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!"
By delusive hopes are here meant some of the various schemes in which Irishmen have indulged and still indulge with the view of bettering their country. This chapter will aim at showing that, for the resurrection of Ireland, the reconstruction of her past is impossible; parliamentary independence or "home rule," insufficient, physical force and violent revolution, in conjunction with European radicals particularly, is as unholy as it is impracticable.
The resurrection of the Irish nation began with the end of last century. As, to use their own beautiful expression, "'Tis always the darkest the hour before day," so the gloom had never settled down so darkly over the land, when light began to dawn, and the first symptoms of returning life to flicker over the face of the, to all seeming, dead nation. Its coming has been best described in the "History of the Catholic Association" by Wyse. On reading his account, it is impossible not to be struck with the very small share that men have had in this movement; it was purely a natural process directed by a merciful God. As with all natural processes, it began by an almost imperceptible movement among a few disconnected atoms, which, by seeming accident approaching and coming into contact, begin to form groups, which gather other groups toward them in ever-increasing numbers, thus giving shape to an organism which defines itself after a time, to be finally developed into a strong and healthy being. This process differed essentially from those revolutionary uprisings which have since occurred in other nations, to the total change in the constitution and form of the latter, without any corresponding benefit arising from them.
Before entering upon the full investigation of this uprising, it may be well to dispel some false notions too prevalent, even in our days, among men who are animated with the very best intentions, who wish well to the Irish cause, but who seem to fail in grasp in the right idea of the question. Reconstruction, say they, is impossible-at least as far as the past history of the country goes. Where are her leaders, her chieftains, her nobility? Feudalism broke the clans, persecution put an effectual stop to the labors of genealogists and bards. Where, to-day, are the O'Neill, the O'Brien, the O'Donnell, and the rest? Until new leaders are found, offshoots, if possible, of the old families, more faithful and trustworthy than those who so far have volunteered to guide their countrymen, how is it possible to expect a people such as the Irish have always been, to assume once more a corporate existence, and enjoy a truly national government?
I. That the Irish nobility has disappeared forever may be granted. In giving our reasons for believing in the impossibility of connecting the present with the past through that class, and thus restoring a truly national government, and in strengthening this opinion by what follows, we shall show at the same time that, in that regard, Ireland is on a par with all other nationalities, among whom the aristocratic classes have quite lost the prestige that once belonged to them, and can no longer be said to rule modern nations.
The question of nobility is certainly an important one for the Irish—nay, for all peoples. Up to quite recently, profound thinkers never imagined it possible for a people to enjoy peace and happiness save under the guidance of those then held to be natural guides with aristocratic blood in their veins, who were destined by God himself to rule the masses. We are far from falling in with the fashion, so common nowadays, of deriding those ideas. Men like Joseph de Maistre, who was certainly an upholder of the theory, and who could not suppose a nation to exist without a superior class appointed by Providence to guide those whose blood was less pure, have a right to be listened to with respect, and none of their deliberate opinions should be treated with levity.
And, in truth, no nobility ever existed more worthy of the title, as far as the origin of its power went, than the Irish. Its last days were spent, like those of true heroes, fighting for their country and their God. It is a remarkable fact that they, the truest, were the first of the aristocratic classes to fall. After them, all the aristocracies of Europe, with the exception perhaps of the English, which still exists at least in name, gradually saw their power wrested from them, so that, to-day, it may be said with truth that the "noble" blood has lost its prerogative of rule.
Various are the theories on these superior classes; a few words on some of them may be as appropriate as interesting.
Of all those advanced, Vico's are the least defensible, though they seem to rest on a deep knowledge of antiquity. No Christian can accept his view of a universal savage state of society after the Flood; and his explanation of the origin of aristocratic races, and of the plebeians, their slaves, is purely the work of imagination, however well read in classic lore may have been the author of "Scienza Nuova." To suppose with him that the primeval "nobles" reached the first stage of civilization by inventing language, agriculture, and religion, and by imposing the yoke of servitude on the "brutes" who were not yet possessed of the first characteristics of humanity, is revolting to reason, and contradictory to all sound philosophy and knowledge of history. His aristocracy is a brutal institution which he does well to doom to extinction as soon as the plebs is sufficiently instructed and powerful enough to seize upon the reins of government, before it, in its turn, is brought under by the progressive march of monarchy, with which his system culminates.
The feudal ideas concerning "noble" blood rested on an entirely different basis. The feudal monarch is but the first of the nobles, and the possession of land is the true prerogative and charter of nobility. The inferior classes being excluded from that privilege, are also excluded from all political rights, and are nothing more nor less than the conquered races which were first reduced to slavery. Christianity was the only power which effected a change, and a deep one, in the relations of these two classes to each other; the rigorous application of the system by the Northmen being entirely opposed to the elementary teachings of our holy religion.
From the change thus brought about resulted the Christian idea of aristocratic and monarchical government which had the support of some gifted writers of the last and present centuries. It was in fact a return to the old system realized by Charlemagne in the great empire of which he was the founder—a system whose glorious march was interrupted by the invasion of feudalism in its severest form, which, according to what was before said, came down from Scandinavia in the time of Charlemagne's immediate successors. Under the regime of the noble emperor, the Church, the Aristocracy, and the People, formed three Estates, each with its due share in the government. This mode of administering public affairs became general in Europe, and stood for nearly a thousand years.
But is it the particular form of government necessary for the happiness of a nation, as it was held to be by some powerful minds? If it is, then are we born, indeed, in unhappy times; for the corner-stone of the edifice, the aristocratic idea, has crumbled away, and is apparently gone forever.
Any one, looking at Europe as it stands to-day, must feel constrained to admit that its history for the last hundred years may be summed up in the one phrase: admission of the middle classes of society to the chief seat of government. Russia now makes the solitary exception to this rule; for in England, which seems the most feudal of all nations, the middle classes have attained to a high position, and, through their special representatives, have often taken the chief lead in public affairs, ever since the Revolution of 1688, a lead which is now uncontested. And as individuals of the middle class are often admitted into the ranks of the aristocracy, it would indeed be a hard thing to find purely "noble" blood in the vast majority of aristocratic families now existing in Great Britain.
