they were at the time on the point of driving the English out of the island, we need no better proofs than the words of the English themselves. The Archbishop of Dublin, John Allen, the creature of Wolsey, who was employed by the crafty cardinal to begin the work of the spoliation of convents in the island, and oppose the great Earl of Kildare, dispatched his relative, the secretary of the Dublin Council, to England, to report that "the English laws, manners, and language in Ireland were confined within the narrow compass of twenty miles;" and that, unless the laws were duly enforced, "the little place," as the Pale was called, "would be reduced to the same condition as the remainder of the kingdom;" that is to say, the Pale itself, which had been brought to such insignificant limits, would belong exclusively to the Irish.
It was while affairs were at this pass that the revolt of "silken Thomas" excited the wrath of Henry VIII., and brought about the destruction of almost the whole Kildare family.
It was about this time, also, that Wolsey fell, and Cromwell, having replaced him as Chancellor of England, with Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reformation began in England with the divorce of the king, who shortly after assumed supremacy in spirituals as a prerogative of the crown, and made Parliament -- in those days himself--supreme law-giver in Church and state.
Cromwell, known in history as the creature and friend of Cranmer, like his protector a secret pervert to the Protestant doctrines of Germany, and the first arch-plotter for the destruction of Catholicity in the British Isles, undertook to save the English power in Ireland by forcing on that country the supremacy of the king in religious matters, knowing well that such a step would drive the Irish into resistance, but believing that he could easily subdue them and make the island English.
Having been appointed, not only Chancellor of England, but also king's vicar-general in temporals and spirituals, Cromwell inquired of his English agents in Ireland the best means of attaining his object--the subjection of the country. Their report is preserved among the state papers, and some of their suggestions deserve our attentive consideration. If Henry VIII. had consented to follow their advice, he would have himself inaugurated the bloody policy so well carried out long after by another Cromwell, the celebrated "Protector."
The report sets forth that the most efficient mode of proceeding was to exterminate the people; but Henry thought it sufficient to gain the nobility over--the people being beneath his notice.
The agents of the vicar-general were right in their atrocious proposal. They knew the Irish nation well, and that the only way to separate Ireland from the See of Peter was to make the country a desert.
Their means of bringing about the destruction of the people was starvation. The corn was to be destroyed systematically, and the cattle killed or driven away. Their operations, it is true, were limited to the borders of the Pale. The gentle Spenser, at a later period, proposed to extend them to all Munster, and it was a special glory reserved for the "Protector" to carry out this policy through almost the whole of the island.
"The very living of the Irishry," says the report, "doth clearly consist in two things: take away the same from them, and they are passed for ever to recover, or yet to annoy any subject Ireland. Take first from them their corn, and as much as cannot be husbanded, and had into the hands of such as shall dwell and inhabit in their lands, to burn and destroy the same, so as the Irishry shall not live thereupon; and then to have their cattle and beasts, which shall be most hardest to come by, and yet, with guides and policy, they may be oft had and taken."
The report goes on to point out, most elaborately and ingeniously, every artifice and plan for carrying this policy into effect. But here we have, condensed, as it were, in a nutshell, and coolly and carefully set forth, the system which was adopted later on, and almost crowned with a fiendish success. But the moment for the execution of this barbarous scheme had not yet come, and we find no positive results following immediately.
This project, complete as it was, was far from being the only one proposed at that time for "rooting out the Irish" from Ireland. Mr. Prendergast, in his "Introduction to the Cromwellian Settlement," says:
"The Irish were never deceived as to the purport of the English, and, though the Pale had not been extended for two hundred and forty years, their firm persuasion in the reign of Henry VIII. was, that the original design was not abandoned. 'Irishmen are of opinion among themselves,' said Justice Cusack to the king, 'that Englishmen will one day banish them from their lands forever.'"
In fact, project after project was then proposed for clearing Ireland of Irish to the Shannon. Some went so far as already to contemplate their utter extirpation; but "there was no precedent for it found in the chronicles of the conquest. Add to this the difficulty of finding people to reinhabit it if suddenly unpeopled.
"The chiefs and gentlemen of the Irish only were to be driven from their properties," according to some of those projects, "and they only were to be driven into exile, while their lands should be given to Englishmen."
"The king, however, seems to have been satisfied with confiscating the estates of the Earl of Kildare and of his family. Fierce and bloody though he was, there was something lion-like in his nature; notwithstanding all those promptings, he left to the Irish and old English their possessions, and seemed even anxious to secure them, but failed to do so for want of time."
We think Mr. Prendergast's judgment of Henry VIII. too favorable. Generosity did not prompt him to spare the people and the nobles, with the exception of the Kildares. We believe that he never contemplated the extirpation of the people, because such a political element could not enter into his mind. As for the nobles, he wished to gain them over, because of the long wars he foresaw necessary to bring about their utter extinction or exile.
He adopted, accordingly, a plan of his own, holding firm to his design of having his new title of "Head of the Church" acknowledged in Ireland as well as in England.
Cromwell commenced his work by two measures which had met with perfect success in the latter country, but which were destined to fire the sister isle from end to end, and make "the people," in course of time, really one. These measures were acts of Parliament: 1. Establishing 'the king's spiritual supremacy; 2. Suppressing, at once, all the monasteries existing in the country, and giving their property to the nobles who were willing to apostatize.
The necessity of convening Parliament resulted from the failure of the first attempt, already made, to establish the king's supremacy. Browne, the successor of Allen in the See of Dublin, a rank Lutheran at heart, had been commissioned by the king and by Cranmer, his consecrator, to establish the new doctrine at once. His want of success, is thoroughly explained in a letter to Cromwell, which is still preserved, and which remains one of the proudest monuments of the steadfastness of the Irish in their religion.
He complains that not only the clergy, but the "common people," were "more zealous in their blindness than the saints and martyrs in truth, in the beginning of the Gospel," and "such was their hostility against him that his life was in danger."
And all this in Dublin, in the heart of the Pale, where the chief antagonist of the new doctrine, "the leader of the people" against this first attempt at schism, was Cromer, the Archbishop of Armagh, an Englishman himself! So that those prelates of England, who, with the exception of the noble Fisher, had all yielded without a murmur of opposition to the will of Henry, could find no followers, not even of their own nation, in Ireland, so much had their faith been strengthened by contact with that of "the common people."
A Parliament was needed, therefore, and that one which was to be the instrument of introducing the great English measure, met for the first time in Dublin, on the 1st of May, 1536; but, being prorogued, it met again in 1537, and did not complete its work until once more summoned in 1541, when the old Irish element was for the first and last time introduced at its sitting, in order, if possible, to consecrate the new doctrine by having it solemnly accepted by the old race.
