It proved, however, to be the parent of a really successful one. In the same year a volunteer movement sprang into sudden existence. Belfast had been left empty of troops, and was hourly in fear of a French descent, added to which it was harassed by the dread of a famous pirate of the period, called Paul Jones. Under these circumstances its citizens resolved to enrol themselves for their own defence. The idea, once started, flew through the country like wild-fire. The old fighting spirit sprang to sudden life at the cry to arms. After three-quarters of a century of torpor all was stir and animation. In every direction the gentry were enrolling their tenants, the sons of the great houses officering the corps and drilling their own retainers. Merchants, peers, members of Parliament all vied with one another, and in a few months' time nearly 60,000 men had been enrolled.
Although a good deal alarmed at the rapidity of this movement, the Government could not very well refuse to let the country arm in its own defence, and 16,000 stand of arms, which had been brought over for the projected militia, were after a while distributed. The greatest pride was felt in the completeness and perfection of the equipments. Reviews were held, and, for once, national sentiment and loyalty seemed to have struck hands.
Hardly, too, were the volunteers enrolled before it began to be felt what a power was thus conferred upon that party which had so long pleaded in vain for the relief of Ireland from those commercial disabilities under which it still laboured. Although the whole tone of the volunteers was loyal, and although their principal leader, Lord Charlemont, was a man of the utmost tact and moderation, it was none the less clear that an appeal backed by 60,000 men in arms acquired a weight and momentum which no previous Irish appeal had ever even approached.
In October of the same year Parliament met, and an amendment to the address was moved by Grattan, demanding a right of free export and import. Then Flood rose in his place, still holding office, and proposed that the more comprehensive words Free Trade should be adopted. It was at once agreed to and carried unanimously. Next day the whole House of Commons went in a body to present the address to the Lord-Lieutenant, the volunteers lining the streets and presenting arms as they went by.
The Government were startled. Lord Buckinghamshire, the Lord-Lieutenant, wrote to England to say that the trade restrictions must be repealed, or he would not answer for the consequences. Lord North, the Prime Minister, yielded, and a Bill of repeal were brought in, allowing Ireland free export and import to foreign countries and to the English Colonies. When the news reached Dublin, the utmost delight and excitement prevailed. Bonfires were lit, houses in Dublin illuminated, the volunteers fired salvoes of rejoicing, and addresses of gratitude were forthwith forwarded to England.
The next step in the upward progress has been already partially described in the chapter dealing with Grattan. At the meeting of Parliament in 1782, the Declaration of Rights proposed by him was passed, and urgently pressed upon the consideration of the Government. The moment was exceptionally favourable. Lord North's Ministry had by this time fallen, after probably the most disastrous tenure of office that had ever befallen any English administration. America had achieved her independence, and England was in no mood for embarking upon fresh struggle with another of her dependencies. In Ireland the Ulster volunteers had lately met at Dungannon, and passed unanimous resolutions in favour of Grattan's proposal, and their example had been speedily followed all over Ireland. The Whig Ministry, now in power, was known to be not unfavourable to the cause which the Irish patriots had at heart. A Bill was brought forward and carried, revoking the recent Declaratory Acts which bound the Irish Parliament, and giving it the right to legislate for itself. Poynings' Act was thereupon repealed, and a number of independent Acts, as already stated, passed by the now emancipated Irish Parliament. The legislative independence was an accomplished fact.
The objects of the volunteers' existence was now over. The American war was at an end, the independence of the Parliament assured, and it was felt therefore, by all moderate men, that it was now time for them to disband. Flood, who had now again joined the patriotic party, was strongly opposed to this. He pressed forward his motion for "simple repeal," and was supported by Lord Bristol, the Bishop of Derry, a scatter-brained prelate, who had been bitten by a passion for military glory, and would have been perfectly willing to see the whole country plunged into bloodshed. A better and more reasonable plea on Flood's part was that reform was the crying necessity of the hour, and ought to be carried while the volunteers were still enrolled, and the effect already produced by their presence was still undiminished. Grattan also desired reform, but held that the time for carrying it was not yet ripe. A vehement debate ensued, and bitter recriminations were exchanged. A convention of volunteers was at the moment being held in Dublin, and Flood endeavoured to make use of their presence there to get his Reform Bill passed. This the House regarded as a menace, and after a violent debate his Bill was thrown out. There was a moment during which it seemed as if the volunteers were about to try the question by force of arms. More prudent counsels, however, prevailed, and, greatly to their credit, they consented a week later to lay down their arms, and retire peaceably to their own homes.
The significant warnings uttered by Flood and others against the danger of postponing reform until the excitement temporarily awakened upon the subject had subsided and the volunteers disbanded, proved, unfortunately, to be only too well justified. Where Flood, however, had erred, had been in failing to see that a reform which left three-fourths of the people of the country unrepresented, could never be more than a reform in name. This error Grattan never made. During the next ten or twelve years, his efforts were steadily and continually directed to obtaining equal political power for all his fellow-countrymen alike. Reform was indeed the necessity of the hour. The corruption of Parliament was increasing rather than diminishing. From 130 to 140 of its members were tied by indissoluble knots to the Government, and could only vote as by it directed. Most of these were the nominees of the borough-owners; many held places or enjoyed pensions terminable at the pleasure of the king, and at the smallest sign of insubordination or independence instant pressure was brought to bear upon them until they returned to their obedience.
Although free now to import and export from the rest of the world no change with regard to Ireland's commercial intercourse with Great Britain had as yet taken place. In 1785, a number of propositions were drawn up by the Dublin Parliament, to enable the importation of goods through Great Britain into Ireland, or vice versa, without any increase of duty. These propositions were agreed to by Pitt, then Prime Minister, and were brought forward by him in the English House of Commons. Again, however, commercial jealousy stepped in. A number of English towns remonstrated vehemently; one petition despatched to the House alone bearing the signature of 80,000 Lancashire manufacturers. "Greater panic," it was said at the time, "could not have been expressed had an invasion been in question." The result was, that a number of modifications were made to the propositions, and when returned to Ireland, so profoundly had they been altered, that the patriotic party refused to accept them, and although when the division came on, the Government obtained a majority it was so small that the Bill was allowed to drop, and thus the whole scheme came to nothing.
Outside Parliament, meanwhile, the country was in a very disturbed state. Long before this local riots and disturbances had broken out, especially in the south. As early as 1762, secret societies, known under the generic name of Whiteboys, had inspired terror throughout Munster, especially in the counties of Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary. These risings, as has been clearly proved by Mr. Lecky, had little, if any, connection with either politics or religion. Their cause lay, as he shows, on the very surface, in the all but unendurable misery in which the great mass of the people were sunk.
Lord Chesterfield, one of the few Lord-Lieutenants who had really attempted to understand Ireland, had years before spoken in unmistakeable language on this point. Subletting was almost universal, three or four persons standing often between the landowner and the actual occupier, the result being that the condition of the latter was one of chronic semi-starvation. So little was disloyalty at the root of the matter, that in a contemporary letter, written by Robert Fitzgerald, the Knight of Kerry, it is confidently asserted that, were a recruiting officer to be sent to the district, the people would gladly flock to the standard of the king, although, he significantly adds, "it seems to me equally certain that if the enemy effects a landing within a hundred miles of these people, they will most assuredly join them."
The tithe system was another all but unendurable burden, and it was against the tithe proctors that the worst of the Whiteboy outrages were committed. That these outrages had little directly to say to religion is, however, clear, from the fact that the tithe system was nearly as much detested by the Protestant landowners as by their tenants. In the north risings of a somewhat similar character had broken out chiefly amongst Protestants of the lower classes, who gathered themselves into bands under the name of "Oak boys" and "Steel boys." The grievances of which they complained being, however, for the most part after a while repealed, they gradually dispersed, and were heard of no more. In the south it was otherwise, and the result has been that Whiteboy conspiracies continued, under different names, to be a terror to the country, and have so continued down to our own day.
 "History of England in the Eighteenth Century," vol. iv. p. 340.