The history of the gradual decline of what is called the nobility in the various states of Europe would require volumes. In many instances it would certainly be found to have been richly merited, in France particularly, perhaps, where the corruption of that class was one of the chief causes which led to the first French Revolution.
But in Ireland the original idea of nobility was different from that entertained elsewhere; the action of the institution on the people at large was peculiar in its character; and if, in early times, those rude chieftains were often guilty of acts of violence and outrage against religion and morality, they atoned for this by that last long struggle of theirs, so nobly waged in defence of both. But the destruction of the order was final and complete, and seems to have left no hope of resurrection.
In our first chapter, when treating of the clan system, the origin of chieftainship among the Celts was referred back to the family: all the chieftains, or nobles, were each the head of a sept or tribe, which is the nearest approach to a family; all the clansmen were related by blood to the chieftain. The order of nobility among the Celts was therefore natural and not artificial; being neither the result of some conventional understanding nor of brute force. Nature was with them the parent of nobility and chieftainship; and the ennobling, or raising a person by mere human power to the dignity of noble, was unknown to them: a state of things peculiar to the race.
In Vico's system, aristocracy sprang from physical force or skill; consequently, nobility was founded on no natural right, although the author does his best to prove the contrary, chiefly by ascribing to the aristocratic class the discovery or invention of right (jus) which thus becomes a mere derivative of force.
In feudalism, pure and unmixed, after it had penetrated farther south, under the lead of the Scandinavians, nobility was derived from conquest and armed force. It is true that, by this system, the viking, monarch, or sovereign lord, was the one who distributed the territory, won from conquered nations, among his faithful followers, and thus land and its consequence, nobility, were apparently the award of merit; but the merit in question being equivalent to success in battle, it again resolved itself into armed force. In fact, the power of feudalism proper rested in the army; the chief nobles were duces or combats (dukes or counts), the inferior nobles were equites (knights) and milites (men-at-arms). All power and title began and ended with force of arms, which was the only foundation of right: jus captionis et possessionis—the right of taking and of keeping.
Eventually feudal ideas underwent considerable change among the aristocracy of Christendom, by the gradual spread of Christian manners; and the first establishment of nobility by Charlemagne, which was anterior to pure feudalism, afterward revived, and lasted a thousand years. Then it was conferred by the monarch on merit of any kind, and it was understood that those whom superior authority had raised to the dignity had won their title by their deeds, which were sufficient to prove their noble blood, and that they were empowered to transmit the title to their posterity. The idea was a grand one, and gave proof of its vast political and social usefulness in the immense benefits which it brought upon Europe during so many ages. Unfortunately, the inroad of the Scandinavians, following closely on the death of its great founder, introduced feudalism as better known to us, interfered with the institution which Charlemagne had established in such admirable equipoise, and added to it many barbarous adjuncts, which for a long time entered into the idea of nobility itself. Thus the titles of feudal lords were retained—duce, comites, equites, milites—with, all the paraphernalia of brute force which the harsh mind of northern despotism had made divine. Thus was the holding of landed property allowed to the nobles alone; the great mass of the population being composed of men—ascripti glebae— who were incapable from their position of rising in the social scale; so that all were duly impressed with the idea that the mass of the people had been conquered and reduced, if not to slavery, to what greatly resembled it—serfdom. From this order of things arose that fruitful source of all modern revolutions, the division of Europe into two great classes antagonistic to each other and separated by an almost impassable gulf—the lords and the "villeins."
To be sure, the supreme lord had the power to raise even a villein to the rank of noble, after he had proved his superior elevation of mind by heroic achievements; but what superhuman exertions did not those achievements call for; what a concourse of fortuitous circumstances rarely occurring, so as to render almost illusory the hope of rising held out by the feudal theory! The Church alone opened her highest grades to all indiscriminately; and, in her, true merit was really an assurance of advance.
Further details are not needed. The difference between the idea of the nobility entertained in Celtic countries, and that held by the rest of Europe, is already in favor of the former.
For this reason the action of the Irish aristocracy on the people at large was happily altogether free from those causes of irritation so common in feudal countries. A close intimacy and personal devotion naturally existed between the chieftain of a clan and his men—an intimacy manifested by the free manners of the humblest among them, and that ease of social intercourse between all classes of people, which was a matter of so much surprise to the Norman barons at their primitive invasion.
At first sight, the Celtic system appears, in one respect at least, inferior to that which prevailed throughout the rest of Europe: the simple clansmen could never indulge in the hope of attaining to the chieftainship, being naturally excluded from that high office. Only the actual members of the chieftain's own family could hope to succeed him after his death, by election, and take the lead of the sept; thus nobility was entirely exclusive, and regulated by the very laws of Nature. The office was really not transferable, and no degree of exertion, of whatever nature, could win it for any person born out of the one family. But the difference was scarcely one in fact; and we know how illusory, often was that ambition which the system of merit inspired in the man born of an inferior class in other races than the Celtic. The broad assertion, that no man could rise from the condition in which he happened to be born, remains true for nearly all cases.
But, on the other hand, there were motives of ambition besides that of becoming chieftain, or entering on the road thereto, by being admitted into the ranks of the nobility, which lay open to the Celt; and if the desire of a mere clansman to become a chieftain lay within the bounds of possibility, the social state of Celtic countries would have been broken up and become intolerable, and society would have been dissolved into its primitive elements. Two considerations of importance:
The whole of Irish history teaches one lesson, or, rather, impresses one fact: that every member of a clan took as much pride in the sept to which he belonged, and labored as zealously for its head, as he could have done had the advantage turned all to himself. The peculiar features engendered by the system were such that each man identified himself with the whole tribe and particularly with its leader; and this is easily understood, as we see the same sort of feeling existing to-day among families. It is in the very essence of natural ties to merge the individual in the community to which he belongs, as in questions which affect the whole family to merge self in the whole, to forget one's own identity, to be ready for any sacrifice, particularly when the sacrifice is called forth in defence of a beloved parent.
To judge by the ancient annals of Ireland which are accessible, this was undoubtedly the sentiment pervading Celtic clans, and it is easy to conceive how, under such conditions, ambitious thoughts of the chieftainship or nobility could not well enter there. Moreover, we repeat, had such ambitious thoughts been within the compass of realization, the whole system would have been destroyed.