This Parliament, which was first convened in Dublin, McGeoghegan says, "adjourned to Kilkenny, thence to Cashel, after ward to Limerick, and lastly to Dublin again." The chief cause of these interruptions was the difficulty of bringing an Irish Parliament, even when composed of Englishmen, as was the case up to 1541, to pass the decrees of supremacy, denial of Roman authority, etc., which had been so readily accepted in England.
The Irish Parliaments, as far back as we can see, were composed not only of lords, spiritual and temporal, and of deputies of the Commons, but each diocese possessed also the right to send there three ecclesiastical proctors, who, by reason of their office, owned neither benefice nor fief, and were therefore at liberty to vote, fearless of attainder and confiscation, in accordance with their conscience and their sense of right.
This feature of the Irish assemblies, even when no representative of the native race sat in them, was a fatal obstacle to the success of the scheme devised by Browne and executed by Cromwell. Accordingly, we are not astonished to find that, by an act of despotism not uncommon during the reign of Henry VIII., the proctors were excluded from Parliament, which thus became an obedient tool in the hands of the government.
Not only, therefore, were several state measures carried in accordance with the wish of the king, but the great object proposed by the meeting of this assembly was finally obtained; and, lowing the lead of the English Parliament, Henry VIII. and his successors were confirmed in the title of "Supreme Head of the Church in Ireland," with power of reforming and correcting errors in religion. All appeals to Rome were prohibited, and the Pope's authority declared a usurpation.
Henry, however, foreseeing that all these favorite measures of his policy, being carried by English votes in a purely English assembly, though on Irish soil, would meet with universal opposition from all the native lords, conceived the idea of summoning the great Irish chieftains to a new meeting of Parliament, from which he expected that a moral revolution would be effected in the island. Sir Anthony St. Leger, created deputy in August, 1540, was thought a likely man to be intrusted with so delicate a mission. He conducted it with political prudence, that is to say, with a judicious mixture of kindness and fraud, which succeeded beyond all expectations.
In order to prepare the way for hoodwinking the Irish chieftains, favors of every kind were showered upon them, to wit, titles and estates, chiefly those of suppressed monasteries; and St. Leger, by an alternate use of force and diplomacy, at length effected that the Irish should consent to accept titles. Con O'Neill, the head of the house of Tyrone, went to England, accompanied by O'Kervellan, Bishop of Ologher, and was admitted to an audience by the king. Henry adopted toward those proud Irishmen a policy utterly different from that he had used with the English lords. These latter were merely threatened with his displeasure, and with the feudal penalties he knew so well how to inflict; the others were received at court as favorites and dear friends; a royal courtesy, kind expressions, a smiling face- -such were the arms he employed against the "barbarous Irish."
Tyrone, O'Donnell, and others, were not proof against his cunning. The first renounced his title of prince and the glorious name of O'Neill, to receive in return that of Earl of Tyrone. Manus O'Donnell was made Earl of Tyrconnel. Both received back the lands which they had offered to the king, and their example was followed by a great number of inferior lords. Among them, two Magenisses were dubbed knights; Murrough O'Brien, of North Munster, was made Earl of Thomond and Baron of Inchiquin; De Burgo, or McWilliams, was created Earl of Clanricard, and a host of others submitted in like manner, and received the new titles which henceforth became conspicuous in Irish history.
This was the beginning of the gradual suppression of the clans. Many of these nobles, unfortunately, not content with receiving back, at the hands of the king, the lands which had come into their possession from a long line of ancestors, and which really belonged not to them personally, but to the clans whose heads they were, greedily snatched at the estates of religious orders, whose suppression was the first consequence of the schism in Ireland, which will soon occupy our attention.
The Irish chieftains had already seen Wolsey, a cardinal in full communion with Rome, suppress forty monasteries in the island. They might therefore imagine that the confiscation of a still greater number on the part of the king was a thing not altogether incompatible with the religion of the monarch, and that the fact of their sharing in the plunder was not entirely opposed to their titles of Catholics and subjects of Rome. Such is human conscience when blinded by self-interest.
The king thought that he had gained over the nobility,--which was all he wished- -and the last session of the previous Parliament of 1536 and the following years might now be held in order to consecrate the unholy work.
"On the 12th of June, 1541," says Mr. Haverty, "a Parliament was held in Dublin, at which the novel sight was witnessed of Irish chieftains sitting for the first time with English lords. O'Brien appeared there by his procurators and attorneys, and Kavanagh, O'More, O'Reilly, McWilliams, and others, took their seats in person, the addresses of the Speaker and of the Lord- Chancellor being interpreted to them in Irish by the Earl of Ormond. An act was unanimously passed, conferring on Henry VIII. and his successors the title of King of Ireland, instead of that of Lord of Ireland, which the English kings, since the days of John, had hitherto borne. This act was hailed with great rejoicings in Dublin, and on the following Sunday, the lords and gentlemen of Parliament went in procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where solemn high mass was sung by Archbishop Browne, after which the law was proclaimed and a Te Deum chanted."
It is worthy of remark that in the session of 1541, at which alone the Irish chieftains appeared, not a word was said of the supremacy of the king in spirituals. Sir James Ware, who gives the various decrees with more detail than usual, makes no mention of this pet measure of the king and of the Lutheran Archbishop Browne, but it was only part and parcel of the Parliament of 1536, prorogued successively to Kilkenny, Cashel, Limerick, and finally again to Dublin. At its first sitting the law of supremacy was passed and proclaimed as law of Ireland. Nothing was said of it in the various sessions that followed, including that of 1541; and yet the Irish chieftains were supposed to have sanctioned it, inasmach as it was a measure previously passed in the same Parliament: and the suppression of various abbeys and monasteries having been openly decreed in the final session, as a result of the king's supremacy--Rome not having been consulted, of course--all the signers of the last decree were supposed to have thereby sanctioned and adopted the previous ones. Thus O'Neill, O'Reilly, O'More, and the rest, without being aware of the fact, became schismatics, though many of them, perhaps all, did not see the connection between the various sessions of that long Parliament. Certainly, if, on leaving the Dublin Cathedral, where they had heard the archbishop's mass and assisted at that solemn Te Deum, they had been told that that act was intended to consecrate the surrender of the religion of their ancestors, and the commencement of a frightful revolution, which would end in the destruction of their national existence, almost of their very race, they would have incredulously laughed to scorn the unwelcome prophet.
But even if, as we may well believe, those Irish lords had really been the victims of deception, and had not, as a body, been corrupted by the sacrilegious gift of suppressed monasteries, the people, their clansmen, prompted by the vivid impressions and unerring instincts of religious faith and patriotic nationality, which were ever living in their breasts, resented the weakness of their chieftains as a national defection and a real apostasy, and took immediate steps to bring the lords to their senses, and to prevent the spread of English corruption.