As long as the volunteers remained embodied there was an all but complete cessation of these local disturbances, but upon their disbandment they broke out with renewed force. Many too of the volunteers themselves, who, although disbanded, retained their arms, began to fall under new influences, and to lose their earlier reputation. "What had originally," in Grattan's words, "been the armed property of Ireland, was becoming its armed beggary." A violent sectarian spirit, too, was beginning to show itself afresh, although as yet chiefly amongst the lowest and most ignorant classes. A furious faction war had broken out in the North of Ireland, between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The former had made an association known as the "Peep-of-day boys," to which the latter had responded by one called the "Defenders." In 1795 a regular battle was fought between the two, and the "Defenders" were defeated with the loss of many lives. The same year saw the institution of Orange Lodges spring into existence, and spread rapidly over the north. Amongst the more educated classes a strongly revolutionary feeling was beginning to spread, especially in Belfast. The passionate sympathy of the Presbyterians for America had awakened a vehemently republican spirit, and the rising tide of revolution in France, found a loudly reverberating echo in Ireland, especially amongst the younger men. In 1791 in Belfast, the well-known "Society of United Irishmen" came into existence and its leaders were eager to combine this democratic movement in the north with the recently reconstructed Roman Catholic committee in Dublin. All these, it is plain, were elements of danger which required careful watching. The one hope, the one necessity, as all who were not blinded by passion or prejudice saw plainly, lay in a reformed Parliament—one which would represent, no longer a section, but the whole community. To combine to procure this, and to sink all religious differences in the common weal, was the earnest desire of all who genuinely cared for their country, whether within or without the Parliament. Of this programme, the members even of the United Irishmen were, in the first instance, ardent exponents, and their demands, ostensibly at least, extended no further. In the words of the oath administered to new members, they desired to forward "an identity of interests, a communion of rights, and a union amongst Irishmen of all religious persuasions, without which every reform in Parliament must be partial, not national, inadequate to the wants, delusive to the wishes, and insufficient for the freedom and happiness of the country."
THE FITZWILLIAM DISAPPOINTMENT.
The eagerness shown at this time by the principal Irish Protestants to give full emancipation to their Roman Catholic countrymen is eminently creditable to them, and stands in strong relief to the bitterness on both sides, both in earlier and latter times. By 1792 there seems to have been something almost like unanimity on the subject. What reads strangest perhaps to our ears, 600 Belfast Protestant householders warmly pressed the motion on the Government. In a work, published six years earlier, Lord Sheffield, though himself opposed to emancipation, puts this unanimity in unmistakable words. "It is curious," he says, "to observe one-fifth or one-sixth of a nation in possession of all the power and property of the country, eager to communicate that power to the remaining four-fifths, which would, in effect, entirely transfer it from themselves."
The generation to which Flood, Lucas, and Lord Charlemont had belonged, and who were almost to a man opposed to emancipation, was fast passing away, and amongst the more independent men of the younger generation there were few who had not been won over to Grattan's view of the matter. In England, too, circumstances were beginning to push many, even of those hitherto bitterly hostile to concession, in the same direction. The growing terror of the French Revolution had loosened the bonds of the party, and the hatred which existed between the Jacobins and the Catholic clerical party, inclined the Government to extend the olive branch to the latter in hopes of thereby securing their support. Pitt was personally friendly to emancipation, and in December, 1792, a deputation of five delegates from the Catholic convention in Dublin was graciously received by the king himself, and returned under the impression that all religious disabilities were forthwith to be abolished. Next month, January, 1793, at the meeting of the Irish Parliament, a Bill was brought in giving the right of voting to all Catholic forty-shilling freeholders, and throwing open also to Catholics the municipal franchise in the towns. Although vehemently opposed by the Ascendency, this Bill, being supported by the Opposition, passed easily and received the royal assent upon April 9th.
It was believed to be only an instalment of full and free emancipation soon to follow. In 1794, several of the more moderate Whigs, including Edmund Burke and Lord Fitzwilliam, left Fox, and joined Pitt. One of the objects of the Whig members of this new coalition was the admission of Irish Roman Catholics to equal rights with their Protestant fellow-country men. To this Pitt at first demurred, but in the end agreed to grant it subject to certain stipulations, and Lord Fitzwilliam was accordingly appointed Lord-Lieutenant, and arrived in Ireland in January, 1795.
His appointment awakened the most vehement and widely expressed delight. He was known to be a warm supporter of emancipation. He was a personal friend of Grattan's, and a man in whom all who had the interests of their country at heart believed that they could confide. He had himself declared emphatically that he would "never have taken office unless the Roman Catholics were to be relieved from every disqualification." He was received in Dublin with enthusiastic rejoicings. Loyal addresses from Roman Catholics poured in from every part of Ireland. Large supplies were joyfully voted by the Irish Parliament, and, although he reported in a letter to the Duke of Portland that the disaffection amongst the lower orders was very great, on the other hand the better educated of the Roman Catholics were loyal to a man. For the moment the party of disorder seemed indeed to have vanished. Grattan, though he refused to take office, gave all the great weight of his support to the Government, and obtained leave to bring in an Emancipation Bill with hardly a dissentient voice. The extreme Jacobine party ceased apparently for the moment to have any weight in the country. Revolution seemed to be scotched, and the dangers into which Ireland had been seen awhile before to be rapidly hastening, appeared to have passed away.
Suddenly all was changed. On February 12th, leave to bring in a Bill for the admission of Roman Catholics to Parliament was moved by Grattan. On February 9th, a letter reached Lord Fitzwilliam from Pitt, which showed that some changes had taken place in the intentions of the Government, but no suspicion of the extent of those changes was as yet entertained. On February 23rd, however, the Duke of Portland wrote, "by the king's command," authorizing Lord Fitzwilliam to resign. The law officers and other officials who had been displaced were thereupon restored to their former places. Grattan's Bill was hopelessly lost, and all the elements of rebellion and disaffection at once began to seethe and ferment again.
What strikes one most in studying these proceedings is the curious folly of the whole affair! Why was a harbinger of peace sent if only to be immediately recalled? Why were the hopes of the Roman Catholics, of the whole country in fact, raised to the highest pitch of expectation, if only that they might be dashed to the ground? Pitt no doubt had a very difficult part to play. George III. was all his life vehemently opposed to the admission of Roman Catholics to Parliament. Two of the officials whom Fitzwilliam had dismissed, Cooke, the Under Secretary of State, and Beresford, the Chief Commissioner of Customs, were men of no little influence, and Beresford, immediately upon his arrival in England had had a personal interview with the king. That Pitt knew how critical was the situation in Ireland is certain. He was not, however, prepared to resign office, and short of that step it was impossible to bring sufficient pressure to bear upon the king's obstinacy. His own preference ran strongly towards a Union of the two countries, and with this end in view, he is often accused of having been cynically indifferent as to what disasters and horrors Ireland might be destined to wade through to that consummation. This it is difficult to conceive; nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the rising of four years later dated from this decision, and was almost as directly due to it as if the latter had been planned with that object.
From this point the stream runs darkly and steadily to the end. Lord Fitzwilliam's departure was regarded by Protestants and Catholics alike as a national calamity. In Dublin shops were shut; people put on mourning, and his carriage was followed to the boat by lamenting crowds. Grattan's Bill was of course lost, and the exasperation of the Catholics rendered tenfold by the disappointment. "The demon of darkness," it was said, "could not have done more mischief had he come from hell to throw a fire-brand amongst the people."
Henceforward the Irish Parliament drops away into all but complete insignificance. After two or three abortive efforts to again bring forward reform, Grattan gave up the hopeless attempt, and retired broken-hearted from public life. The "United Irishmen," in the first instance an open political body, inaugurated and chiefly supported by Protestants, now rapidly changed its character. Its leaders were now all at heart republicans, and thoroughly impregnated with the leaven of the French Revolution. It was suppressed and apparently broken up by the Government in 1795, but was almost immediately afterwards reconstructed and re-organized upon an immense scale. Every member was bound to take an oath of secrecy, and its avowed object had become the erection by force of a republican form of Government in Ireland. The rebellion was bound to come now, and only accident could decide how soon.
