Irish Race in the Past and the Present
Aug. J. Thebaud

Part 6 out of 14

cattle killed or driven away. Their operations, it is true, were
limited to the borders of the Pale. The gentle Spenser, at a
later period, proposed to extend them to all Munster, and it was
a special glory reserved for the "Protector" to carry out this
policy through almost the whole of the island.

"The very living of the Irishry," says the report, "doth clearly
consist in two things: take away the same from them, and they
are passed for ever to recover, or yet to annoy any subject
Ireland. Take first from them their corn, and as much as cannot
be husbanded, and had into the hands of such as shall dwell and
inhabit in their lands, to burn and destroy the same, so as the
Irishry shall not live thereupon; and then to have their cattle
and beasts, which shall be most hardest to come by, and yet,
with guides and policy, they may be oft had and taken."

The report goes on to point out, most elaborately and
ingeniously, every artifice and plan for carrying this policy
into effect. But here we have, condensed, as it were, in a
nutshell, and coolly and carefully set forth, the system which
was adopted later on, and almost crowned with a fiendish success.
But the moment for the execution of this barbarous scheme had
not yet come, and we find no positive results following

This project, complete as it was, was far from being the only
one proposed at that time for "rooting out the Irish" from
Ireland. Mr. Prendergast, in his "Introduction to the
Cromwellian Settlement," says:

"The Irish were never deceived as to the purport of the English,
and, though the Pale had not been extended for two hundred and
forty years, their firm persuasion in the reign of Henry VIII.
was, that the original design was not abandoned. 'Irishmen are
of opinion among themselves,' said Justice Cusack to the king,
'that Englishmen will one day banish them from their lands

In fact, project after project was then proposed for clearing
Ireland of Irish to the Shannon. Some went so far as already to
contemplate their utter extirpation; but "there was no precedent
for it found in the chronicles of the conquest. Add to this the
difficulty of finding people to reinhabit it if suddenly

"The chiefs and gentlemen of the Irish only were to be driven
from their properties," according to some of those projects,
"and they only were to be driven into exile, while their lands
should be given to Englishmen."

"The king, however, seems to have been satisfied with
confiscating the estates of the Earl of Kildare and of his
family. Fierce and bloody though he was, there was something
lion-like in his nature; notwithstanding all those promptings,
he left to the Irish and old English their possessions, and
seemed even anxious to secure them, but failed to do so for want
of time."

We think Mr. Prendergast's judgment of Henry VIII. too favorable.
Generosity did not prompt him to spare the people and the
nobles, with the exception of the Kildares. We believe that he
never contemplated the extirpation of the people, because such a
political element could not enter into his mind. As for the
nobles, he wished to gain them over, because of the long wars he
foresaw necessary to bring about their utter extinction or exile.

He adopted, accordingly, a plan of his own, holding firm to his
design of having his new title of "Head of the Church"
acknowledged in Ireland as well as in England.

Cromwell commenced his work by two measures which had met with
perfect success in the latter country, but which were destined
to fire the sister isle from end to end, and make "the people,"
in course of time, really one. These measures were acts of
Parliament: 1. Establishing 'the king's spiritual supremacy; 2.
Suppressing, at once, all the monasteries existing in the
country, and giving their property to the nobles who were
willing to apostatize.

The necessity of convening Parliament resulted from the failure
of the first attempt, already made, to establish the king's
supremacy. Browne, the successor of Allen in the See of Dublin,
a rank Lutheran at heart, had been commissioned by the king and
by Cranmer, his consecrator, to establish the new doctrine at
once. His want of success, is thoroughly explained in a letter
to Cromwell, which is still preserved, and which remains one of
the proudest monuments of the steadfastness of the Irish in
their religion.

He complains that not only the clergy, but the "common people,"
were "more zealous in their blindness than the saints and
martyrs in truth, in the beginning of the Gospel," and "such was
their hostility against him that his life was in danger."

And all this in Dublin, in the heart of the Pale, where the
chief antagonist of the new doctrine, "the leader of the people"
against this first attempt at schism, was Cromer, the Archbishop
of Armagh, an Englishman himself! So that those prelates of
England, who, with the exception of the noble Fisher, had all
yielded without a murmur of opposition to the will of Henry,
could find no followers, not even of their own nation, in
Ireland, so much had their faith been strengthened by contact
with that of "the common people."

A Parliament was needed, therefore, and that one which was to be
the instrument of introducing the great English measure, met for
the first time in Dublin, on the 1st of May, 1536; but, being
prorogued, it met again in 1537, and did not complete its work
until once more summoned in 1541, when the old Irish element was
for the first and last time introduced at its sitting, in order,
if possible, to consecrate the new doctrine by having it
solemnly accepted by the old race.