All who had received titles from Henry, and surrendered to him the deeds of their lands, as if those lands belonged to them personally, and not to the clans collectively, all those, particularly, who had enriched themselves by the plunder of religious houses, and who had taken any part in the destruction of the religious orders so dear to the Irish heart, were soon made to feel the indignation which those events had excited among the native clansmen, north and south. And those of the chieftains who had really been deceived, and had preserved in their hearts all through a strong love for their religion and country, were recalled to a sense of their error, and brought back to a sense of their duty by the unmistakable voice of the "people."
While the nobles were still in England, feted by Henry in his royal palace of Greenwich, renouncing their Irish names to become English earls and barons, the Ulster chief, protesting that he would never again take the name of O'Neill, but content himself with the title of Earl of Tyrone; while O'Brien was being created Earl of Thomond; McWilliams, Earl of Clanricard; O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell; Kavanagh, Baron of Ballyann; and Fitzpatrick, Baron of Ossory; the clans at home, hearing in due time of those real treasons, were concerting plans for making their lords repent of their weakness or treachery, and for administering to them due punishment on their return.
O'Neill, "the first of his race who had accepted an English title," on landing in Ireland, learned that, his people had deposed him, and elected in his stead his son John the Proud, better known as Shane O'Neill; O'Donnell, on his arrival, met most, of his clan, headed by his son, up in arms against him; the new Earl of Clanricard had already been deposed by his people and another McWilliams, with a Gaelic name, elected in his place; and so with the rest.
But, unfortunately, the Government of England was strong enough to support its favorite chieftains, and it found some Irish tools ready at hand to form the nucleus of an Irish party in their favor. Thus, unanimity no longer marked the decisions of the clans; two parties were formed in each of them, the one national, comprising the great bulk of the people, the real, true people; the other English, composed of a few apostate Irishmen, backed by the power of England. Thus, henceforth we hear of the O'Reilly, and the king's O'Reilly, etc.
Henry VIII. seemed, therefore, with the help of his minister, St. Leger, to have succeeded in breaking up the clans, after the Irish national government had been broken up long before. Confusion of titles, property, and traditions became worse confounded. How could the shanachies, bards, and brehons, any longer agree in their pedigrees, songs, and legal decisions? England had thus early adopted in Ireland the stern and coldhearted policy which, centuries later, she used to destroy the native and Mohammedan dynasties in Hindostan. It was not yet divide et impera on a large scale, but the division was pushed as far as lay in the power England, to the very last elements of the social system.
From this time forward, then, we must not be surprised to find England welcoming to her bosom unworthy sons of Ireland, whom she wished to make her tools. There was always, either in Dublin or London, a sufficient supply of materials out of which crown's chiefs might be manufactured; the government made it part of its policy to hold in its hands and train to its purposes certain members of each of the ruling families--of the O'Neills, O'Reillys, O'Donnells, O'Connors, and others.
It was no longer, therefore, the rooting out and exterminating policy which prevailed, but one as fatal in its results, which would have utterly destroyed Irish national feeling, to set up in its place, not only English manners, language, and customs, but also English schism, heresy, philosophical speculations --as the Four Masters have it --finally, materialism and nihilism.
But, in real sober fact, the scheme proved almost an utter failure, owing to the far-seeing good sense of the people. The national spirit revived among the upper classes, both native and of English descent--owing to the decided stand taken by the inferior clansmen.
The Desmonds and Kildares, in the south, the O'Donnells, Maguires, and others, in the north, soon showed themselves animated by a new spirit of ardent Catholicism; created, in fact, a new nation, quite apart from, or rather embracing, clanship, well-nigh destroyed the English power, kept Elizabeth, during the whole of her reign, in constant agitation and fear, and would have succeeded in recovering their independence, and securing freedom of worship, had not their good-nature been imposed upon by the hypocrisy and faithlessness of the Stuarts, to whom they always looked for freedom in the practice of their religion, without ever obtaining it.
Thus did the people, the Irish race, thwart the policy of Henry, who sought to gain over the nobility. Their stubborn resistance to the vastly-increased and constantly-increasing English power, grew at last to such proportions, and became so discouraging to their oppressors, that the old policy of utter extermination was resumed by Cromwell and the Orange party of the following age.
The refusal of the people, that is to say, of the bulk of the nation, to submit to the policy of their chieftains, and the determination to repudiate that policy by deposing its supporters and choosing others in their stead, was most happy in its effect on their whole future history.
The leaders, by accepting the new titles bestowed on them by the English kings, by taking their seats in Parliament, and concurring in the various measures there passed, subjected themselves to a foreign rule, surrendered to this rule the tribe- lands, which it was not in their power to surrender of themselves, gave up, in fact, their nationality, and became English subjects. The action of the clansmen reversed all the fatal consequences resulting from those acts. They remained a nation distinct from the English, whose laws they had never either admitted or accepted. And, as the clan spirit declined, under the policy of England, it only made way for a new and a greater spirit--religious feeling, the bond of a common religion assaulted--which, henceforth, lay at the bottom of the whole struggle--which, for the first time in their history, blended into one whole the broken clans, gave them a unity and a consistency never known till then, and thus the real nation was born.
They might boast, therefore, not only of not having lost their autonomy, but of being more firmly than ever knit together; they could conclude treaties of alliance with foreign powers, without committing treason, and they soon began to use that power; they could even declare war against England, and it was not rebellion. The successors of Henry VIII. acted constantly as though the Irish nation had really subjected itself to English kings and English rule, as though the acceptance of a few titles by a few chieftains (who were deposed by their people as soon as the fact was known) signified an acknowledgment on the part of the Irish people of their absorption by the English feudal system; they appeared "horrified" when they saw the successors of those chieftains reject those titles and resume their own names; and they called the Irish "rebels" and "traitors" for going to war with England--a country they had never acknowledged as their ruler--and introducing into their country Spanish, Italian, and French troops as allies.
The explanation of the whole mystery consisted in the simple fact that the people, the nation, had steadily refused to sanction the act of their leaders; and all the pretensions of English kings, statesmen, and lawyers, were valueless. Those Irishmen who subsequently entered into the various Geraldine and Ulster confederacies, and summoned foreign armies to their aid, were neither rebels nor traitors, but citizens of an independent state, possessing their international rights as citizens of any independent country. This we have seen in a previous chapter, and Sir John Davies has been obliged to confess its truth, admitting the difference between a tributary and a subject nation.
A glance shows us the importance of the almost unanimous outcry of the clansmen of Tyrone, Tyrconnell, and of other parts of Ireland. Owing to the patriotic feeling of these, nothing remained for the English but to punish the Irish people for their resolve of holding to their religion, and to declare a religious war against them, though they called them all the time rebels and traitors. This is the view an impartial historian should take of those mighty events.