The greatest source of quarrels, feuds, wars, and general calamities among the Irish people, was the insane aspiration among the inferior members of a chieftain's family after supreme power. The institution of Tanist, or heir-apparent, particularly, which was general for all offices, from the highest to the lowest, was a constant source of trouble and contention to septs which, without it, would have remained united and in harmony. Montalembert has well said that it seems as if an incurable fatality accompanied the Irish everywhere, and condemned nearly all the highest among them to have their blood shed either by others or by their own hand, and that few indeed are those renowned chieftains and kings who died quietly in their beds. Their annals are filled throughout with tales of blood; and, when we know of their strong attachment to religion, of their tenderheartedness for women, children, old and feeble men, it is hard to conceive how they came to shed blood so often, and show themselves proof against the simplest claims of humanity.
But the difficulty is sufficiently explained by their own annals and the state of society under which they lived. The Tanistry was the great source of all those evils. The position of a chieftain was so honorable, so influential, and powerful, that all natural sentiments, even those of family affection, were often extinguished by the insane ambition of attaining to it, in those whom Nature had set on the road toward it.
It looks like a contradiction, yet nothing is so well established as their deep affection for their near relatives and the fury engendered against their nearest of kin when allured by the prospect of the chieftainship. What the case might have been, had all the inferior clansmen been influenced by the same motive, one shudders to think. Happily the possibility of such a position was denied them, and thus were they spared all the crime and horrors which it entailed. Let us now turn to the fall of the Irish nobility, in order to see how that fall was final and decisive, leaving little or no room for the hope of their resurrection.
The great wars of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth upon the island often drove some of the Irish chieftains to quit their country for a time; a thing scarcely ever known before, where the Pale was so contracted and the power of the English kings so limited. But those first voyages of Irish lords to foreign countries had generally no other destination than England itself, whither they sometimes repaired to justify themselves in the presence of the sovereign against the imputations of their enemies, or to pay court to him for the purpose of obtaining some coveted object. Occasionally their children were brought up at the English court, either with the view of instilling Protestantism into their artless minds, or to make them friends of England, so that many of them thus became king's or queen's men. In this manner the Irish nobility first came to look out beyond their own country.
When, as events went on, some great family was crushed or nearly so, as were the Kildares by Henry Tudor and the Geraldines by Elizabeth, the outraged nobility began to think of foreign alliances, and cast their eyes abroad over Spain, Belgium, or France, above all toward Rome, which was the centre of their religion, attachment to which was one of their chief crimes, where the Holy Father was ever ready to encourage and receive them with open arms, Thus history tells us of the narrow escape of young Gerald Desmond.
He was still a child of twelve years, and the sole survivor of the historic house of Kildare, when his life was sought after with an eagerness which resembled that of Herod, but the devotion of his clansmen defeated all attempts at his capture. "Alternately the guest of his aunts, married to the daughter of the chief of Offaly and Donegal, the sympathy everywhere felt for him lead to a confederacy between the northern and southern chieftains, which had long been felt wanting, and never could be accomplished. A loose league was formed, including the O'Neills of both branches, O'Donnell, O'Brien, the Earl of Desmond, and the chiefs of Moylurg and Breffni. The child, object of so much natural and chivalrous affection, was harbored for a time in Munster; then transported, through Connaught, into Donegal; and finally, after four years, in which he engaged more the minds of the statesmen than any other individual under the rank of royalty, he was safely landed in France."-(A. M. O'Sullivan.)
But the intercourse between the Irish nobility and foreign powers was chiefly increased during the reign of Elizabeth, when by the great league of the Desmond Geraldines in the south, which was followed by that of the O'Neills and O'Donnells in the north, they entered into open treaty with the Popes and the Kings of Spain; and, when reverses came, no other resource was left to the outlawed chieftains than flight to the Continent, where they abode till the storm blew over, sometimes for the remainder of their lives.
James Fitzmaurice stayed a long time in Italy, where, on hearing of the imprisonment of his cousins, the Desmonds, he planned the first great league in defence of religion, no longer for the purpose only of righting family wrongs, but of waging a holy war which might draw the cooperation of all the Catholic powers.
These few details are here furnished, because they mark a new starting-point in the history of the race, when the nobility of the land first went abroad to live with a view of finding allies for the Irish cause; while the Irish at home looked anxiously to their chieftains abroad to return to them with the promised succor.
A few words on the policy exercised toward the Irish nobility by Henry VIII., Elizabeth, and James I., at the beginning of his reign, will give us a sufficiently clear insight into the means adopted for the gradual attack upon them, which resulted first in their partial subjugation, finally in their total destruction. Those monarchs thought that, to reduce Ireland to an English colony, all they had to do was to destroy the chieftains, and the subjugation of the country was complete. They were strengthened in this opinion by the outbreak of Protestantism, which had deprived the lower classes not only of their material comfort and religious consolations, but of all the immunities and liberties which the middle ages had left to them. While the mass of the nation was not only denied all political influence, but even all right to any consideration whatsoever on the part of the state, when the highest nobles were cowering at the feet of royalty, utterly at the mercy of the Tudor despots, how could the plebs of England and Ireland dare show its front even to testify to mere existence?
The English monarchs were aware that the spirit of the Irish nobles was not broken like that of their English vassals; and they resolved on bringing the proud lords of the Pale and the chieftains of the old race to a like submission with their own nobles. But of the common clansmen they made no more account than of the English rabble, and herein lay their great mistake. Subsequent history proved that the national leaders of the Irish race might be utterly annihilated, and yet the Irish question remain as great a difficulty as ever, owing to the stubborn, though sometimes passive resistance of the peasantry. But at that time such a thing was not contemplated.
All the cunning of diplomacy, all the artifice of the law, finally all the material resources of England, were called in, one after the other, or together, to achieve that great object of the policy of the Tudors and of the first Stuart. It is not necessary to go over what every person conversant with the history of the time knows by heart; it is only proper to indicate, as briefly as possible, the gradual results of that crafty and stern policy.
The Geraldine war ended with the total destruction of the Catholic Anglo-Irish nobles of the south, whose place was filled by the younger sons of Protestant nobles from England. With the Geraldines, or shortly after them, fell the O'Sullivans of Beare, the McGeohegans, the O'Driscolls, and O'Connors of Kerry, whom Spain and Portugal received.