It was not long delayed. The Society of United Irishmen had now grown to be little more than a mere nest of Jacobinism, filled with all the turbulent and disaffected elements afloat in the whole country. Of this society Wolfe Tone was the creator, guide, and moving spirit. Any one who wishes to understand the movement rather as it originally took shape than in the form which it assumed when accident had deprived it of all its leaders, should carefully study his autobiography. As he reads its transparent pages, brimful of all the foolish, generous enthusiasms of the day, he will find it not a little hard, I think, to avoid some amount of sympathy with the man, however much he may, and probably will, reprobate the cause which he had so at heart.
Amongst the other leaders of the rising were Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a brother of the Duke of Leinster, Arthur O'Connor, a nephew of Lord Longueville, Thomas Addis Emmett, elder brother of the better known Robert Emmett—whose attempted rebellion in 1803, was a sort of postscript to this earlier one—and the two Sheare brothers. Compared to Wolfe Tone, however, all these were mere amateurs in insurrection, and pale and shadowy dabblers in rebellion. Lord Edward was an amiable warm-hearted visionary, high-minded and gallant, but without much ballast, and to a great degree under the guidance of others. The mainspring of the whole movement, as has been seen, was Protestant and Northern, and now that all hope of constitutional reform was gone, it was resolved to appeal openly to force and to call in the aid of the enemies of England to assist in the coming struggle.
Insane as the idea appears, looked back at from this distance, it evidently was not viewed in the same light by those at hand. England and France, it must be remembered, were at fierce war, and a descent upon the Irish coast was then, as afterwards by Napoleon, regarded as a natural and obvious part of the aggressive policy of the latter. In the summer of 1796 Lord Edward Fitzgerald went to Paris to open negotiations with the French Directory, and there met Wolfe Tone, who had been induced some time before to leave Ireland in order to avoid arrest. Lord Edward's Orleanist connection proving a bar to his negotiations, he left Paris, and the whole of the arrangements devolved into the latter's hand. He so fired Carnot, one of the Directory, and still more General Hoche, with a belief of the feasibility of his scheme of descent, that, in December of the same year a French fleet of forty-three vessels containing fifteen thousand troops were actually despatched under Hoche's command, Wolfe Tone being on board of one of them, which vessels, slipping past the English fleet in the Channel, bore down upon the Irish coast, and suddenly appeared off Cape Clear.
All Ireland was thrown into the wildest panic. There were only a small body of troops in the south and not a war-ship upon the coast. The peasantry of the district, it is true, showed no disposition to rise, but for all that had the French landed, nothing could have hindered them from marching upon the capital. But—"those ancient and unsubsidised allies of England upon which English ministers depend as much for saving kingdoms as washerwomen for drying clothes,"—the winds again stood true to their ancient alliance. The vessel with Hoche on board got separated from the rest of the fleet, and while the troops were waiting for him to arrive a violent gale accompanied with snow suddenly sprang up. The fleet moved on to Bear Island, and tried to anchor there, but the storm increased, the shelter was insufficient, the vessels dragged their anchors, were driven out to sea and forced to return to Brest. The ship containing Hoche had before this been forced to put back to France, and so ended the first and by far the most formidable of the perils which threatened England under this new combination.
One very unfortunate result of the narrowness of this escape was that the Irish Executive—stung by the sense of their own supineness, and utterly scared by the recent peril—threw themselves into the most violent and arbitrary measures of repression. The Habeas Corpus Act had already been suspended, and now martial law was proclaimed in five of the northern counties at once. The committee of the United Irishmen was seized, the office of their organ The Northern Star destroyed, and an immense number of people hurried into gaol. What was much more serious throughout the proclaimed districts, the soldiery and militia regiments which had been brought over from England were kept under no discipline, but were allowed to ill-use the population almost at their own discretion. Gross excesses were committed, whole villages being in some instances plundered and the people turned adrift, while half hangings, floggings and picketings, were freely resorted to to extort confessions of concealed arms.
Against these measures—so calculated to precipitate a rising, and by which the innocent and well-disposed suffered no less than the guilty—Grattan, Ponsonby, and other members of the Opposition protested vehemently. They also drew up and laid before the House a Bill of reform which, if passed, would, they pledged themselves, effectually allay the agitation and content all but the most irreconcilable. Their efforts, however, were utterly vain. Many of the members of the House of Commons were themselves in a state of panic, and therefore impervious to argument. The motion was defeated by an enormous majority, a general election was close at hand, and feeling the fruitlessness of further struggle Grattan, as already stated, refused to offer himself for re-election, and retired despairingly from the scene.
The commander-in-chief, Lord Carhampton and his subordinate General Lake were the two men directly responsible for the misconduct of the troops in Ireland. So disgraceful had become the license allowed that loud complaints were made in both the English Houses of Parliament, in consequence of which Lord Carhampton was recalled and Sir Ralph Abercromby sent in his place. He more than endorsed the worst of the accounts which had been forwarded. "Every cruelty that could be committed by Cossacks or Calmucks," he states, "has been committed here." "The manner in which the troops have been employed would ruin," he adds, "the best in Europe." He at once set himself to change the system, to keep the garrison in the principal towns, and to forbid the troops acting except under the immediate direction of a magistrate. The Irish Executive however was in no mood to submit to these prudent restrictions. Angry disputes broke out. Lord Camden, the Lord-Lieutenant, vacillated from side to side, and the end was that in April, 1797, Sir Ralph Abercromby indignantly resigned the command, which then fell into General Lake's hands, and matters again went on as before.
Meanwhile the failure of the French descent under Hoche, and the defeat of the Dutch fleet at the battle of Camperdown in the autumn of 1797, had determined Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the other chiefs of the executive committee to attempt an independent rising. Wolfe Tone was still in France, eagerly endeavouring to bring about a fresh expedition, so that their councils had not even the advantage of his guidance. The Government had full information of all their proceedings, being kept well informed by spies, several of whom were actually enrolled in the association. In March, 1798, a sudden descent was made upon the executive committee, which had met at the house of a man called Bond, and a number of delegates and several leaders arrested. Lord Edward, however, received warning and went into concealment, and it was while in hiding that he hastily concerted a scheme for a general rising, which was now definitely fixed to take place upon the 24th of May.
Only a few days before this date his hiding-place was betrayed to the Government by a man named Magan. A guard of soldiers was sent to arrest him, and a desperate struggle took place, in the course of which the captain of the guard was fatally stabbed, while Lord Edward himself received a bullet on the shoulder from the effects of which he shortly afterwards died in goal. Within a day or two of his arrest all the other leaders in Dublin were also seized and thrown into prison.
The whole of the executive committee were thus removed at one blow, and the conspiracy left without head. In estimating the hideous character finally assumed by the rising this fact must never be forgotten. The sickening deeds committed while it was at its height were committed by a mass of ignorant men, maddened by months of oppression, and deprived of their leaders at the very moment they most required their control.
In the meantime the 24th of May had come, and the rising had broken out. The non-arrival of the daily mail-coaches was to be the signal, and these were stopped and burnt by the insurgents in four different directions at once. In Kildare and Meath scattered parties of soldiers and yeomanry were attacked and killed, and at Prosperous the barracks were set on fire, and the troops quartered in it all burnt or piked. In Dublin prompt measures had been taken, and the more loyal citizens had enrolled themselves for their own defence, so that no rising took place there, the result being that the outlying insurgents found themselves isolated. In the north especially, where the whole movement had taken its rise, and where the revolutionists had long been organized, the actual rising was thus of very trifling importance, and the whole thing was easily stamped out within a week.