But, it is well to look more closely at this new element, which then showed itself for the first time in Irish national life, the people, irrespective of clanship; the people, as influencing the leaders, and thus becoming a living--nay, a ruling power in the state. And, lest any of our readers should not be convinced that such really was the case, we mention here a fact, which will come more prominently before us in the next chapter, that, at the end of Elizabeth's reign, the efforts of all her large armies and her tortuous policy for changing the religion of the country, resulted in the grand total of sixty converts to Protestantism from the noble class, not one of the clansmen turning apostate!
Bridget of Kildare would not have been surprised at this, to judge by what we have previously heard from her.
In order to find the explanation of this wonderful fact, we must compare the Irish people with other nationalities, and we may then easily distinguish its peculiar features, so persistent, so enduring, we may say, indestructible. We shall find that what this people was three hundred years ago, it is to this day, with a greater unity of feeling, devotedness to principle, and higher aims than any people of modern times.
In antiquity, the people, in the Christian sense of the word, never appeared in the field of history. In the despotic countries of Asia and Africa, there was and could be no question of such a thing; it was an inert mass used at will by the despot. The Phoenician states, and Carthage in particular, were mere oligarchies, with commerce for their chief object, and slaves for mercantile or warlike purposes. In the republics of Greece and Italy, the aristocracy ruled, and when, after centuries of bloody struggles and revolutions, the subjects of Rome were finally granted the rights of citizenship, the despotism of the empire suddenly appeared, crushing both plebs and patricians.
Whenever in those ancient governments we find the lower classes unable longer to bear the heavy yoke imposed upon them, revolting against a despotism which had grown insupportable, and claiming their natural rights, it was merely a surging of waves raised to mountain-height by the fury of a sudden storm, but soon allayed and subdued beneath the inflexible will of stern rulers. The people was a mere mob, whose violence, when successful, fatally carried destruction with it; and, though it is seemingly full of a terrible power which nothing can resist, its power lasts but for a very short time. Could it only outlast the destruction of all superior rulers, it would end by destroying itself.
If we would meet with the people, such as we conceive it to be in accordance with our Christian ideas, we must come down to that period of time which followed close upon the organization of Christendom, namely, to the much-abused middle ages. Feudalism, it is true, withstood its expansion for a long time, kept alive the remnants of slavery which it had found in Europe at its birth, or at best invented serfdom as a somewhat milder substitute for the former degradation of man. But feudalism itself was not strong enough to prevent the natural consequences of the vigorous Christianity which at that time prevailed; and kings, dukes, and feudal bishops, were compelled to grant charters which insured the freedom of the subject. Then the people appeared, in the cities first, afterward in the country, where, however, the peasants had still to drag on for a weary time the chains of secular serfdom.
Thus the people lived in Spain, where they fought valiantly under their lords for centuries against the Crescent, so that in some provinces all classes were ennobled, and not a single plebeian was to be found, which simply means that the whole mass of the citizens formed the people. Thus the people had an early existence in Italy, where every city almost became a centre of freedom and activity, notwithstanding strife and continual feuds. Thus the people had its life in France, where the learned men of Catholic universities determined with precision the limits of kingly power, and where the outburst of the Crusades brought all classes together to fight for Christ, forming but one body engaged alike throughout in a holy cause. Thus, finally, the people had its life even in Germany and England, where real liberty, though of later birth, afterward remained more deeply rooted in social life.
In all those countries, it was called populus Christianus; it had its associations, its guilds, its Christian customs, its privileges, its rights. Its existence was acknowledged by law, and it possessed everywhere either Christian codes, or at least local customs for its safeguards. It gradually grew into a great power, and took the name of the "Third Estate," ranking directly after the clergy, and nobility. Its members knew and respected the gradations of the social hierarchy as then existing. The monarchs in most countries, in France chiefly, sided with it whenever the nobles sought to oppress it, and its deputies were heard in the Parliaments of the various nations of Christendom.
How many millions of human beings lived happily during several centuries under these great institutions of mediaeval times! And if the members of the people at that time could seldom rise above their order, except through the Church, this unfortunate inability often prevented dangerous and subversive ambitions, and was thus really the source and cause of, happiness to all. Governments at that period lasted for thousands of years; men could rely on the stability of things, and great enterprises could be undertaken and carried to a successful termination.
But throughout all Europe, with the single exception of Ireland, the people had to contend against the feudal power; and it was only very gradually, and step by step, that it could creep up to its rights. In Ireland, as we have seen, feudalism had failed to strike root; so that the clansmen who represented there what the people did elsewhere, never having been subject to slavery or serfdom, possessed all the liberties which the ordinary class of men can claim. They had always borne their share in the affairs of their own territory, at least by the willing help they afforded to their leaders, during the Danish wars chiefly, and afterward throughout the four hundred years of struggle with the Anglo-Normans. The people were the real conquerors under the lead of their chieftains, and the perpetual enjoyment of their beloved customs was the privilege of the least among them as much as of the proudest of their nobles. They themselves were well aware of this, and to their own efforts no less than to the heads of the clans they attributed the advantages which they had gained.
Thus, when the conduct of their chieftain was not in accordance with what the clansmen considered the right, they were ready to express their disapproval of his actions by deposing him, and placing their allegiance at the service of the man of their choice.
But though this course of action is true of the whole period of their history, more especially from the date of their becoming Christian up to the time when the blows of religious persecution welded them into one people, yet they were divided and often at war among themselves. But no sooner did the work of perversion make itself felt among them, than we behold the clansmen exhibiting a unity of feeling on many points which never marked them before. So that thenceforth the separated clans gradually began to merge into Irishmen.
This unity of feeling showed itself, above all, in the deep love for their religion, which at once became universal and all- pervading. This love had undoubtedly existed before, as it could scarcely have originated and swollen to such proportions all at once; but as the stroke of the hammer reveals the spark, so the force of opposition enkindled the flame and caused it to burst forth into view. At the first blow it showed itself throughout the island, and thus the people became once and forever united.
This unity of feeling was displayed likewise in an ardent love for their country in contradistinction to the special locality of the tribe. Thus arose a true fraternal union with all their countrymen of whatever county or city. The old antagonism between family and family only appeared at fitful and unguarded intervals; but in general each one grasped the hand of another only as a Catholic and an Irishman.
This is clearly attributable to their religion. Catholicity knows no place; its very name is opposed to restrictions of this character. Could it carry out its purpose, which is that of its Divine founder, it would make one of all nations; and, to a certain extent, it has achieved this task. Differences of character, which are deeply impressed in the nature of various branches of the human family, are indeed never totally obliterated by it; but such differences disappear when kneeling at the same altar and receiving the same sacraments. The Catholic religion is the only one which is, has ever been, and must ever claim to be, universal; the religions of antiquity were purely local.
Since the coming of our Lord, no heresy, no schism has ever pretended to the reality of a catholic existence, and, if the word is self-applied by certain sects, the world laughs at it as a meaningless thing. The Catholic Church alone has truly claimed and possessed such a character.