Then the whole efforts of Elizabeth were turned to the destruction of the native chieftains of the north. She failed; and the war resulted in a peace which left their lands and the open practice of their religion to the Ulster chiefs.
But James I., though he seemed willing to abide by the articles of the treaty, was driven by hard pressure to employ deceit, fraud, intimidation, and force, to bring the northern nobility into his power, and "the flight of the earls" was the consequence.
From this date the "Irish exiles" began in good earnest, originally consisting, for the most part, of families belonging to the first blood of the land, with minor chiefs and captains in their retinue. Many letters written at the time, which have been preserved, as well as reports of spies and informers, dispatched to the court of England from Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France, and Italy, give us an insight into the life led by those noblemen in foreign countries. They were sometimes supported by the sovereigns who received them; but at others neglected and reduced to shifts for a living.
The "flight" itself and all its details are given by the Rev. C. P. Meehan. The entire number of souls on board the small vessel which bore them away was, according to Teigue O'Keenan, Ollamh of Maguire, "ninety-nine, having little sea-store, and being otherwise miserably accommodated." This was indeed the first emigration of the Irish nobles and gentry, which was to be followed by many another, to their final extinction.
Sir John Davies took an English view of the subject when he wrote, about that time, to Lord Salisbury: "We are glad to see the day wherein the countenance and majesty of the law and civil government hath banished Tyrone out of Ireland, which the best army in Europe, and the expense of two million pounds sterling, did not bring to pass. And we hope his Majesty's government will work a greater miracle in this kingdom than ever St. Patrick did; for St. Patrick did only banish the poisonous worms, but suffered the men full of poison to inhabit the land still; but his Majesty's blessed genius will banish all those generations of vipers out of it, and make it, ere it be long, a right fortunate island."
Davies's prophecy ought to have been accomplished long ago, for it is long since all the Irish nobility, "those generations of vipers," has been destroyed; yet the poor island is still far from being "right fortunate."
The chief means employed at the time to encompass the destruction of the nobles was the infamous revelations of spies and informers. The existence of these agents has long been known to all; but the extent of their workings was not suspected even until the state papers and the correspondence of political men, and holders of offices at the time, came to be examined by writers desirous of investigating the whole truth.
It was then found that every man in the English Government, beginning from the highest, the king's ministers, through the Lords-Lieutenants and Chief-Justices of Ireland, down to the lowest officials, one and all kept in their pay men of all ranks of life, who, at the bidding of their employers, were ready to circumvent the victims of an odious policy, and under the guise of friendship, interest, common acquaintance, to discover, and even, if needed, to invent facts and circumstances which might be turned against them, or against any other persons obnoxious to England, with the view of destroying them. So that, to England in Europe, and to Elizabeth in England, belongs the dubious honor of having invented that great agent of modern governments—the secret police.
But the operations of those informers were not confined to England and Ireland alone, although those two kingdoms may be said to have literally swarmed with them; all foreign countries were made the scenes of their infamous machinations, wherever in fact the Irish nobles or English Catholics fled for refuge from persecution. At the courts of Spain and Rome they were to be found; in Brussels and Louvain, in Paris and Rheims, as well as in the by-lanes of London and the lowest quarters of Dublin. The ecclesiastical establishments particularly, which were founded by the Irish Catholics for the education of their priesthood, were infested with them: they found means to penetrate into their most secluded recesses, and sometimes the vilest and most shameful hypocrisy was resorted to in order to gain admittance into those holy cloisters devoted to science and virtue.
All the great houses and hotels in foreign countries, where the banished nobility of Ireland passed the tedious hours, months, and years, of their exile, were the places easiest of access to those base tools of the English Government.
On the reports furnished by these men the British policy was based, and the nobility and gentry still left in the island fell into the meshes so cautiously spread around them. How many of their number were cast into the Tower of London or the Castle of Dublin, on the mere word of these pests of society! How many, suddenly warned of the treachery intended, had to fly in haste lest they should fall into the hands of their enemies! We know that the first "flight of the earls" was brought about by such means as these, but our readers would be mistaken in imagining that that was an exceptional case, scarcely ever repeated. It was in reality the ordinary way of getting rid of this hated race of Irishmen.
The great misfortune was that, even among the Irish themselves, nay, among friars and priests belonging to the race, the English Government sometimes, though Heaven be thanked! rarely, found ready tools and most useful informers. Mean and sordid souls are to be found everywhere; our Lord himself was betrayed by an apostle, while giving him the kiss of peace; but among the Irish, people this class was confined to a few needy adventurers, sometimes to men who, from some personal grievance, real or imaginary, were blinded by the spirit of revenge to deliver those whose destruction they thirsted for into the hands of their common enemies, to their own eternal shame and perdition. The common people were too noble-hearted ever to join in such infamy, and to those who would have tempted them with gold to betray the men concealed by them, the response was ever ready: "The King of England is not rich enough to buy me!"
Thus, piecemeal, as it were, during the reign of Elizabeth and James I., and a part, at least, of that of Charles I., numbers of the Irish nobles were imprisoned or slain at home, or compelled to go into exile.
Nor, when James I., going lower in the social scale, began to dispossess the ordinary people, the clansmen, the tenants of Ulster, in order to make room for his Scotch Presbyterians, was, the war on the nobility discontinued on that account. The most prominent and, in its results, universal feature of his reign, was the breaking up of the clans all over the island, whereby he effected a complete change in the social state of the country. But the most efficacious means of bringing that result about was the total destruction of the nobility and gentry. The crafty monarch knew that so long as the Irish could see and converse with their natural chieftains and lords, so long would it be impossible to extinguish or abate, in the slightest degree, the clan-spirit. It was only when the key-stone which held their social edifice together-the head of the sept-had disappeared, that the whole fabric would tumble into ruins.
After a long trial of this policy of treachery and craft, came Cromwell to complete the work with violence and brutal force. There still remained in the island a great number of noble families, and the ollamhs and genealogists kept clear the rolls of the respective pedigrees. There is no doubt, at the time of Cromwell's war of extermination, even when the English Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement, that all the Irish septs still knew where to find their lawful natural chiefs, who, if no longer on the island, were at the head of some regiment in Flanders, France, Austria, or Spain. But, as time went on, the Irish brigades naturally came to identify themselves more and more with the countries into whose service they had passed, and where they had taken up their permanent abode; while in the island itself, force came to degrade what was left of the nobles, and to annihilate forever the national state institutions preserved by the genealogists and bards.