This Parliament, which was first convened in Dublin, McGeoghegan
says, "adjourned to Kilkenny, thence to Cashel, after ward to
Limerick, and lastly to Dublin again." The chief cause of these
interruptions was the difficulty of bringing an Irish Parliament,
even when composed of Englishmen, as was the case up to 1541,
to pass the decrees of supremacy, denial of Roman authority, etc.,
which had been so readily accepted in England.

The Irish Parliaments, as far back as we can see, were composed
not only of lords, spiritual and temporal, and of deputies of
the Commons, but each diocese possessed also the right to send
there three ecclesiastical proctors, who, by reason of their
office, owned neither benefice nor fief, and were therefore at
liberty to vote, fearless of attainder and confiscation, in
accordance with their conscience and their sense of right.

This feature of the Irish assemblies, even when no
representative of the native race sat in them, was a fatal
obstacle to the success of the scheme devised by Browne and
executed by Cromwell. Accordingly, we are not astonished to find
that, by an act of despotism not uncommon during the reign of
Henry VIII., the proctors were excluded from Parliament, which
thus became an obedient tool in the hands of the government.

Not only, therefore, were several state measures carried in
accordance with the wish of the king, but the great object
proposed by the meeting of this assembly was finally obtained;
and, lowing the lead of the English Parliament, Henry VIII. and
his successors were confirmed in the title of "Supreme Head of
the Church in Ireland," with power of reforming and correcting
errors in religion. All appeals to Rome were prohibited, and the
Pope's authority declared a usurpation.

Henry, however, foreseeing that all these favorite measures of
his policy, being carried by English votes in a purely English
assembly, though on Irish soil, would meet with universal
opposition from all the native lords, conceived the idea of
summoning the great Irish chieftains to a new meeting of
Parliament, from which he expected that a moral revolution would
be effected in the island. Sir Anthony St. Leger, created deputy
in August, 1540, was thought a likely man to be intrusted with
so delicate a mission. He conducted it with political prudence,
that is to say, with a judicious mixture of kindness and fraud,
which succeeded beyond all expectations.

In order to prepare the way for hoodwinking the Irish chieftains,
favors of every kind were showered upon them, to wit, titles
and estates, chiefly those of suppressed monasteries; and St.
Leger, by an alternate use of force and diplomacy, at length
effected that the Irish should consent to accept titles. Con
O'Neill, the head of the house of Tyrone, went to England,
accompanied by O'Kervellan, Bishop of Ologher, and was admitted
to an audience by the king. Henry adopted toward those proud
Irishmen a policy utterly different from that he had used with
the English lords. These latter were merely threatened with his
displeasure, and with the feudal penalties he knew so well how
to inflict; the others were received at court as favorites and
dear friends; a royal courtesy, kind expressions, a smiling face-
-such were the arms he employed against the "barbarous Irish."

Tyrone, O'Donnell, and others, were not proof against his
cunning. The first renounced his title of prince and the
glorious name of O'Neill, to receive in return that of Earl of
Tyrone. Manus O'Donnell was made Earl of Tyrconnel. Both
received back the lands which they had offered to the king, and
their example was followed by a great number of inferior lords.
Among them, two Magenisses were dubbed knights; Murrough O'Brien,
of North Munster, was made Earl of Thomond and Baron of
Inchiquin; De Burgo, or McWilliams, was created Earl of
Clanricard, and a host of others submitted in like manner, and
received the new titles which henceforth became conspicuous in
Irish history.

This was the beginning of the gradual suppression of the clans.
Many of these nobles, unfortunately, not content with receiving
back, at the hands of the king, the lands which had come into
their possession from a long line of ancestors, and which really
belonged not to them personally, but to the clans whose heads
they were, greedily snatched at the estates of religious orders,
whose suppression was the first consequence of the schism in
Ireland, which will soon occupy our attention.

The Irish chieftains had already seen Wolsey, a cardinal in full
communion with Rome, suppress forty monasteries in the island.
They might therefore imagine that the confiscation of a still
greater number on the part of the king was a thing not
altogether incompatible with the religion of the monarch, and
that the fact of their sharing in the plunder was not entirely
opposed to their titles of Catholics and subjects of Rome. Such
is human conscience when blinded by self-interest.

The king thought that he had gained over the nobility,--which
was all he wished- -and the last session of the previous
Parliament of 1536 and the following years might now be held in
order to consecrate the unholy work.