But if of all men it makes one family with respect to spiritual matters, what unanimity of feeling must it not create in a single nation truly imbued with its spirit, which is attacked for its sake? Until the reign of Henry VIII., the Irish, in their struggle with England, could summon no religious thought to their aid, since England was Catholic also, and the Norman nobles established among them followed the same calendar, possessed the same churches, the same creed, the same sacraments. But as soon as the English power was stamped with heresy, the opposition to that power assumed a religious aspect, and no longer restricted itself to the clans immediately attacked, but spread throughout the whole nation.
To bring the case down to some particular point, in order to render our meaning more clear, a priest or monk, who was hunted down, was no longer sure of refuge in his own district, and among men of his own sept merely, but he was equally welcomed in the castle of the chieftain or the hut of the peasant through the length and breadth of the land. Any Irishman, subject to fine, imprisonment, or torture, for the sake of his religion, did not find sympathy restricted to his own circle of friends or acquaintances, but, even if tried and prosecuted in a corner of the island, far away from his own home, he could count upon the sympathy of as many friends as there were Irish Catholics to witness his sufferings. This state of things was certainly unknown before.
Religion, when deep, is the strongest feeling of the human heart, and endows the nation steeped in it with an unconquerable strength. To judge of the intensity of religious feeling in the Irish, it should be remembered that it was the only legacy left them after every thing else had been taken away, and, though it was the special object of attack, they were to be stripped one by one of their old customs, their own chieftains, their houses of study and of prayer, their religious and secular teachers, nay, of the chance even of educating their children, of the right to possess not merely their own soil, but even to cultivate a few acres of it, nay, of their very language itself, in a word, of all that makes a country dear to man. For ages were they destined to remain outcasts and strangers on the soil which was their own; abject and ignorant paupers, without the faintest possibility of rising in the social scale.
One thing only did they keep in their hearts, their faith, though stripped of all the exterior circumstances which adorn it, and reduced to its simplest elements. But at least it was their religion, to deprive them of which, all the wealth, resources, armies, laws of a powerful nation, were to be strained to the utmost during long ages. How, then, could they fail to love and cherish it, to cling fast to it, as to an inestimable treasure, the only real one indeed they could possess on earth, where all else passes away?
Here, then, always presupposing the paramount influence of the grace of God, lay the secret of that indestructible strength and unwearied energy manifested by Irishmen, from the middle of the sixteenth century down, and we are enabled thus to appreciate the value of that unity which persecution alone fastened upon them.
To the love of religion, which was the origin of that unity, love of country was soon added, and by love of country we here understand the love of the whole island, not merely of the particular sept to which the individual belonged, or of the particular spot in which he happened to be born. Such had been the divisions among the people and the chieftains hitherto, that England could attack one sept without fearing the revolt of the others, nay, was often assisted by an adverse clan. And so thoroughly had the Anglo-Normans adopted the native manners, that the Kildares were frequently at war with the Desmonds, though both belonged to the same Geraldine family; and the Ormonds kept up a constant feud with both the Geraldine branches. When Henry VIII. almost destroyed the Kildares, we do not find that the Desmonds felt their loss at first; perhaps they even rejoiced at it.
It was the same with the natives, particularly with the 0'Neills and the O'Donnells, in the north. The whole island and its general interests seemed the concern of no one, so taken up were they by the affairs of their own particular locality. And this state of feeling had existed from the beginning, even among holy men. The songs of Columba, of Cormac McCullinan, even of the Fenian heroes of old, all celebrated the victories of one sept over another, or the beauties of some one spot in the island, in preference to all others.
Nay, so prevalent was this clannish spirit, even at the beginning of the religious troubles, that Henry VIII., and Elizabeth after him, gained their successes by directing their attacks against particular places, so certain were they that the other districts would not come to the rescue.
The feeling of nationality, of what we call patriotism, wrestled along time in the throes of birth, before coming forth, and it was only during the latter half of Elizabeth's reign that those confederacies were formed, which included the whole country and called in even foreign aid.
But this feeling began to appear as soon as religion was attacked; and therefore do we call this epoch the true birth of a people.
And as it is with the people chiefly that we are concerned, it is to our purpose to remark here that they gradually lost sight of their petty quarrels and local prejudices in losing their chieftains; they began to look for leaders among themselves, and, understanding at last that the whole island was threatened by the invading policy of England, they were to fight for the whole, and not for any special district.
Then, for the first time, did Ireland become a reality to them, an existing personality, a desolate queen weeping over the fate of her children, calling, with the voice of a stricken mother, those who survived to her aid, and worthy, by her beauty and misfortunes, of their most heroic and disinterested efforts.
Religious feeling, then, first made the Irish a nation, and gave them that unity of thought which they now exhibit everywhere, even in the remotest quarters of the globe, wherever they may choose their place of exile. And if there still exists among them something of that former predilection for the place where they first saw the light, the other parts of Erin are at least included in their deep love, and they would shed their blood for their country, irrespective of prejudice of place.
Thus have they come at last to love each other as men of no other nation ever did. In order to understand this thoroughly, we must remember that for ages they, as a people, have been oppressed and held in bondage by a stern and powerful nation. They had to defend themselves in turn against the most open and the most insidious attacks. Bereft in many cases of all the means of defence, they had nothing left them, save their religion, and the support they could afford each other.
If, by any stretch of imagination, we could place ourselves in their position, understand their language when they met each other in their huts, in their morasses and bogs, in their mountain fastnesses and desolate moors, could we only enter into their feelings and see the working of their minds, we might catch a faint conception of the affection which they must have felt for brothers waging the deadly fight against the same enemies, and contending in a seemingly endless and hopeless struggle against the same terrible odds. Union, affection, devotedness, are words too weak to serve here.
For this reason, also, do we find the Irish people stamped with peculiarities which we find in no others. In antiquity, as we have said, the people could never rise to any thing greater than a mob; in modern times such has also often been the case. With the Irish it is not, and could not be so. Their aim has always been too lofty, their struggle of too long duration, their morality too genuine and too pure. For their aim has constantly been to rescue their country; their struggle has lasted nearly three hundred years; their morality has ever been directed by the sweetest religion. Extreme cases of oppression such as theirs may have occasionally given rise to violent outbreaks inevitable in human despair; but, on the whole, it may to their honor be fearlessly said, that they have preserved, almost throughout, a due regard for social hierarchy and all kinds of rights. Many of them have died of hunger, rather than touch the property of a rich and hostile neighbor. Where else can we find such an example?