One of the features which most forcibly strikes the reader of the history of those times is, what took place all over the island when the English Parliament issued that celebrated proclamation in which it was declared that "it was not their intention to extirpate this whole nation."-(October 11, 1652.)
By that time the chief officers of Cromwell's army had already taken possession of a great number of the castles and estates of the nobility who had not left the country. The rest had fallen into the hands of the adventurers of 1641, who had advanced money for the purpose of raising a private army to conquer lands for themselves; while the body of Cromwell's troops looked on, awaiting the small pittance of a few hundred acres; which was to be their share of the spoil. Here is the strange and awe- inspiring picture of the conquered island in the seventeenth century:
The nobles, who had survived the fighting and defeat, were allowed to remain a short time until their transportation to Connaught. But, driven away from their mansions, where the new "landlords"-the word then came into use for the first time— occupied what had been their apartments, they had to live in some ruinous out-buildings, and to till with their own hands a few roods of land for the support of their perishing families. A few garans (dray-horses), and a few cows and sheep, were the only aid in labor and production left to them. They were allowed, by sufferance; to raise some small crops of grain and roots, but all their time had to be occupied in purely manual labor.
Such is the image which fixes itself indelibly on the memory of any one who reads attentively the common occurrences of those days. It was a picture presented in every province of the island; in the most distant mountain-fastnesses as well as in the still smiling plains of the lowlands.
The nobles were, as a class, utterly destroyed; few of them fell to the inferior rank of yeomen; while the mass of the people— was at once plunged to the dead level of common peasants and laborers. If some of the former class still retained a few faithful servants, their help was required for the drudgery about the farm or the miserable dwelling. None of them could be spared to keep up "the glory of the house." Would it not have been bitter irony to talk to this remnant of pedigree and their long line of ancestors? And would their enemies, who were now their masters, have countenanced the proscribed offices of files and shanachies, when laws against them specially had been so long enacted if not enforced? Now was the exact time for the rigid execution of those laws so evidently designed for the transformation of the freeborn natives into feudal serfs.
Hence, when the bitter day at last came, which was to deprive them of even the sight of the hereditary territory of the family, which was to transplant them to Connaught-among countrymen, indeed, but none the less strangers to them, whose presence could not fail to be unwelcome, and bring disturbance, confusion, and disorder-how, in such a case, could they hope to retain or revive their prestige as the old lords of the country? It is said that, for this, many of the Munster chieftains preferred to go into exile to Spain, or even to the islands of America, rather than take up their abode in Connaught, where they were sure to find bitter enemies in the old inhabitants of that desolate province.
This state of things knew no change, except with a very few of the Anglo-Irish, when Charles II. came to the throne, after the death of the Protector. He was in truth merely the executor of the great Act of Settlement, and carried into effect what had been enacted by the Parliament which had brought his father to the block, and driven himself into exile.
He only restored their estates to a few families of "innocent papists." Such was the phrase applied to them in derision, doubtless. The generality of the old families continued to sink deeper and deeper in degradation, and the forgetfulness of all they had once been.
It took the greater part of a century, from 1607 to 1689, to effect the almost total disappearance of the Irish nobility. As Colonel Myles Byrne, in his "Irish at Home and Abroad," says: "Few facts in history are more surprising than the rapidity and completeness of the fall of the Irish families stricken down by the penal laws. Reduced to beggary at once, and with habits acquired in affluence, surrounded only by contemporaries similarly crushed, or by the despoilers revelling and rioting in possession of their forfeited lands, friendless and unpitied, regarded as 'suspects' from the reasons for discontent so abundantly furnished them, they seemed struck with stupor, and utterly incapable of any effort to rise out of the abyss into which they had been precipitated. Dispirited, heart-broken, unmanned, they suffered the little personal property left them to melt away; and, on its exhaustion, were compelled to resort to the most humiliating means to prolong existence, and to accept for their helpless offspring the humblest condition which promised them a maintenance. A 'trade' was the general resort sought for the son of the chief of a clan, landholder, or gentleman.
"This gave rise to Swift's observation to Pope: 'If you would seek the gentry of Ireland, you must look for them on the coal- quay or in the liberty.'
"Thus, in my youth, 'the Devoy,' the head of one of the most powerful and distinguished of our septs, was a blacksmith, I have often seen a mechanic, named James Dungan, who was said to be a descendant of James Dungan, Earl of Limerick; and 'the Chevers' (Lord Mount Leinster) was the clerk of Mrs. Byrnes, who carried on the business of a rope-maker.
"Maddened and embittered by humiliation and suffering, renouncing all hope of recovering their stolen lands, those victims of 'bills of discovery,' or of confiscation, burned or destroyed, or threw aside, as worse than useless, the records of their former possessions, the proofs of their former respectability, and seemed, in fact, desirous to efface all evidence of it. I know one case in which the title-deeds of an estate were searched for an important occasion, and in which it appeared that they had been given to tailors to cut into strips or measures for purposes of their trade.
"A claim was set up to a dormant peerage, and a relation of mine having been applied to for information in support of it, he said: 'You are positively in remainder; but you are in the condition of the descendants of many Irish families, whose great difficulty is to prove who was their grandfather.'"
The reader is naturally struck, when the sudden appearance of James II. on the island presents to his eyes another Irish army, and a new Irish nation, fighting again for God and the king, but with few of the old names among those who then appeared on the scene. The leaders throughout the three years' struggle, which decided the ultimate fate of the country, for the most part have names unknown to Ireland, and unassociated with its former history, so completely had the aristocracy of the island perished and disappeared.
It may be well imagined, then, that, after the passage of another century of woe such as was described in the last chapter, it would be impossible to reconstruct the genealogies of the old families who might be entitled to lead the rising generation. Some few names are still advanced as entitled to the hereditary honors of once noble families, and thus we still hear of pretensions to title of "the O'Brien," "the O'Donaghue," and a few others. That such pretensions are acknowledged by the generality of the nation, it would be questionable to assert.