It was very different in Wexford. Here from the beginning the rising had assumed a religious shape, and was conducted with indescribable barbarity. Yeomanry corps and bodies of militia had been quartered in the county for months, and many acts of tyranny had been committed. These were now hideously avenged. Several thousand men and women, armed chiefly with pikes and scythes, collected together on the hill of Oulart under the guidance of a priest named Father John Murphy. They were attacked by a small party of militia from Wexford, but defeating them, burst into Ferns, where they burnt the bishop's palace, then hastened on to Enniscorthy, which they took possession of, and a few days afterwards appeared before the town of Wexford.
Here resistance was at first offered them by Colonel Maxwell, who was in command of the militia regiments. Nearly all the Roman Catholics, however under his orders deserted, the rest grew disorganized and fled, and the end was that the militia departed and the rebels took possession triumphantly of the town. It at once became the scene of horrible outrages. Houses were plundered; many of the Protestant citizens murdered; others dragged from their homes, and cruelly maltreated. Bagenal Harvey, a United Irishman and a Protestant, who had been imprisoned at Wexford by the Government, was released and elected general of the rebels. He found himself, however, utterly unable to control them. A camp had been formed upon Vinegar Hill, near. Enniscorthy, and from it as a centre the whole district was overrun, with the exception of New Ross, where most of the available troops had been concentrated. The wretched Protestants, kept prisoners on Vinegar Hill, were daily taken out in batches, and slaughtered in cold blood, while at Scullabogue, after an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the rebels to take New Ross, the most frightful episode of the whole rising occurred; a barn containing over a hundred and eighty Protestant loyalists collected from the country round being set on fire, and all of them perishing in the flames.
In the meanwhile troops were rapidly arriving from Dublin. Arklow and New Ross had defended themselves gallantly, and the rebels had fallen back from them repulsed. Vinegar Hill was attacked upon June 21st by General Lake, and after a struggle the rebels fled precipitately, and were slaughtered in great numbers. The day before this Father Roche and the rebels under him were met outside Wexford and also put to flight after hard fighting. Inside the town a horrible butchery was the same day perpetrated by a body of ruffians upon over ninety Protestant prisoners, who were slaughtered with great cruelty upon the bridge leading to New Ross, and only the passionate intervention of a priest named Corrin hindered the deaths of many more.
With the recapture of Wexford and Vinegar Hill the struggle ended. Such of the rebels as had escaped the infuriated soldiery fled to hide themselves in Wicklow and elsewhere. Father Michael Murphy—believed by his followers to be bullet proof—had been already killed during the attack on Arklow. Father Roche was hung by Lake's order over the bridge at Wexford, the scene of the late massacres. So also was the unfortunate Bagenal Harvey, the victim rather than the accomplice of the crimes of others. Father John Murphy was caught and hung at Tallow, as were also other priests in different parts of the country. The rising had been just long enough, and just formidable enough, to awaken the utmost terror and the most furious thirst for vengeance, yet not formidable enough to win respect for itself from a military point of view. As a result the retribution exacted was terrible; the scenes of violence which followed being upon a scale which went far to cause even the excesses committed by the rebels themselves to pale into insignificance.
Two final incidents, either of which a few months earlier might have produced formidable results, brings the dismal story to an end. In August, just after the rising had been definitely stamped out, General Humbert with a little over a thousand French troops under his command landed at Killala, where he was joined, if hardly reinforced, by a wild mob of unarmed peasants. From Killala he advanced to Ballina, defeated General Lake, who was sent against him, and moved on to Sligo. Shortly afterwards, however, he found himself, after crossing the Shannon, confronted with an overwhelming force under Lord Cornwallis, who had recently succeeded Lord Camden, and held double offices of Lord-Lieutenant and Commander-in-chief. Yielding to the inevitable, Humbert surrendered at discretion, and he and his men were received with due courtesy as prisoners of war. The account given by the bishop of Killala who was kept prisoner while that town was occupied by the French, will be found to be extremely well worth reading.
The last scene of the drama brings Wolfe Tone appropriately back upon the gloomy stage. When General Humbert sailed for Killala a much larger French force under General Hardi had remained behind at Brest. In September this second detachment sailed, Wolfe Tone being on board the principal vessel called the Hoche. Outside Lough Swilly they were overtaken by an English squadron, and a desperate struggle ensued. The smaller French vessels escaped, but the Hoche was so riddled with shot and shell as to be forced to surrender, and was towed by the victors into Lough Swilly. Here the French officers including Wolfe Tone were hospitably entertained at dinner by Lord Cavan. While at table Tone was recognized by an old school friend, and was at once arrested and sent prisoner to Dublin. A court martial followed, and despite his own plea to be regarded as a French officer, and therefore, if condemned shot, he was sentenced to be hung. In despair he tried to kill himself in prison, but the wound though fatal, was not immediately so, and the sentence would have been carried rigorously out but for the intervention of Curran, who moved for a writ of Habeas Corpus on the plea that as the courts of law were then sitting in Dublin, a court martial had no jurisdiction. The plea was a mere technicality, but it produced the required delay, and Wolfe Tone died quietly in prison.
By the month of August the last sparks of the rebellion of '98 had been quenched. Martial law prevailed everywhere. The terror which the rising had awakened was finding its vent in violent actions and still more violent language, and Lord Cornwallis, the Lord-Lieutenant, was one of the few who ventured to say that enough blood had been shed, and that the hour for mercy had struck. The ferocity with which the end of the contest had been waged by the rebels had aroused a feeling of corresponding, or more than corresponding ferocity on the other side. That men who a few months before had trembled to see all whom they loved best exposed to the savagery of such a mob as had set fire to the barn at Scullabogue, or murdered the prisoners at Rossbridge, should have been filled with a fury which carried them far beyond the necessities of the case is hardly perhaps surprising, but the result was to hurry them in many instances into cruelties fully as great as those which they intended to avenge.
It was at this moment, while the country was still racked and bleeding at every pore from the effects of the recent struggle, that Pitt resolved to carry out his long projected plan of a legislative Union. Public opinion in Ireland may be said for the moment to have been dead. The mass of the people were lying crushed and exhausted by their own violence. Fresh from a contest waged with gun and pike and torch, a mere constitutional struggle had probably little or no interest for them. The popular enthusiasm which the earlier triumphs of the Irish Parliament had awakened had all but utterly died away in a fratricidal struggle. To the leaders of the late rebellion it was an object of open contempt, if not indeed of actual aversion. Wolfe Tone, the ablest man by far on the revolutionary side, had never weaned of pouring contempt upon it. In his eyes it was the great opponent of progress, the venal slave which had not only destroyed the chances of a successful outbreak, and whose endeavour had been to keep Ireland under the heel of her tyrant. To him the opposition as little deserved the name of patriot as the veriest place-men. Grattan, throughout his long and noble career had been as steadily loyal, and as steadily averse to any appeal to force as any paid creature of the Government. To men who only wanted to break loose from England altogether, to found an Irish republic as closely as possible upon the model then offered for their imitation in France, anything like mere constitutional opposition seemed not contemptible merely, but ridiculous.
This explains how it was that no great burst of public feeling—such as a few years before would have made the project of a Union all but impossible—was now to be feared. Pitt had for a long time firmly fixed his mind upon it as the object to be attained. He honestly believed the existing state of things to be fraught with peril for England, and to have in it formidable elements of latent danger, which a war or any other sudden emergency might bring to the front. He knew too, undoubtedly, that no opportunity equally favourable for carrying his point was ever likely to recur again.
He accordingly now proceeded to take his measures for securing it with the utmost care, and the most anxious selection of agents. Two opposite sets of inducements were to be brought to bear upon the two contending factions. To the Protestants, fresh from their terrible struggle, the thought of a closer union with England seemed to promise greater protection in case of any similar outbreak. Irish churchmen too had been always haunted with a dread sooner or later of the disestablishment of their Church, and a union, it was argued, with a country where Protestants constituted the vast majority of the population, would render that peril for ever impossible, and it was agreed that a special clause to that effect should be incorporated in the Act of Union. To the Roman Catholics a totally different set of inducements were brought forward. The great bait was Emancipation, which they were privately assured would never be carried as long as the Irish Parliament existed, but might safely be conceded once it had ceased to exist. No actual pledge was made to that effect, but there was unquestionably an understanding, and Lord Castlereagh, the Chief Secretary, was untiring in his efforts to lull them into security upon this point.