This union of the people, which was thus brought about by religious persecution, included not only the natives of the old race, but the Anglo-Irish themselves, who were brought by degrees to a unanimity of feeling which they had never known before, although they had previously adopted Irish manners - a unanimity which the Lutheran Archbishop Browne had foreseen and openly denounced beforehand. This was the man who had unwittingly borne testimony to the Irish that "the common people of this isle are more zealous in their blindness than the saints and martyrs were in the truth at the beginning of the Gospel;" the same George Browne, of Dublin, had also been the first to perceive that the religious question was beginning, even under Henry VIII., to unite the native Irish and the descendants of Strongbow's followers, until that time bitterly opposed to each other.
In a letter, dated "Dublin, May, 1538," to the Lord Privy Seal, he said: "It is observed that, ever since his Highness's ancestors had this nation in possession, the old natives have been craving foreign powers to assist and raise them; and now both English race and Irish begin to oppose your lordship's orders" (about supremacy), "and do lay aside their national old quarrels, which, I fear, if any thing will cause a foreigner to invade this nation, that will."
This man, who was altogether worldly and without faith, displayed in this a keen political foresight far above that of the ordinary counsellors of England's king. He openly announced what actually came to pass only toward the middle of Elizabeth's reign, and what the horrors of the Cromwellian wars were to complete - the thorough fusion of Irish and Anglo-Norman Catholics, both transplanted to Connaught, perishing under the sword of the soldier, the rope of the hangman, or dying of starvation in the recesses of their mountains - united forever in the bonds of martyrdom.
The "birth of the Irish people" was to be insured by another measure of the English Government - the suppression of religious houses. We must, in conclusion, turn to this.
In the annals of the Four Masters, under the year 1537, we read: "A heresy and a new error broke out in England, the effect of pride, vainglory, avarice, sensual desire, and the prevalence of a variety of scientific and philosophical speculations, so that the people of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome.
"At the same time, they followed a variety of opinions; and, adopting the old law of Moses, after the manner of the Jewish people, they gave the title of Head of the Church of God, during his reign, to the king. They ruined the orders who were permitted to hold worldly possessions, namely, monks, canons regular, nuns, and Brethren of the Cross, etc . . . . They broke into the monasteries, they sold their roofs and bells; so that there was not a monastery from Arran of the Saints to the Iccian Sea that was not broken and scattered, except only a few in Ireland."
And, under 1540, they say: "The English, in every place throughout Ireland, where they established their power, persecuted and banished the nine religious orders, and particularly they destroyed the monastery of Monaghan, and beheaded the guardian and a number of friars."
We may add that, at the restoration of the old faith under Queen Mary, nothing had to be restored in Ireland save the monasteries. These establishments had, almost without exception, been ruthlessly destroyed.
In our previous considerations, we have spoken of no other religious houses in Ireland, save those of the old Columbian order of monks, as it was called, which was a growth of the country, and bore so many marks of Irish peculiarities. This continued until, communications with Rome becoming more frequent, the various orders established in the West were successively introduced into Ireland. Our purpose is not to write a history of monasticism, and therefore we do not intend entering into details on this point, interesting though they are. But we may add that, gradually, the old monasteries - from the Norman invasion chiefly - as well as the new ones which were established, were placed under the rule of the various congregations, acknowledged by the Holy See. It seems that the monasteries founded by St. Columba himself afterward submitted to the rule of St. Benedict, the others, for the most part, embracing that of the canons regular of St. Augustine; but the precise epoch of these changes is not known. It is certain, however, that the Benedictines, Cistercians, and Bernardines, were introduced into the country at a very early date, together with the four mendicant orders of Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinians.
The pretext for their destruction was, of course, the same in England as in all the other countries of Europe - their need of reformation; but it does not appear that even this pretence was put forward in the case of the Irish monasteries. The fact was, the breath of suspicion could not rest upon those stainless establishments in the Isle of Saints. In the idea of the natives, their very names had ever been synonymous with holiness and all Christian virtues, and so they continued to enjoy the most unbounded popularity. The fact of the English Government selecting them as a special point of attack is in itself sufficient to vindicate their character from any aspersion. Two measures were deemed necessary and sufficient for the purpose of detaching Ireland from its allegiance to the Holy See, and of introducing schism, if not heresy, into the country. One, and certainly the most efficacious of these, was thought to be the destruction of convents for both sexes. This, we affirm, is ample apology for their inmates.
But this general reflection is not enough for our purpose, which is, to delineate and bring out the true character of the nation. It is, therefore, fitting to give an idea of the extent to which the monastic influence prevailed, and of the nature of the people who cherished, loved, and accepted it at all times.
It may be said that the Christian Church, as established in the island by St. Patrick, rested mainly for its support on the religious orders. In many cases the abbots of monasteries were superior to bishops, and, as a general rule, the hierarchy of the Church was, as it were, subordinate to monastic establishments.1 (1 Vide Montalembert's "Monks of the West: Bollandists, Oct.," tome xii., p. 888.) At the time we speak of, indeed, such was no longer the case; but the previously-existing state of reciprocal subordination between abbots and bishops during several centuries, in Ireland,, had left deep traces in the nature of the institutions and of the people itself. It may be said that in the mind of an Irishman the existence of Christianity almost presupposed a numerous array of convents and religious houses. And this idea of theirs can scarcely be called a wrong one, nor did they exaggerate the value of religious orders, since their estimate of them was no higher than that of Christ himself and his Church.
If with justice it was said that the French monarchy was established by bishops, with equal justice may it be said that the Irish people had been educated, nay, created by monks. The monks had taken the place left vacant by the Druids, and thus they became for the Christian what the others had been for the pagan Irish. For a long period the Irish monks formed a very considerable portion of the population. In their body were concentrated the gifts of science, art, holiness, even miracles without number, unless we are to suppose that the hagiography of the island was intrusted to the care of idiots incapable of ascertaining current facts. The vast literature of the island, greater indeed than that of any other Christian country at the time, was either the product of monastic intellect and learning, or at least had been translated and preserved by monks. The gifted Eugene O'Curry could fill numbers of the pages of his great work with the bare titles of the books which are known to have issued from the Irish monasteries, of which but a few fragments remain; and no sensible man who has read his book can affect to despise establishments which could produce so many proofs of fancy, intellect, and erudition. The scattered fragments of that rich literature, which had escaped the fury of the Scandinavian, the ignorance and rapacity of the early Anglo- Norman, the blind fanaticism of the Puritan, could still in the seventeenth century furnish materials enough for the immense compilations of the Four Masters, Ward, Wadding, Lynch, and Colgan.
What we have here stated is the simple, unvarnished truth; yet it is but yesterday that the subject has really begun to be studied.
But what is chiefly worthy our attention is, that the monasteries were not only the seats of learning and literature in Ireland, but they constituted and comprised in themselves every thing of value which the nation possessed. As they were found everywhere, there was not room for much else in the department they filled in the island. Take them away, and the country is a blank. So well were the crafty counsellors of Henry
Feudalism had failed in its endeavor to cover the country with castles; the native royalty and inferior chieftainship being engaged in constant bickerings with each other and with the common foe, had been unable to enrich the country with monuments of art and wealthy palaces; the Church alone had accomplished whatever had been effected in this way, and in the Church the monks rather than the bishops had for a long time exercised the preponderating influence. Hence, it may be truly said that Ireland was essentially a monastic country, more so than any other nation of Christendom.