To think, then, of reconstructing the Irish nation out of its former elements, as they once existed, would be an idle dream. Those elements are dissolved and forever destroyed, and all that the nation can do with respect to its past is to preserve in pious remembrance the former race of men who once shed down such a glory over Irish annals. It was a happy and patriotic thought of the antiquarian societies of the island to investigate the old national records; to illustrate, explain, and bring them before the public in a language intelligible to the present generation. It is doubtful if in any other country the aristocracy fell with a heroism and glory so pure and unalloyed. Among all modern nations, as was said previously, the old class of noblemen has either passed out of sight, or is fast disappearing from living history. Ireland, then, does not stand alone in that respect. She was the first to lose her nobility, and she lost it more utterly than any other nation. But in the variety of movements, complications, revolutions, which now go to form the daily current of events in Europe, where do we find the nobles regarded as a power, as an element calculated to restore or even to preserve? The "noblemen" are well enough satisfied nowadays, if they are not persecuted, proscribed, or destroyed; if they are enabled to take their stand amid the crowd of men of inferior rank and share in the affairs of their country; content to see their names once so exclusively glorious, set on a par with those of plebeians, to lead the modernized peoples into the new paths whither they are rapidly drifting. Nay, so low have the mighty fallen, that even dethroned kings and princes sometimes ask to be admitted as simple citizens in the countries which they or their ancestors once ruled.
Here the thought will naturally occur: If the phenomenon is universal with respect to the position allotted now to men of "noble blood"—since it is evident that for those nations which feel no veneration for it a future history is designed, and that future is to be utterly independent of such an idea—then Ireland is no worse off than any other country in that regard, nay, the veneration for noble blood perhaps exists, in its right sense, now in her bosom alone, and, though no longer available for any purpose, is still an element of conservatism worthy of preservation and far from despicable.
Therefore, when we number among false hopes the one entertained by a few Irishmen whose thoughts still cling fondly to the past, and who would fain reconstruct it, it is not with the intention of treating those aspirations slightingly, which we ought to honor and would share, were there only the faintest possibility of calling again to life what we cannot but consider passed away forever.
II. Let us move on to the consideration of our second delusive hope, one of a much deeper import, which to-day of all others occupies public attention—a separate Irish Parliament and home- rule government.
The desire for a separate Irish Parliament is certainly a national aspiration, it may even be called a right; for the people of the island can justly complain of being at the mercy of a rival nation, of which they are supposed to form a part, and are consequently heavily taxed for the support of it without any adequate return. The day may not be far distant when this wish of theirs will have to be complied with, as were so many other rights once as strenuously denied.
Nevertheless it is our opinion, and we say it advisedly, there is no reason for believing that this would prove a universal panacea for Ireland's woes, sure to bring health, happiness, and prosperity to the nation, uniting in itself all blessings, all future success, all germs of greatness; nor is there reason to believe that with it the resurrection of the nation is assured, as without it, it would remain dead.
To speak still more clearly—the representation of a people by its deputies being according to modern ideas an element of free constitution for all nations, and Ireland having for so long a time enjoyed a privilege very similar to it under her own national monarchs, our object cannot be understood to depreciate a political institution which seems to have become a necessity of the times, owing to the eager aspiration of all minds and hearts toward it. But we think it a delusion to imagine that, by its possession, national happiness is necessarily and fully secured.
Whatever may be the general experience of parliamentary rule, its record for Ireland is a sad one. The old Feis of the nation are not here alluded to; they had very little in common with modern Parliaments, being merely assemblies of the chief heads of clans, to which were added in Christian times the prelates of the Church. Neither is the "General Assembly," which was intrusted with legislative and executive powers by the Confederation of Kilkenny, alluded to; this could not be reproduced to-day exactly as it then existed.
The Parliament here meant is such as presents itself at once to the mind of a man of the nineteenth century, with its members of both Houses elected by the people, as in America, or those of the Upper House in the nomination of the crown; its opposing parties often degenerating into mere factions; its views limited to material progress, and its aims and aspirations altogether worldly; deeply imbued with the modern ideas of liberalism, yet knowing very little, if any thing, of true liberty; often following the lead of a few talented members, whose real merits are seldom an index of conscience and sense of right.
Such a liberal institution as this, which, if proposed to-day for Ireland by the English Government, would be hailed with unbounded joy by all ranks of people in that country, would nevertheless be no sure harbinger of happiness to the nation, and, to repeat what was said above, the record of such an institution in Ireland is a sad one.
There is no need of entering upon a history of Irish Parliaments. If an impartial and fair-minded author were to take up such a work, it might serve to open the eyes of many, and show them that it is after all better to rely on Divine Providence than on such an aid to national prosperity.
Dr. Madden, in his "Connection of Ireland with England," conclusively shows that the right of a free and independent Parliament similar to that of England was granted to Ireland by King John at the very beginning of the "Conquest." Such a Parliament was granted to the handful of Anglo-Normans, who were already busy in building their castles for the purpose of reducing the whole mass of the clans to feudal slavery after having deprived them of all their free national assemblies and customs. For nearly four hundred years the Irish Parliaments, when not completely subjected to English control, as they finally were by "Poyning's Act," were mere legislative machines devised for the purpose of subduing, cowing, and finally rooting out every thing Irish in the land. The language of Sir John Davies was very clear on this subject.
This being such a well-known fact to-day, it seems strange that a writer who is so well informed, so acute and discerning, and so thoroughly Catholic, as Dr. Madden undoubtedly is, should attach such great importance to the institution of Parliament as first granted by the English monarchs. They had in their eye only the small English colony settled on the island, with all their feudal customs, and no thought of granting liberty to the mass of the nation. The case of Molyneux, which is so often quoted and praised by Irish writers, should be set aside and forgotten by any man animated by a true love for Irish prosperity. It was merely a revival of the old parties of English by blood and English by birth, without a single thought of the rights of Irishmen. It was a case of siding with one English party against another, both aiming at making Ireland a colony of England, the while the unfortunate country was crushed between them, certain in either case to be the victim. The native race had nothing to say or do in the matter, beyond assisting at the spectacle of their enemies wrangling among themselves.