So much discrepancy of statement still prevails upon the whole subject that it is extremely difficult to ascertain what really was the prevailing sentiment in Ireland at this time for and against the project of a Union. In Ulster the proposal seems certainly to have been all but unanimously condemned, and in Dublin, too, the opposition to it was vehement and unhesitating, but in other parts of the country it seems to have met with some support, especially in Galway and Tipperary. In January, 1799, Parliament met, and the proposal was brought forward in a speech from the throne, but encountered a violent opposition from all the remaining members of the patriotic party. Grattan, who had returned to Parliament for the express purpose, eloquently defended the rights of the Irish legislature, and was supported by Sir John Parnell, by Plunkett, and by all the more prominent members of the opposition. After a debate which lasted nearly twenty-two hours, a division was called, and the numbers were found to be equal; another fierce struggle, and this time the Government were beaten by five; thus the proposal for the time was lost.
Not for long though. Pitt had thoroughly made up his mind, and was bent on carrying his point to a successful issue. Most of those who had voted against the Union were dismissed from office, and after the prorogation of Parliament, the Government set to work with a determination to secure a majority before the next session. There was only one means of effecting this, and that means was now employed. Eighty-five boroughs—all of which were in the hands of private owners—would lose their members if a Union were passed, and all these, accordingly, it was resolved to compensate, and no less than a million and a quarter of money was actually advanced for that purpose, while for owners less easily reached by this means peerages, baronetcies, steps in the peerage, and similar inducements, were understood to be forthcoming as an equivalent.
It is precisely at this point that controversy grows hottest, and where it becomes hardest, therefore, to see a clear way between contending statements, which seem to meet and thrust one another, as it were at the very sword's point. That the sale of parliamentary seats—so shocking to our reformed eyes—was not regarded in the same light at the date of the Irish Union is certain, and in questions of ethics contemporary judgment is the first and most important point to be considered. The sale of a borough carried with it no more necessary reprobation then than did the sale of a man, say, in Jamaica or Virginia. Boroughs were bought and sold in open market, and many of them had a recognized price, so much for the current session, so much more if in perpetuity. We must try clearly to realize this, in order to approach the matter fairly, and, as far as possible, to put the ugly word "bribery" out of our thoughts, at all events not allow it to carry them beyond the actual facts of the case. Pitt, there is no question, had resolved to carry his point, but we have no right to assume that he wished to carry it by corrupt means, and the fact that those who opposed it were to be indemnified for their seats no less than those who promoted it, makes so far strongly in his favour.
On the other hand, the impression which any given transaction leaves upon the generation which has actually witnessed it is rarely entirely wrong, and that the impression produced by the carrying of the Irish Union—almost equally upon its friends and its foes—was, to put it mildly, unfavourable, few will be disposed to deny. Over and above this general testimony, we have the actual letters of those who were mainly instrumental in carrying it into effect, and it is difficult to read those of Lord Cornwallis without perceiving that he at least regarded the task as a repellent one, and one which as an honourable man he would gladly have evaded had evasion been possible. It is true that Lord Castlereagh, who was associated intimately with him in the enterprise, shows no such reluctance, but then the relative characters of the two men prevent that circumstance from having quite as much weight as it otherwise might.
The fact is that the whole affair is still enveloped in such a hedge of cross-statement and controversy, that in spite of having been eighty-seven years before the world, it still needs careful elucidation, and the last word upon it has certainly not yet been written. To attempt anything of the sort here would be absurd, so we must be content with simply following the actual course of events.
The whole of that memorable summer was spent carrying out the orders of the Prime Minister. The Lord-Lieu tenant and the Chief Secretary travelled in person round Ireland to assist in the canvass, and before the Parliament met again the following January, they were able to report that they had succeeded. Grattan had been suffering from a severe illness, and was still almost too ill to appear. He came, however, and his wonted eloquence rose to the occasion. He appealed in the most moving and passionate terms against the destruction of the Parliament. Even then there were some who hoped against hope that it might be saved. At the division, however, the Government majority was found to be overwhelming, only a hundred members voting against it. The assent of the Upper House had already been secured, and was known all along to be a mere formality. And so the Union was carried.
How far it was or was not desirable at the time; how far it was or was not indispensable to the safety of both countries; to what extent Pitt and in a less degree those who acted under him were or were not blameworthy in the matter—are points which maybe almost indefinitely discussed. They were not as blameworthy as they are often assumed to have been, but it is difficult honestly to see how we are to exonerate them from blame altogether. The theory that the end justifies the means has never been a favourite with honourable men, and some at least of the means by which the Union of Great Britain and Ireland was carried would have left fatal stains upon the noblest cause that ever yet inspired the breast of man. Early in the last century Ireland through her Parliament had herself proposed a legislative union, and England had rejected her appeal. Had it been accomplished then, or had it been brought about in the same fashion as that which produced the Union between Scotland and England, it might have been accepted as a boon instead of a curse, and in any case could have left no such bitter and rankling memories behind it. It is quite possible, and perfectly logical, for a man to hold that a Union between the two countries was and is to the advantage of both, and yet to desire that when it did come about it had been accomplished in almost any other conceivable way.
O'CONNELL AND CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION.
Another century had now dawned, and, like the last, it was heralded in with great changes in Ireland. More than change, however, is needed for improvement. "Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose" has been said of French politics, and is at least equally applicable to Irish ones. The Union had not brought union, and the years which followed it were certainly no great improvement on those that had preceded them. The growth of political institution is not so naturally stable in Ireland that the lopping down of one such institution tended to make the rest stronger or more healthy. It was a tree that had undoubtedly serious flaws, and whose growing had not been as perfect as it might have been, but it had admittedly borne some good fruit, and might have borne better had it been left alone. Anyhow it was gone, and the history of the next twenty-nine years is a confused and distracting medley of petty outbreaks—that in 1803 of which Robert Emmett was the leader being the most important—and of recurrent acts of repression, out of the monotonous welter of which one great figure presently rises like a colossus, till it comes to dominate the whole scene.
At a meeting of Catholic citizens in Dublin in 1800 to protest against the Union, Daniel O'Connell, then a young barrister of twenty-six, made his first public speech, and from that time forward his place as a leader may be said to have been fixed. A Catholic Association had some years earlier been formed, and of this he soon became the chief figure, and his efforts were continually directed towards the relief of his co-religionists. In 1815 a proposal had been made by the Government that Catholic Emancipation should be granted, coupled with a power of veto in the appointment of Catholic bishops, and to this compromise a considerable Catholic party was favourable. Richard Lalor Sheil—next to O'Connell by far the ablest and most eloquent advocate for Emancipation—supported it; even the Pope, Pius VII., declared that he felt "no hesitation in conceding it." O'Connell, however, opposed it vehemently, and so worked up public opinion against it that in the end he carried his point, and it was agreed that no proposal should be accepted which permitted any external interference with the Catholic Church of Ireland. This was his first decisive triumph.
O'Connell's buoyancy and indomitable energy imparted much of its own impulse to a party more dead and dispirited than we who have only known it in its resuscitated and decidedly dominant state can easily conceive. In 1823 a new Irish Catholic Association was set on foot, of which he was the visible life and soul. It is curious to note how little enthusiasm its proceedings seem at first to have awakened, especially amongst the priesthood. At a meeting on February 4, 1824, the necessary quorum of ten members running short, it was only supplied by O'Connell rushing downstairs to the book-shop over which the association met, and actually forcing upstairs two priests whom he accidently found there, and it was by the aid of these unwilling coadjutors that the famous motion for establishing the "Catholic rent" was carried. No sooner was this fund established, however, than it was largely subscribed for all over the country, and in a wonderfully short time the whole priesthood of Ireland were actively engaged in its service. The sums collected were to be spent in parliamentary expenses, in the defence of Catholics, and in the cost of meetings. In 1825 the association was suppressed by Act of Parliament, but was hardly dead before O'Connell set about the formation of another, and the defeat of the Beresfords at the election for Waterford in 1826 was one of the first symptoms which showed where the rising tide was mounting to.