"On the 12th of June, 1541," says Mr. Haverty, "a Parliament was
held in Dublin, at which the novel sight was witnessed of Irish
chieftains sitting for the first time with English lords.
O'Brien appeared there by his procurators and attorneys, and
Kavanagh, O'More, O'Reilly, McWilliams, and others, took their
seats in person, the addresses of the Speaker and of the Lord-
Chancellor being interpreted to them in Irish by the Earl of
Ormond. An act was unanimously passed, conferring on Henry VIII.
and his successors the title of King of Ireland, instead of that
of Lord of Ireland, which the English kings, since
the days of John, had hitherto borne. This act was hailed with
great rejoicings in Dublin, and on the following Sunday, the
lords and gentlemen of Parliament went in procession to St.
Patrick's Cathedral, where solemn high mass was sung by
Archbishop Browne, after which the law was proclaimed and a Te
Deum chanted."

It is worthy of remark that in the session of 1541, at which
alone the Irish chieftains appeared, not a word was said of the
supremacy of the king in spirituals. Sir James Ware, who gives
the various decrees with more detail than usual, makes no
mention of this pet measure of the king and of the Lutheran
Archbishop Browne, but it was only part and parcel of the
Parliament of 1536, prorogued successively to Kilkenny, Cashel,
Limerick, and finally again to Dublin. At its first sitting the
law of supremacy was passed and proclaimed as law of Ireland.
Nothing was said of it in the various sessions that followed,
including that of 1541; and yet the Irish chieftains were
supposed to have sanctioned it, inasmach as it was a measure
previously passed in the same Parliament: and the suppression of
various abbeys and monasteries having been openly decreed in the
final session, as a result of the king's supremacy--Rome not
having been consulted, of course--all the signers of the last
decree were supposed to have thereby sanctioned and adopted the
previous ones. Thus O'Neill, O'Reilly, O'More, and the rest,
without being aware of the fact, became schismatics, though many
of them, perhaps all, did not see the connection between the
various sessions of that long Parliament. Certainly, if, on
leaving the Dublin Cathedral, where they had heard the
archbishop's mass and assisted at that solemn Te Deum, they had
been told that that act was intended to consecrate the surrender
of the religion of their ancestors, and the commencement of a
frightful revolution, which would end in the destruction of
their national existence, almost of their very race, they would
have incredulously laughed to scorn the unwelcome prophet.

But even if, as we may well believe, those Irish lords had
really been the victims of deception, and had not, as a body,
been corrupted by the sacrilegious gift of suppressed
monasteries, the people, their clansmen, prompted by the vivid
impressions and unerring instincts of religious faith and
patriotic nationality, which were ever living in their breasts,
resented the weakness of their chieftains as a national
defection and a real apostasy, and took immediate steps to bring
the lords to their senses, and to prevent the spread of English

All who had received titles from Henry, and surrendered to him
the deeds of their lands, as if those lands belonged to them
personally, and not to the clans collectively, all those,
particularly, who had enriched themselves by the plunder of
religious houses, and who had taken any part in the destruction
of the religious orders so dear to the Irish heart, were soon
made to feel the indignation which those events had excited
among the native clansmen, north and south. And those of the
chieftains who had really been deceived, and had preserved in
their hearts all through a strong love for their religion and
country, were recalled to a sense of their error, and brought
back to a sense of their duty by the unmistakable voice of the

While the nobles were still in England, feted by Henry in his
royal palace of Greenwich, renouncing their Irish names to
become English earls and barons, the Ulster chief, protesting
that he would never again take the name of O'Neill, but content
himself with the title of Earl of Tyrone; while O'Brien was
being created Earl of Thomond; McWilliams, Earl of Clanricard;
O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell; Kavanagh, Baron of Ballyann; and
Fitzpatrick, Baron of Ossory; the clans at home, hearing in due
time of those real treasons, were concerting plans for making
their lords repent of their weakness or treachery, and for
administering to them due punishment on their return.

O'Neill, "the first of his race who had accepted an English
title," on landing in Ireland, learned that, his people had
deposed him, and elected in his stead his son John the Proud,
better known as Shane O'Neill; O'Donnell, on his arrival, met
most, of his clan, headed by his son, up in arms against him;
the new Earl of Clanricard had already been deposed by his
people and another McWilliams, with a Gaelic name, elected in
his place; and so with the rest.

But, unfortunately, the Government of England was strong enough
to support its favorite chieftains, and it found some Irish
tools ready at hand to form the nucleus of an Irish party in
their favor. Thus, unanimity no longer marked the decisions of
the clans; two parties were formed in each of them, the one
national, comprising the great bulk of the people, the real,
true people; the other English, composed of a few apostate
Irishmen, backed by the power of England. Thus, henceforth we
hear of the O'Reilly, and the king's O'Reilly, etc.