The same remarks will apply to the pamphlets of Dr. Lucas, which created so much interest at the time, and which Dr. Madden quotes at such length. Lucas, it will be remembered, was a violent anti-Catholic, and consequently anti-Irish partisan.
Yet the Catholic Association made all the use they could of the arguments of Molyneux and Lucas, because these possessed some vestige of the national spirit, inasmuch as they spoke for Ireland, whose very name was hated by the opposite party; and at that time the Association was perfectly right: but matters have altered since then.
It is certainly strange that, when serious attempts were made by Henry VIII. to introduce Protestantism into Ireland, not only were Anglo-Irish Catholics summoned to Parliament, but even native chieftains also, some of whom spoke nothing but Irish, so that their speeches required translating.
But, as was previously shown, this was nothing more nor less than a crafty device to make genuine Irishmen unconsciously confirm, by what was called their vote, former decrees in which the Act of Supremacy had been passed; to make it appear that they had abjured their religion, and were now good Protestants; and, worse still, to set in the statute-book, as acknowledged by all, the law of spiritual supremacy vested in the king, of abjuration of papal authority, of submission to all decrees passed in England with the purpose of effecting an entire change in the religion of the nation.
To such vile uses was the machinery of Parliament reduced. Thenceforth it became an engine for the issuing of decrees of persecution. Catholic members occasionally appeared in it when a lull in the execution of the laws occurred, and they could take their seats without being guilty of apostasy. But, by making close boroughs of his Protestant colonies, James I. secured, once for all, the majority of representatives on the side of the Protestants, and, as a natural consequence, nothing more grinding, sharp, piercing, and strong, could be imagined than this engine of law called the Irish Parliament, as it existed under the Stuarts. "Nothing" would be incorrect: there was something worse; it came in with the Revolution of 1688, and its results have been witnessed in a previous chapter.
Owing to the various oaths imposed upon members in the time of William of Orange, no Catholic could any longer sit in the Irish Parliament without abjuring his faith. And, thence-forth, the state institution sitting in Dublin became more than ever a persecuting and debasing power, intent only on making, altering, improving, and enforcing laws designed for the complete degradation of the people.
There came, however, a period of eighteen years, called "the Rise of the Irish Nation" by Sir Jonah Barrington. It would be a pleasure to set this down as a real exception to the whole previous or later history of Ireland; but such pleasure cannot be indulged in.
At the period referred to France had embraced the cause of the North American colonies of Great Britain, and the English vessels were not the only ones upon the seas. Large French fleets were conveying troops to their new allies, and in 1779 the English Government sent warning to Ireland that American or French privateers were to be expected on the Irish coast, and no troops could be dispatched for the protection of the island. Then arose the great volunteer movement. Every Irishman entitled to bear arms enrolled himself in some regiment raised with the ostensible design of opposing a hostile landing, but really intended by the patriots to force the repeal of Poyning's Act from England, to obtain for the Parliament in Dublin real independence of English dictation.
The result is well known. One hundred thousand Irishmen were soon under arms, who not only took the field as soldiers, and formed themselves into regiments of infantry, troops of horse, and artillery, but, strange to say, as citizens, sent delegates to conventions, and demanded with a loud voice that England should not only grant free trade to the sister isle, but likewise invest the Irish Parliament with independent powers.
This political open-air contest lasted two years, and, on the receipt of the news that the British army had capitulated at Yorktown, and that the American War had come to a successful termination on the side of the colonists, the Ulster volunteers decided to hold a national convention of delegates from every city in the province. On Friday, February 15, 1782, the meeting took place at Dungannon, County Tyrone, and there the delegates swore allegiance to a new and as yet unwritten charter, refusing to acknowledge "the claim of any body of men, other than the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, to make laws to bind this kingdom."
The same resolution was adopted in successive meetings of volunteer delegates, municipal corporations, and citizens generally, all over the island.
The English Government could not resist the pressure. After some attempt at temporizing and delaying the concession, on April 15, 1782, by the firmness of Grattan and his supporters in the Dublin House of Commons, the great measure was finally carried unanimously:
"That the kingdom of Ireland is a distinct kingdom, with a Parliament of her own, the sole legislature thereof; that there is no body of men competent to make laws to bind the nation, but the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, nor any Parliament which has any authority or power of any sort whatever in this country, save only the Parliament of Ireland; that we humbly conceive that in this right the very essence of our liberty exists, a right which we, on the part of all the people of Ireland, do claim as their birthright, and which we cannot yield but with our lives." The italics are our own.
"The news," says Sir Jonah Barrington, "soon spread through the nation; every city, town, or village, in Ireland blazed with the emblems of exultation, and resounded with the shouts of triumph."
Within a month the whole had been accepted by the new British administration. "The visionary and impracticable idea had become an accomplished fact; the splendid phantom had become a glorious reality; the heptarchy-the old Irish constitution-had not been restored; yet Ireland had won complete legislative independence."
Thus does the kind-hearted author of the "Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation" commemorate the great event. It is a pity that it so soon ended, as it deserved to end, in smoke; for the "unanimous vote" of the Dublin House of Commons was not sincere, but intended to exclude from the benefit of the newly-acquired liberty the great mass of the people; that is, all Catholics, without exception.
Already, during the volunteer excitement, Catholics had looked on at the movement with pleasure and hope that, at least, some relaxation of the barbarous code enacted against them might ensue. Unable to take an active part in the movement, the laws not allowing them to bear arms and enlist, they willingly brought such muskets as they possessed to give to their Protestant neighbors. When the final burst of enthusiasm came at the news that a free and independant Parliament was to meet at Dublin, surely they were justified in expecting that, at last, their natural and civil rights might be restored them in an age so enlightened. They had heard too of the success of the American colonies in winning those rights for all in their happy country, beyond the Atlantic; and we may be sure that not a few of them had heard how, at the conclusion of the War of Independence, the chief officers of the American army had gone in state with their French allies to the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, there to join in thanksgiving to the Almighty, before a Catholic altar. Moreover, they had Grattan and many of the volunteers on their side.
The all-comprehensive phrase, too, had been inserted in the resolution so unanimously carried, and made law by the British Government: "We humbly conceive that, in this right, the very essence of our liberty consists, a right which we, on the part of all the people of Ireland, do claim as their birthright, and which we cannot yield but with our lives."