It was followed two years later by a much more important victory. Although Catholics were excluded from sitting in Parliament the law which forbade their doing so did not preclude their being returned as members, and it had long been thought that policy required the election of some Catholic, if only that the whole anomaly of the situation might be brought into the full light of day. An opportunity soon occurred. Mr. Fitzgerald, the member for Clare, having accepted office as President of the Board of Trade, he was obliged to appeal to his constituents for re-election, and O'Connell caught at the suggestion made to him of contesting the seat. His purpose had hardly been announced before it created the wildest excitement all over Ireland. The Catholic Association at once granted L5,000 towards the expenses, and L9,000 more was easily raised within a week. In every parish in Clare the priests addressed their parishioners from the altar, appealing to them to be true to the representative of their faith. After a vehement contest, victory declared itself unhesitatingly for O'Connell, who was found to have polled more than a thousand votes over his antagonist.
The months which followed were months of the wildest and most feverish excitement all over Ireland. O'Connell, though he used his "frank," did not present himself at the House of Commons. He devoted his whole time to organizing his co-religionists, who by this time may be said to have formed one vast army under his direction. In every parish the priests were his lieutenants. Monster meetings were held in all directions, and it may without exaggeration be said that hardly a Catholic man escaped the contagion. So universal a demonstration was felt to be irresistible. A sudden perception of the necessity for full and unqualified Emancipation sprang up in England. Even the Duke of Wellington bent his head before the storm. In the king's speech of February, 1829, a revision of the Catholic disabilities was advised. The following month the Catholic Relief Bill was carried through the House of Commons by a majority of 180, and received the royal assent on the 13th of April.
Thus the victory was won, and won too without a single shackling condition. It was won, moreover, by the efforts of a single individual, almost without support, nay, in several cases against the active opposition of some who had hitherto been its warmest advocates, a fact for which O'Connell's own violence was undoubtedly largely responsible. This seems to be the place to attempt an analysis of this extraordinary man, setting down the good and the evil each in their due proportion. The task, however, would in truth be impossible. For good or ill his figure is too massive, and would escape our half inch of canvas were we to try and set it there. The best description of him compressible in a few words is Balzac's—"He was the incarnation of an entire people." Nothing can be truer. Not only was he Irish of the Irish, but Celt of the Celts, every quality, every characteristic, good, bad, loveable, or the reverse which belongs to the type being found in him, only on an immense scale. To the average Irishman of his day he stands as Mont Blanc might stand were it set down amongst the Magillicuddy Reeks. He towers, that is to say, above his contemporaries not by inches, but by the head and shoulders. His aims, hopes, enthusiasms were theirs, but the effective, controlling power was his alone. He had a great cause, and he availed himself greatly of it, and to this and to the magnetic and all but magical influence of his personality, that extraordinary influence which he for so many years wielded is no doubt due.
Two points must be here set down, since both are of great importance to the future of Ireland, and for both O'Connell is clearly responsible—whether we regard them as amongst his merits or the reverse. He first, and as it has been proved permanently, brought the priest into politics, with the unavoidable result of accentuating the religious side of the contest and bringing it into a focus. The bitterness which three generations of the penal code had engendered only, in fact, broke out then. The hour of comparative freedom is often—certainly not alone in Ireland—the hour when the sense of past oppression first reveals itself in all its intensity, and that biting consciousness of being under a social ban which grew up in the last century is hardly even yet extinct there, and certainly was not extinct in O'Connell's time. Another, and an equally important effect, is also due to him. He effectually, and as it has proved finally, snapped that tie of feudal feeling which, if weakened, still undoubtedly existed, and which was felt towards the landlord of English extraction little less than towards the few remaining Celtic ones. The failings of the upper classes of Ireland of his day, and long before his day, there is no need to extenuate, but it must not in fairness be forgotten that what seems to our soberer judgment the worst of those failings—their insane extravagance, their exalted often ludicrously inflated notions of their own relative importance; their indifference to, sometimes open hostility to, the law—all were bonds of union and sources of pride to their dependants rather than the other way. It needed a yet stronger impulse—that of religious enthusiasm—to break so deeply rooted and inherent a sentiment. When that spark was kindled every other fell away before it.
As regards England, unfortunately, the concession of Emancipation was spoilt not merely by the sense that it was granted to force rather than to conviction, but even more to the intense bitterness and dislike with which it was regarded by a large proportion of English Protestants. A new religious life and a new sense of religious responsibility was making itself widely felt there. The eighteenth century, with its easy-going indifferentism, had passed away, and one of the effects of this new revival was unhappily to reawaken in many conscientious breasts much of the old and half-extinct horror of Popery, a horror which found its voice in a language of intolerance and bigotry which at the present time seems scarcely conceivable.
The years which followed were chiefly marked by a succession of efforts upon O'Connell's part to procure Repeal. An association which had been formed by him for this purpose was put down by the Government in 1830, but the next year it was reformed under a new name, and at the general election in 1831 forty members were returned pledged to support Repeal. The condition of Ireland was meanwhile miserable in the extreme. A furious tithe-war was raging, and many outrages had been committed, especially against tithe proctors, the class of men who were engaged in collecting the tax. Ribbon associations and other secret societies too had been spreading rapidly underground. Of such societies O'Connell was through life the implacable enemy. The events of 1798 and 1803 had left an indelible impression on his mind. The "United Irishmen," in his own words, "taught me that all work for Ireland must be done openly and above board." The end of the tithe struggle, however, was happily approaching. In 1838 an Irish Tithes Commutation Act was at last carried, and a land tax in the form of a permanent rent charge substituted.
Repeal was now more than ever the question of the hour, and to Repeal henceforward O'Connell devoted his entire energies. In 1840 the Loyal National Repeal Association was founded, and a permanent place of meeting known as Conciliation Hall established for it in Dublin. 1841, O'Connell had early announced, would be known henceforward as the year of Repeal, and accordingly he that year left England and went to Ireland, and devoted himself there to the work of organization. A succession of monster meetings were held all over the country, the far-famed one on Tara Hill being, as is credibly asserted, attended by no less than a quarter of a million of people. Over this vast multitude gathered together around him the magic tones of the great orator's voice swept triumphantly; awakening anger, grief, passion, delight, laughter, tears, at its own pleasure. They were astonishing triumphs, but they were dearly bought. The position was, in fact, an impossible one to maintain long. O'Connell had carried the whole mass of the people with him up to the very brink of the precipice, but how to bring them safely and successfully down again was more than even he could accomplish. Resistance he had always steadily denounced, yet every day his own words seemed to be bringing the inevitable moment of collision nearer and nearer. The crisis came on October the 5th. A meeting had been summoned to meet at Clontarf, near Dublin, and on the afternoon of the 4th the Government suddenly came to the resolution of issuing a proclamation forbidding it to assemble. The risk was a formidable one for responsible men to run. Many of the people were already on their way, and only O'Connell's own rapid and vigorous measures in sending out in all directions to intercept them hindered the actual shedding of blood.