Henry VIII. seemed, therefore, with the help of his minister, St.
Leger, to have succeeded in breaking up the clans, after the
Irish national government had been broken up long before.
Confusion of titles, property, and traditions became worse
confounded. How could the shanachies, bards, and brehons, any
longer agree in their pedigrees, songs, and legal decisions?
England had thus early adopted in Ireland the stern and
coldhearted policy which, centuries later, she used to destroy
the native and Mohammedan dynasties in Hindostan. It was not yet
divide et impera on a large scale, but the division was pushed
as far as lay in the power England, to the very last elements of
the social system.

From this time forward, then, we must not be surprised to find
England welcoming to her bosom unworthy sons of Ireland, whom
she wished to make her tools. There was always, either in Dublin
or London, a sufficient supply of materials out of which crown's
chiefs might be manufactured; the government made it part of its
policy to hold in its hands and train to its purposes certain
members of each of the ruling families--of the O'Neills,
O'Reillys, O'Donnells, O'Connors, and others.

It was no longer, therefore, the rooting out and exterminating
policy which prevailed, but one as fatal in its results, which
would have utterly destroyed Irish national feeling, to set up
in its place, not only English manners, language, and customs,
but also English schism, heresy, philosophical speculations --as
the Four Masters have it --finally, materialism and nihilism.

But, in real sober fact, the scheme proved almost an utter
failure, owing to the far-seeing good sense of the people. The
national spirit revived among the upper classes, both native and
of English descent--owing to the decided stand taken by the
inferior clansmen.

The Desmonds and Kildares, in the south, the O'Donnells,
Maguires, and others, in the north, soon showed themselves
animated by a new spirit of ardent Catholicism; created, in fact,
a new nation, quite apart from, or rather embracing, clanship,
well-nigh destroyed the English power, kept Elizabeth, during
the whole of her reign, in constant agitation and fear, and
would have succeeded in recovering their independence, and
securing freedom of worship, had not their good-nature been
imposed upon by the hypocrisy and faithlessness of the Stuarts,
to whom they always looked for freedom in the practice of their
religion, without ever obtaining it.

Thus did the people, the Irish race, thwart the policy of Henry,
who sought to gain over the nobility. Their stubborn resistance
to the vastly-increased and constantly-increasing English power,
grew at last to such proportions, and became so discouraging to
their oppressors, that the old policy of utter extermination was
resumed by Cromwell and the Orange party of the following age.

The refusal of the people, that is to say, of the bulk of the
nation, to submit to the policy of their chieftains, and the
determination to repudiate that policy by deposing its
supporters and choosing others in their stead, was most happy in
its effect on their whole future history.

The leaders, by accepting the new titles bestowed on them by the
English kings, by taking their seats in Parliament, and
concurring in the various measures there passed, subjected
themselves to a foreign rule, surrendered to this rule the tribe-
lands, which it was not in their power to surrender of
themselves, gave up, in fact, their nationality, and became
English subjects. The action of the clansmen reversed all the
fatal consequences resulting from those acts. They remained a
nation distinct from the English, whose laws they had never
either admitted or accepted. And, as the clan spirit declined,
under the policy of England, it only made way for a new and a
greater spirit--religious feeling, the bond of a common religion
assaulted--which, henceforth, lay at the bottom of the whole
struggle--which, for the first time in their history, blended
into one whole the broken clans, gave them a unity and a
consistency never known till then, and thus the real nation was

They might boast, therefore, not only of not having lost their
autonomy, but of being more firmly than ever knit together; they
could conclude treaties of alliance with foreign powers, without
committing treason, and they soon began to use that power; they
could even declare war against England, and it was not rebellion.
The successors of Henry VIII. acted constantly as though the
Irish nation had really subjected itself to English kings and
English rule, as though the acceptance of a few titles by a few
chieftains (who were deposed by their people as soon as the fact
was known) signified an acknowledgment on the part of the Irish
people of their absorption by the English feudal system; they
appeared "horrified" when they saw the successors of those
chieftains reject those titles and resume their own names; and
they called the Irish "rebels" and "traitors" for going to war
with England--a country they had never acknowledged as their
ruler--and introducing into their country Spanish, Italian, and
French troops as allies.