This fact explains how it happened that the monastic institutions could not be destroyed. The convent-walls might be battered down, the more valuable edifices might be converted into dwellings for the new Protestant aristocracy, their property might go to enrich upstarts, and feed the rapacity of greedy conquerors, but the institution itself could not perish.
It is true that in all Catholic countries this seems also to be the case; but wide is the difference with regard to Ireland. In all places religious establishments have frequently been the object of anti-Christian fury and rage. They have often been destroyed, and seem to have utterly disappeared, when the world has been surprised by their speedy resurrection. The fact is, the Church needs them, and the practice of evangelical counsels must forever be in a state of active operation upon earth, since the grace of God always inspires with it a number of select souls. God is the source; consequently the stream must flow, since the life-spring is eternal and ever-running.
But in other countries besides the one under our consideration religious houses and institutions have sometimes been effectually rooted out, at least for a time. When the French Constituent Assembly, by one of its destructive decrees, closed those establishments all over France, such of them as by their laxity deserved to die, ceased at once to exist, and poured forth their inmates to swell the ranks of a corrupt society, and add religious degradation to the immoral filth of the world. Those religious houses, within whose walls the spirit of God had not ceased to dwell, were indeed closed and emptied; but their inmates endeavored to live their lives of religion in some unknown and obscure spot, until the madness of the Convention, and the Reign of Terror which soon followed, rendered the continuation of the holy exercises of any community absolutely impossible. But mark this well: the holy aims of the monks and nuns found no response in the nation, and, finding themselves almost entirely rejected by a faithless people, with no resting- place in the whole extent of the country, a sudden and total interruption of religious ascetic life in the once most Catholic nation of Europe was the result.
The same may soon come to pass in our days in Italy and Spain, until better times return to those now distracted countries, and the extremities of evil bring them back to something of their primitive faith.
Not so in Ireland: the communities could continue to exist even when turned out-of-doors, because the nation wanted them, and could afford them asylum and peace in the worst periods of persecution. And this great fact of the mutual love between monks, priests, and people, contributed also in no small degree to that union among all, which henceforth became the characteristic feature of a people hitherto split up into hostile clans. Nothing probably tended so much toward effecting the birth of the nation as the deep attachment existing between the Irish and their religious orders. The latter had always preached peace and often reconciled enemies, and brought furious men to the practice of Christian charity and forbearance.
We have seen instances of this when the clans were all powerful and the chieftains thought of nothing but of "preyings," as they called them, compelling their enemies to give "hostages" and devastating the territories of hostile clans. Then the voice of the monk came to be heard in the midst of contending passions, and real miracles were often performed by them in changing into lambs men who resembled roaring lions or devouring wolves; but their action became much more efficacious when nothing was left to the people save their religion and the "friars." These, it is true, could no longer reside within the walls of their convents, but on that very account their life became more truly one with that of the people.
Sometimes they found refuge in the large, hospitable dwellings of the native nobility, where, during the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII. and the whole of that of Elizabeth, the almost independent power of the chieftains could still afford them succor. Sometimes also the humbler dwelling of the farmer or the peasant offered them a sure asylum, wherein they could practise their ministry in almost perfect freedom, owing to the sure and inviolable secrecy of the inmates and neighbors. For a great distance around, the Catholics knew of their abode, were often visited by them, even without mach danger of the fact becoming known to spies and informers. And this brings naturally before us a new feature of the Irish character.
Their nature, which was so expansive and passionate on all other subjects, so that to keep a secret was an impossible feat to them, wore another character when danger to their religion or its ministers required of them to set a seal on their lips. For years frequently, large numbers of priests and religious could not only exist, but move and work among them, without their place of abode becoming known to the swarms of enemies who surrounded them. The nation was trained to prudence and discretion by centuries of oppression and tyranny. Many facts of this nature are known and recorded in the dark annals of those times; but how many more will be known never!
Thus, in the year 1588, during the worst part of Elizabeth's reign, "John O'Malloy, Cornelius Dogherty, and Walfried Ferral, of the order of St. Francis, fell finally victims to the malice of the heretics. They had spent eight years in administering the consolations of religion throughout the mountainous districts of Leinster. Many families of Carlow, Wicklow, and Wexford, had been compelled to take a refuge in the mountains from the fury of the English troops. The good Franciscans shared in all their perils, travelling about from place to place, by night; they visited the sick, consoled the dying, and offered up the sacred mysteries for all. Oftentimes the hard rock was their only bed; but they willingly embraced nakedness, and hunger, and cold, to console their afflicted brethren." - (Moran's Archbishops of Dublin.)
In these few words, we have a picture of the mountain monastery. During those eight years, how many Irish were consoled and comforted by those few laborers, who, driven from their holy home, had chosen to live in the wilderness, and practise their rule among the wandering people of three large counties, receiving in return the substance, the love, and loving secrecy of their flock! We have only to figure to ourselves this scene, or similar, repeated in every corner of the land, and we may then easily understand how the Irish people were brought to the unanimous resolve of standing by each other, and how, from the state of complete division which formerly prevailed, the elements of a compact, solid, and indestructible body, began to form.
We attribute this "birth of a nation" to Henry VIII., because the change which he tried to introduce into the religion of the island constituted the occasion and origin of it; and, although his reign never witnessed that perfect union of the people which came later on, nevertheless, it is true that then it surely began, and its origin was the attempt to establish his spiritual supremacy in Ireland.
This feeling of union and strength in love went on growing, and showed itself more and more, wring the two centuries which followed, when so many scenes similar to the one described were enacted in the remotest parts of the island. God, in his mercy, provided it with many high mountains, difficult of access, whose paths were known only to the natives. In these fastnesses, the holy men, who had been driven from their dwellings and their churches, could rest in peace and attend to the duties of their office. They could even recruit their shattered forces, admit novices, and train them up; and thus their rule continued to be observed, and their existence as a body protracted, long after their enemies imagined that they had perished utterly. As soon as quiet was restored, when persecution abated, and breathing- time was given them, so that they could show themselves, with some safety, more openly, they visited their old abodes, often found some portions of the ruins which admitted of repair, and dwelt again in security where their predecessors had dwelt for centuries.