His prosecution and that of some of his principal adherents was the next important event. By a Dublin jury he was found guilty, sentenced to two years imprisonment, and conveyed to prison, still earnestly entreating the people to remain quiet, an order which they strictly obeyed. The jury by which he had been condemned was known to be strongly biassed against him, and an appeal had been forwarded against his sentence to the House of Lords. So strong there, too, was the feeling against O'Connell, that little expectation was entertained of its being favourably received. Greatly to its honour, however, the sentence was reversed and he was set free. His imprisonment had been of the lightest and least onerous description conceivable; indeed was ironically described by Mitchell shortly afterwards as that of a man—"addressed by bishops, complimented by Americans, bored by deputations, serenaded by bands, comforted by ladies, half smothered by roses, half drowned in champagne." The enthusiasm shown at his release was frantic and delirious. None the less those months in Richmond prison proved the death-knell of his power. He was an old man by this time; he was already weakened in health, and that buoyancy which had hitherto carried him over any and every obstacle never again revived. The "Young Ireland" party, the members of which had in the first instance been his allies and lieutenants, had now formed a distinct section, and upon the vital question of resistance were in fierce hostility to all his most cherished principles. The state of the country, too, preyed visibly upon his mind. By 1846 had begun that succession of disastrous seasons which, by destroying the feeble barrier which stood between the peasant and a cruel death, brought about a national tragedy, the most terrible perhaps with which modern Europe has been confronted. This tragedy, though he did not live to see the whole of it, O'Connell—himself the incarnation of the people—felt acutely. Deep despondency took hold of him. He retired, to a great degree, from public life, leaving the conduct of his organization in the hands of others. Few more tragic positions have been described or can be conceived than that of this old man—so loved, so hated, so reverenced, so detested—who had been so audaciously, triumphantly successful in his day, and round whom the shadows of night were now gathering so blackly and so swiftly. Despair was tightening its grip round the hearts of all Irishmen, and it found its strongest hold upon the heart of the greatest Irishman of his age. Nothing speaks more eloquently of the total change of situation than the pity and respectful consideration extended at this time to O'Connell by men who only recently had exhausted every possibility of vituperation in abuse of the burly demagogue. In 1847 he resolved to leave Ireland, and to end his days in Rome. His last public appearance was in the House of Commons, where an attentive and deeply respectful audience hung upon the faultering and barely articulate accents which fell from his lips. In a few deeply moving words he appealed for aid and sympathy for his suffering countrymen, and left the House; within a few months he had died at Genoa. Such a bare summary leaves necessarily whole regions of the subject unexplored, but, let the final verdict of history on O'Connell be what it may, that he loved his country passionately, and with an absolute disinterestedness no pen has ever been found to question, nor can we doubt that whatever else may have hastened his end it was the Famine killed him, almost as surely as it did the meanest of its victims.
The camp and council chamber of the "Young Ireland" party was the editor's room of The Nation newspaper. There it found its inspiration, and there its plans were matured—so far, that is, as they can be said to have been ever matured. For an eminently readable and all things considered a wonderfully impartial account of this movement, the reader cannot do better than consult Sir Charles Gavan Duffy's "Four Years of Irish History," which has the immense advantage of being history taken at first hand, written that is by one who himself took a prominent part in the scenes which he describes.
The most interesting figure in the party had, however, died before those memorable four years began. Thomas Davis, who was only thirty at the time of his death in 1845, was a man of large gifts, nay, might fairly be called a man of genius. His poetry is, perhaps, too national to be appreciated out of Ireland, yet two, at least, of his ballads, "Fontenoy" and "The Sack of Baltimore," may fairly claim to compare with those of any contemporary poet. His prose writings, too, have much of the same charm, and, if he had no time to become a master of any of the subjects of which he treats, there is something infectious in the very spontaneousness and, as it were, untaught boyish energy of his Irish essays.
The whole movement in fact was, in the first instance, a literary quite as much as a political one. Nearly all who took part in it—Gavan Duffy, John Mitchell, Meagher, Dillon, Davis himself—were very young men, many fresh from college, all filled with zeal for the cause of liberty and nationality. The graver side of the movement only showed itself when the struggle with O'Connell began. At first no idea of deposing, or even seriously opposing the great leader seems to have been intended. The attempt on O'Connell's part to carry a formal declaration against the employment under any circumstances of physical force was the origin of that division, and what the younger spirits considered "truckling to the Whigs" helped to widen the breach. When, too, O'Connell had partially retired into the background, his place was filled by his son, John O'Connell, the "Head conciliator," between whom and the "Young Irelanders" there waged a fierce war, which in the end led to the indignant withdrawal of the latter from the Repeal council.
Before matters reached this point, the younger camp had been strengthened by the adhesion of Smith O'Brien, who, though not a man of much intellectual calibre, carried no little weight in Ireland. His age—which compared to that of the other members of his party, was that of a veteran—his rank and position as a county member, above all, his vaunted descent from Brian Boroimhe, all made him an ally and a convert to be proud of. Like the rest he had no idea at first of appealing to physical force, however loudly an abstract resolution against it might be denounced. Resistance was to be kept strictly within the constitutional limits, indeed the very year of his junction with this the extreme left of the Repeal party, Smith O'Brien's most violent proceeding was to decline to sit upon a railway committee to which he had been summoned, an act of contumacy for which he was ordered by the House of Commons into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and committed to an extemporized prison, by some cruelly declared to be the coal-hole. "An Irish leader in a coal-hole!" exclaims Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, indignantly, can more unworthy statement be conceived? "Regullus in a barrel, however," he adds, rather grandly, "was not quite the last one heard of Rome and its affairs!"
In Ireland matters were certainly sad enough and serious enough without any such serio-comic incidents. Famine was already stalking the country with giant strides, and no palliative measures as yet proposed seemed to be of the slightest avail. Early in January, 1847, O'Connell left on that journey of his which was never completed, and by the middle of May Ireland was suddenly startled by the news that her great leader was dead.
The effect of his death was to produce a sudden and immense reaction. A vast revulsion of love and reverence sprang up all over the country; an immense sense of his incomparable services, and with it a vehement anger against all who had opposed him. Upon the "Young Ireland" party, as was inevitable, the weight of that anger fell chiefly, and from the moment of O'Connell's death whatever claim they had to call themselves a national party vanished utterly. The men "who killed the Liberator" could never again hope to carry with them the suffrages of any number of their countrymen.
This contumely, to a great degree undeserved, naturally reacted upon the subjects of it. The taunt of treachery and ingratitude flung at them wherever they went stung and nettled. In the general reaction of gratitude and affection for O'Connell, his son John succeeded easily to the position of leader. The older members of the Repeal Association thereupon rallied about him, and the split between them and the younger men grew deeper and wider.
A wild, impracticable visionary now came to play a part in the movement. A deformed misanthrope, called James Lalor, endowed with a considerable command of vague, passionate rhetoric, began to write incentives to revolt in The Nation, These growing more and more violent were by the editor at length prudently suppressed. The seed, however, had already sown itself in another mind. John Mitchell is described by Mr. Justin McCarthy as "the one formidable man amongst the rebels of '48; the one man who distinctly knew what he wanted, and was prepared to run any risk to get it." Even Mitchell, it is clear, would never have gone as far as he did but for the impulse which he received from the crippled desperado in the background. Lalor was, in fact, a monomaniac, but this Mitchell seems to have failed to perceive. To him it was intolerable that any human being should be willing to go further and to dare more in the cause of Ireland than himself, and the result was that after awhile he broke away from his connection with The Nation, and started a new organ under the name of The United Irishmen, one definitely pledged from the first to the policy of action.
From this point matters gathered speedily to a head. Mitchell's newspaper proceeded to fling out challenge after challenge to the Government, calling upon the people to gather and to "sweep this island clear of the English name and nation." For some months these challenges remained unanswered. It was now, however, "'48," and nearly all Europe was in revolution. The necessity of taking some step began to be evident, and a Bill making all written incitement of insurrection felony was hurried through the House of Commons, and almost immediately after Mitchell was arrested.
Even then he seems to have believed that the country would rise to liberate him. The country, however, showed no disposition to do anything of the sort. He was tried in Dublin, found guilty, sentenced to fourteen years' transportation, and a few days afterwards put on board a vessel in the harbour and conveyed to Spike Island, whence he was sent to Bermuda, and the following April in a convict vessel to the Cape, and finally to Tasmania.