Was it possible for the originators and successful promoters of this great change in the government of the nation to interpret such a phrase in a restricted sense? Did not the Irish Catholics, the great bulk of the people, form a part, at least, of "all in Ireland?" One would imagine so: yet what followed soon after showed the preposterousness of such an idea.
The new Parliament met; several measures favorable to the trade and manufactures of the island had been carried; but it was soon found that the electoral law, as it stood, failed to correspond with the altered circumstances of the time. The legislative body was returned by an antiquated electoral system which could not be said to represent the nation. Boroughs and seats were openly and literally owned by particular families or private persons; the voting constituency sometimes not numbering more than a dozen. As a matter of fact, less than one hundred persons owned seats or boroughs capable of constituting a majority in the Commons!
As everywhere else in revolutionary times, the question of parliamentary reform was not debated in the Parliament only; every man in the nation, each in his own sphere, took part in the stormy contest which began to rage all over the island. The volunteers were still in their glory. Flushed with victory, they did not cease from their political agitations. In September, 1783, they met once more in convention at Dungannon, the specific object of which, Dr. Madden tells us, was parliamentary reform, and they then determined "to hold another grand national convention of volunteer delegates in Dublin, in the month of November following."
In that extraordinary assembly, the question of the rights of Catholics was naturally brought up, and, to his honor be it said, the Protestant Bishop of Derry proposed to extend the elective franchise to them.
That some fanatics would oppose this motion was only to be expected; and it would have caused no surprise to find the opposition confined to a number of men of inferior station, still deeply imbued with narrow Protestant ideas. But when the leaders of the movement for national independence, Lord Charlemont and Mr. Flood, appeared in the ranks of the determined opponents of the proposition, it was cause for wonder indeed. It was chiefly owing to the exertions and influence of Lord Charlemont that the efforts of the revolution had been finally turned to the side of freedom; while Flood was a greater nationalist than Grattan himself, whose eloquence was so memorable in the last momentous debates of the Irish House of Commons. Flood carried his patriotism so far as to suspect the British Government of not being sincere in its concessions, when Grattan thought that "nothing dishonorable and disgraceful ought to be supposed in motives until facts render them suspicious."
Nevertheless, it was Charlemont and Flood who stood firm for the exclusion of Catholics from the franchise demanded for them by a Protestant bishop; and Flood's plan was the one finally adopted.
In order to make a stronger impression on the public mind, a number of delegates, who were also members of Parliament, proceeded, on November 29th, directly from the convention to the House of Commons, some of them dressed in their volunteer uniforms, for the purpose of supporting the plan of Mr. Flood to exclude the Catholics from the franchise.
In the midst of the tumult, the bill of reform failed, seventy- seven voting for, and one hundred and fifty against it. There was therefore no change in the Parliament, and Catholics remained in their old position, in consequence of the blunders of the chiefs of the volunteer movement for independence.
It is true that, at the same time, the whole volunteer movement itself fell to the ground. From that moment it dragged on a doomed life. "One would have thought," says Dr. Madden, "there was national vigor in it for more than an existence of fifteen years, and power to effect more than an ephemeral independence which lasted only eighteen years."
But the Catholics had their eyes opened; they saw that the day of resurrection was not yet come for them. It was not to be brought about by any Irish Parliament. So far, therefore, we were right in stating that the parliamentary record for Ireland is a sad one. It should be said, however, that, from that time, many Protestants, like the Bishop of Derry, Grattan, and others, have always been firm in their demand for freedom to all, and have remained the stanchest supporters of Catholic rights. What we have hitherto called James I's Ulster colony, thus was reduced to the Orange party; and, in that sense, the volunteer movement was a real and permanent benefit to the country. There is no need to mention the names of many distinguished Protestants of our own times, whose whole life has been devoted by act, or speech, or both, to the service of all. All honor to them!
But it is alleged that the Irish Legislature, as framed by the Constitution of 1782, gave to the country an uninterrupted flow of prosperity for eighteen years, and hence the volunteer movement was of great benefit to the race, at least temporarily. We will present the case in the strongest light possible contrary to our own opinion, and for this we can do no better than borrow the arguments of Mr. W.J. O'N. Daunt, in his pamphlet on the "Irish Question" (1869):
"Accustomed as we are," he says, "since the Union-in 1800-to the national distress and chronic disturbance attested by the Devon Commissions, Famine Reports, and other official sources of information, there seems something scarcely credible in the account of Irish pre-Union prosperity-a prosperity which contrasted so strongly with the condition of Ireland under a Parliament which is called 'Imperial,' but which is essentially and overwhelmingly English. But the accounts are given on unimpeachable authority.
"Mr. Jebb, member for Callan in the Irish Parliament, thus speaks of the advance of the country in prosperity, in a pamphlet published in 1798:
"'In the course of fifteen years, our commerce, our agriculture, and our manufactures, have swelled to an amount that the most sanguine friends of Ireland would not have dared to prognosticate.'
"The bankers of Dublin, tolerably competent witnesses, held a meeting on the 18th of December, 1798, at which they resolved, 'that, since the renunciation of Great Britain, in 1782, to legislate for Ireland, the commerce and prosperity of this kingdom have eminently increased.'
"The Dublin Guild of Merchants did the same on the 14th of January, 1797."
But this testimony and that of others whom we could quote was the testimony of men opposed to the "Union." Let us look at a few admissions made by the supporters of that measure:
"First comes its author, Mr. Pitt, who, in his speech in the English House of Commons, January 31, 1799, having alluded to the prosperous condition of Irish commerce in 1785, goes on to say: 'But how stands the case now? The trade is at this time infinitely more advantageous to Ireland.'
"Lord Clare, one of Mr. Pitt's chief instruments in effecting the Union, published, in 1798, a pamphlet containing, as quoted by Grattan, the following account of Irish progress subsequently to 1782: 'There is not a nation on the habitable globe which has advanced in cultivation and commerce, in agriculture and manufactures, with the same rapidity in the same period.'
"Finally, Mr. Secretary Coke, in a Unionist pamphlet, said at that time: 'We have had the experience of these twenty years; for it is universally admitted that no country in the world ever made such rapid advances as Ireland has done in these respects.'"