The peasant's hut would also often afford them shelter; some solitary farm-house on the borders of a lake, or near a deep morass, took the name of their monastery; some cranogue in the lake, or dry spot in the thick of the morass, which they could reach by paths known to themselves only, was their asylum in times of extraordinary danger. In ordinary times, the farm-house, to which they had given the name of their lost monastery, was their convent. It was thus the brothers O'Cleary, and their companions, lived for years, editing the work of the "Four Masters," until, at length, they succeeded in publishing their extraordinary "Annals." The manuscripts which, in spite of the raging persecution, and the "penal laws," they traversed the whole island to collect, were preserved, with a reverend care, in a poor Irish hut. Literary treasures which have since unfortunately perished, but which they saved for a time from the reach of the enemy, and which they perpetuated by having them printed, filled the poor presses and the old furniture of their asylum, and, owing purely to the friendly help of those who had given them shelter, they were enabled to enrich the world with their marvellous compilation.
From the mountain and the hut, on the river-side, the monks were sometimes allowed to move to their former dwellings, at the risk, nevertheless, of their liberty and lives. What their ancestors had done during the Scandinavian invasions, when the monasteries were so often destroyed and rebuilt, that did the monks of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries likewise in many parts of the island.
Thus, Father Mooney, a Franciscan, relates that his monastery - that of Multifarnham - having been totally destroyed by Sir Francis Shean, and many monks having been killed, he, with a few others, after long and extraordinary adventures, came back to the spot, then abandoned by the enemy, and "before the feast of the Nativity of our Lord, we built up a little house on the site of the monastery, and there we dwelt who were left after the flight . . . . . Afterward, Father Nehemias Gregan, the father guardian, began to build a church, and to repair the monastery, and for this purpose caused much wood to be cut in the territory of Deabhna McLochlain; and when they had roofed a chapel and some other buildings, there came the soldiers of another Sir Francis Ringtia, and they burned down the monastery again, and carried off some of the brethren captive to Dublin."
This convent of Multifarnham was raised a third time; and, in fact, remained in possession of the Franciscans throughout the persecution, so that to this day the old church has been restored by them, and the modern house, which now forms their convent, is built on the site of the old monastery.
Such for a long time was the case with many other religious establishments; for the same Father Mooney, writing as late as 1624, says: "When Queen Elizabeth strove to make all Ireland fall away from the Catholic faith, and a law was passed proscribing all the members of the religious orders, and giving their monasteries and possessions to the treasury, while all the others took to flight, or at least quitted their houses, and, for safety's sake, lived privately and singly among their friends, and receiving no novices, the order of St. Francis alone ever remained, as it were, unshaken. For, though they were violently driven out of some convents to the great towns, and the convents were profanely turned into dwellings for seculars, and some of the fathers suffered violence, and even death; yet, in the country and other remote places, they ever remained in the convents, celebrating the divine office according to the custom of religious, their preachers preaching to the people and performing their other functions, training up novices and preserving the conventual buildings, holding it sinful to lay aside, or even hide, their religious habit, though for an hour, through any human fear. And, every three years, they held their regular provincial chapters in the woods of the neighborhood, and observed the rule as it is kept in provinces that are in peace."
Thus, when the Cromwellian persecution began, the religious orders were again flourishing in Ireland. They had obtained from the Stuarts some relaxation in the execution of the laws, and, as all at the time were fighting for Charles I. against the Parliamentarians, it was only natural that the authorities did not carry out the barbarous laws to their full extent in the island.
It is no matter of great surprise, therefore, that, in 1641, more than one hundred years after the decree of Henry VIII., the Franciscan order still possessed sixty-two flourishing houses in Ireland, each with a numerous community, besides ten convents of nuns of the order of St. Clare. The acts of the General Chapter of the Dominicans, held in Rome in 1656, referring to the same persecution of Cromwell, state that, when it began, there were forty-three convents of the order, containing about six hundred inmates, of whom only one-fourth survived the calamity. The Jesuits were eighty in number, in 1641, of whom only seventeen remained when the storm had passed away. From a petition presented to the Sacred Congregation, in 1654, we learn that all the Capuchins had been banished, except a few who remained on the island, where they lived as "shepherds," "herdsmen," or "tillers of the soil."
All the decrees of the Parliaments of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth had not succeeded, in the space of a century, in destroying monasticism; the Cromwellian war alone seemed to have done so, as it left the entire nation almost at the last gasp, on the verge of annihilation. Nevertheless, a few years saw the orders again revive and prepare to start their holy work anew. Henry
We have anticipated the course of events somewhat, in order to pass in review the chief facts connected with the designs of the English Government upon the religious orders. These few words will suffice to give the reader an idea of the new character which such events impressed upon the Irish nation. Every day saw it more compact; every day the resolve to fight to the death for God's cause, grew stronger; the old occasions of division grew less and less, and that unanimity, which suffering for a noble cause naturally gives rise to in the human heart, showed itself more and more. A nation, in truth, was being born in the throes of a wide-spread and long-continued calamity; but long ages were in store in times to come to reward it for the misfortunes of the past.
It is a remarkable thing that, when England, through fear of civil war, was compelled to grant Catholic emancipation in 1829, when Irish agitators succeeded in wrenching it from the enemy, and obtaining it, not only for themselves, but likewise for their English Catholic brethren, the British statesmen, who finally consented to such a tardy measure of justice, steadily refused, nevertheless, to extend the boon to the religious orders. These remained under the ban, and so they remain still. The "penal laws" were never repealed for them, and, even to this day, they are, according to law, strictly prohibited from "receiving novices" under all the barbarous penalties formerly enacted and never abrogated.
But the nation has constantly considered this exception as not to be taken into account. The religious orders now existing are under the protection of the people, and England has never dared to use even a threat against the open violation of these "laws." Dr. Madden, in his interesting work on "Penal Laws," gives prominence to this fact by warmly taking up the old theme of thorough-going Irish Catholicity, by asserting, with force, that "religious orders are necessary to the Church," and that to deny their right to exist, even though it be only on paper in the statute-book, is none the less an outrage against so thoroughly Catholic a nation as the Irish.
The only fact which appears to clash with our reflections is the one well ascertained and mentioned by us, that some native Irish lords occupied certain monasteries and took their share in the sacrilegious plunder. But a few chieftains cannot be said to constitute the nation, and doubtless many of those who yielded to the temptation, listened later to the reproving voice of their conscience, as in the following case, given by Miles O'Reilly, in his "Irish Martyrs:"
"Gelasius O'Cullenan, born of a noble family in Connaught . . . joined the Cistercian order. Having competed his studies in Paris, the monastery of Boyle was destined as the field of his labors. On his arrival in Ireland, he found that the monastery, with its property, had been seized on by one of the neighboring gentry, who was sheltered in his usurpation by the edict of Elizabeth. The abbot . . . went boldly to the usurping nobleman, admonishing him of the guilt he had incurred; and the malediction of Heaven, which he would assuredly draw down upon his family. Moved by his exhortations, the nobleman restored to him the full possession of the monastery and lands; and, some time after, contemplating the holy life of its inmates, . . . he, too, renounced the world and joined the religious institute."