The other "Young Irelanders," stung apparently by their own previous inaction, thereupon rushed frantically into rebellion. The leaders—Smith O'Brien, Meagher, Dillon, and others—went about the country holding reviews of "Confederates," as they now called themselves, a proceeding which caused the Government to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, and to issue a warrant for their arrest. A few more gatherings took place in different parts of the country, a few more ineffectual attempts were made to induce the people to rise, one very small collision with the police occurred, and then the whole thing was over. All the leaders in the course of a few days were arrested and Smith O'Brien and Meagher were sentenced to death, a sentence which was speedily changed into transportation. Gavan Duffy was arrested and several times tried, but the jury always disagreed, and in the end his prosecution was abandoned. The "Young Ireland" movement, however, was dead, and never again revived.
All the time the earlier of the foregoing scenes were being enacted, the famine had been drawing its python grasp tighter and tighter around the unhappy island. The first symptoms of the dread potato disease showed themselves in the autumn of 1845, and even that year there was much suffering, though a trifle to what was to follow. Many remedies were tried, both to stop the blight and save the crops, but all alike proved unavailing. The next year the potatoes seemed to promise unusually well, and the people, with characteristic hopefulness, believed that their trouble was over. The summer, however, was very warm and wet, and with August there came on a peculiarly dense white fog, which was believed by all who were in Ireland at the time to have carried the blight with it in its folds. Whether this was the case or not, there is no doubt that in a single fatal night nearly the whole potato crop over the entire country blackened, and perished utterly. Then, indeed, followed despair. Stupor and a sort of moody indifference succeeded to the former buoyancy and hopefulness. There was nothing to do; no other food was attainable. The fatal dependence upon a single precarious crop had left the whole mass of the people helpless before the enemy.
Soon the first signs of famine began to appear. People were to be seen wandering about; seeking for stray turnips, for watercresses, for anything that would allay the pangs of hunger. The workhouses, detested though they were, were crammed until they could hold no single additional inmate. Whole families perished; men, women, and children lay down in their cabins and died, often without a sign. Others fell by the roadside on their way to look for work or seek relief. Only last summer, at Ballinahinch in Connemara, the present writer was told by an old man that he remembered being sent by his master on a message to Clifden, the nearest town, and seeing the people crawling along the road, and that, returning the same way a few hours later, many of the same people were lying dead under the walls or upon the grass at the roadside. That this is no fancy picture is clear from local statistics. No part of Ireland suffered worse than Galway and Mayo, both far more densely populated then than at present. In this very region of Connemara an inspector has left on record, having to give orders for the burying of over a hundred and thirty bodies found along the roads within his own district.
Mr. W.E. Forster, who, above all other Englishmen deserved the gratitude of Ireland for his efforts during this tragic time, has left terrible descriptions of the scenes of which he was himself an eye-witness, especially in the west. "The town of Westport," he tells us in one of his reports, "was itself a strange and fearful sight, like what we read of in beleaguered cities; its streets crowded with gaunt wanderers, sauntering to and fro with hopeless air and hunger-struck look—a mob of starved, almost naked women around the poor-house clamouring for soup-tickets. Our inn, the head-quarters of the road engineer and pay clerks, beset by a crowd of beggars for work." In another place "the survivors," he says, "were like walking skeletons—the men gaunt and haggard, stamped with the livid mark of hunger; the children crying with pain; the women in some of the cabins too weak to stand. When there before I had seen cows at almost every cabin, and there were besides many sheep and pigs owned in the village. But now the sheep were all gone—all the cows, all the poultry killed—only one pig left; the very dogs which had barked at me before had disappeared—no potatoes; no oats."
One more extract more piteous even than the rest: "As we went along our wonder was not that the people died, but that they lived; and I have no doubt whatever that in any other country the mortality would have been far greater; that many lives have been prolonged, perhaps saved, by the long apprenticeship to want in which the Irish peasant had been trained, and by that lovely touching charity which prompts him to share his scanty meal with his starving neighbour."
Of course all this time there was no lack of preventative measures. Large sums had been voted from the Treasury; stores of Indian corn introduced; great relief works set on foot. An unfortunate fatality seemed, however, to clog nearly all these efforts. Either they proved too late to save life, or in some way or other to be unsuitable to the exigencies of the case. Individual charity, too, came out upon the most magnificent scale. All Europe contributed, and English gold was poured forth without stint or stay. Still the famine raged almost unchecked. The relief works established by the Government, with the best intentions possible, too often were devoted to the most curiously useless, sometimes even to actually harmful, objects. To this day "Famine roads" may be met with in the middle of snipe bogs, or skirting precipices where no road was ever wanted or could possibly be used. By the time, too, they were in full working order the people were, in many cases, too enfeebled by want and disease to work. For close upon the heels of the famine followed an epidemic hardly less fatal than itself. In the course of the two years that it raged over two hundred thousand people are said to have perished from this cause alone, and three times the number to have been attacked and permanently enfeebled by it.
In 1849 a Relief Act was passed which established soup kitchens throughout the unions, where food was to be had gratis by all who required it. Long before this similar kitchens had been privately set on foot, and men and women had devoted themselves to the work with untiring energy and the most absolute self-devotedness. Of these self-appointed and unpaid workers a large number shared the fate of those whom they assisted. Indeed, it is one of the most singular features of the time that not only old, or feeble, or specially sensitive people died, but strong men, heads of houses—not regarded as by any means specially soft-hearted—raised, too, by circumstances out of reach of actual hunger, died—just as O'Connell had died—of sheer distress of mind, and the effort to cope with what was beyond the power of any human being to cope with. In the single county of Galway the records of the times show—as may easily be verified—an extraordinary number of deaths of this type, a fact which alone goes far to disprove those accusations of heartlessness and indifference which have in some instances been too lightly flung.
After the famine followed ruin—a ruin which swept high and low alike into its net. When the poor rate rose to twenty and twenty-five shillings in the pound it followed that the distinction between rich and poor vanished, and there were plenty of instances of men, accounted well off, who had subscribed liberally to others at the beginning of the famine, who were themselves seeking relief before the end. The result was a state of things which has left bitterer traces behind it than even the famine itself. The smaller type of landowners, who for the most part had kindly relations with their tenants, were swept away like leaves before the great storm, their properties fell to their creditors, and were sold by order of the newly established Encumbered Estates Courts. No proposing purchaser would have anything to say to estates covered with a crowd of pauper tenants, and the result was a wholesale clearance, carried out usually by orders given by strangers at a distance, and executed too often with a disregard of humanity that it is frightful to read or to think of. Most of the people thus ejected in the end emigrated, and that emigration was under the circumstances their best hope few can reasonably doubt. Even here, however, misfortune pursued them. Sanitary inspection of emigrant ships was at the time all but unheard of, and statistics show that the densely crowded condition of the vessels which took them away produced the most terrible mortality amongst the already enfeebled people who crowded them, a full fifth of the steerage passengers in many cases, it is said, dying upon the voyage, and many more immediately after landing. The result of all this has been that the inevitable horrors of the time have been deepened and intensified by a sense of ill-usage, which has left a terrible legacy behind—one which may prove to be a peril to generations still unborn. Even where those who emigrated have prospered most, and where they or their sons are now rich men, they cling with unhappy persistency to the memory of that wretched past—a memory which the forty years which have intervened, far from softening, seem, in many cases, to have only lashed into a yet more passionate bitterness.
In Ireland itself the permanent effects of the disaster differed of course in different places and with different people, but in one respect it may be said to have been the same everywhere. Between the Ireland of the past and the Ireland of the present the Famine lies like a black stream, all but entirely blotting out and effacing the past. Whole phases of life, whole types of character, whole modes of existence and ways of thought passed away then and have never been renewed. The entire fabric of the country was torn to pieces and has never reformed itself upon the same lines again. After a while everyday life began again of course, as it does everywhere all over the world, and in some respects the struggle for existence has never since been quite so severe or so prolonged. The lesson of those two terrible years has certainly not been lost, but like all such lessons it has left deep scars which can never be healed. Men and women, still alive who remember the famine, look back across it as we all look back across some personal grief, some catastrophe which has shattered our lives and made havoc of everything we cared for. We, too, go on again after a while as if nothing had happened, yet we know perfectly well all the while that matters are not the least as they were before; that on the contrary they never can or will be.