The explanation of the whole mystery consisted in the simple
fact that the people, the nation, had steadily refused to
sanction the act of their leaders; and all the pretensions of
English kings, statesmen, and lawyers, were valueless. Those
Irishmen who subsequently entered into the various Geraldine and
Ulster confederacies, and summoned foreign armies to their aid,
were neither rebels nor traitors, but citizens of an independent
state, possessing their international rights as citizens of any
independent country. This we have seen in a previous chapter,
and Sir John Davies has been obliged to confess its truth,
admitting the difference between a tributary and a subject

A glance shows us the importance of the almost unanimous outcry
of the clansmen of Tyrone, Tyrconnell, and of other parts of
Ireland. Owing to the patriotic feeling of these, nothing
remained for the English but to punish the Irish people for
their resolve of holding to their religion, and to declare a
religious war against them, though they called them all the time
rebels and traitors. This is the view an impartial historian
should take of those mighty events.

But, it is well to look more closely at this new element, which
then showed itself for the first time in Irish national life,
the people, irrespective of clanship; the people, as influencing
the leaders, and thus becoming a living--nay, a ruling power in
the state. And, lest any of our readers should not be convinced
that such really was the case, we mention here a fact, which
will come more prominently before us in the next chapter, that,
at the end of Elizabeth's reign, the efforts of all her large
armies and her tortuous policy for changing the religion of the
country, resulted in the grand total of sixty converts to
Protestantism from the noble class, not one of the clansmen
turning apostate!

Bridget of Kildare would not have been surprised at this, to
judge by what we have previously heard from her.

In order to find the explanation of this wonderful fact, we must
compare the Irish people with other nationalities, and we may
then easily distinguish its peculiar features, so persistent, so
enduring, we may say, indestructible. We shall find that what
this people was three hundred years ago, it is to this day, with
a greater unity of feeling, devotedness to principle, and higher
aims than any people of modern times.

In antiquity, the people, in the Christian sense of the word,
never appeared in the field of history. In the despotic
countries of Asia and Africa, there was and could be no question
of such a thing; it was an inert mass used at will by the despot.
The Phoenician states, and Carthage in particular, were mere
oligarchies, with commerce for their chief object, and slaves
for mercantile or warlike purposes. In the republics of Greece
and Italy, the aristocracy ruled, and when, after centuries of
bloody struggles and revolutions, the subjects of Rome were
finally granted the rights of citizenship, the despotism of the
empire suddenly appeared, crushing both plebs and patricians.

Whenever in those ancient governments we find the lower classes
unable longer to bear the heavy yoke imposed upon them,
revolting against a despotism which had grown insupportable, and
claiming their natural rights, it was merely a surging of waves
raised to mountain-height by the fury of a sudden storm, but
soon allayed and subdued beneath the inflexible will of stern
rulers. The people was a mere mob, whose violence, when
successful, fatally carried destruction with it; and, though it
is seemingly full of a terrible power which nothing can resist,
its power lasts but for a very short time. Could it only outlast
the destruction of all superior rulers, it would end by
destroying itself.

If we would meet with the people, such as we conceive it to be
in accordance with our Christian ideas, we must come down to
that period of time which followed close upon the organization
of Christendom, namely, to the much-abused middle ages.
Feudalism, it is true, withstood its expansion for a long time,
kept alive the remnants of slavery which it had found in Europe
at its birth, or at best invented serfdom as a somewhat milder
substitute for the former degradation of man. But feudalism
itself was not strong enough to prevent the natural consequences
of the vigorous Christianity which at that time prevailed; and
kings, dukes, and feudal bishops, were compelled to grant
charters which insured the freedom of the subject. Then the
people appeared, in the cities first, afterward in the country,
where, however, the peasants had still to drag on for a weary
time the chains of secular serfdom.

Thus the people lived in Spain, where they fought valiantly
under their lords for centuries against the Crescent, so that in
some provinces all classes were ennobled, and not a single
plebeian was to be found, which simply means that the whole mass
of the citizens formed the people. Thus the people had an early
existence in Italy, where every city almost became a centre of
freedom and activity, notwithstanding strife and continual feuds.
Thus the people had its life in France, where the learned men
of Catholic universities determined with precision the limits of
kingly power, and where the outburst of the Crusades brought all
classes together to fight for Christ, forming but one body
engaged alike throughout in a holy cause. Thus, finally, the
people had its life even in Germany and England, where real
liberty, though of later birth, afterward remained more deeply
rooted in social life.

In all those countries, it was called populus Christianus; it
had its associations, its guilds, its Christian customs, its
privileges, its rights. Its existence was acknowledged by law,
and it possessed everywhere either Christian codes, or at least
local customs for its safeguards. It gradually grew into a great
power, and took the name of the "Third Estate," ranking directly
after the clergy, and nobility. Its members knew and respected
the gradations of the social hierarchy as then existing. The
monarchs in most countries, in France chiefly, sided with it
whenever the nobles sought to oppress it, and its deputies were
heard in the Parliaments of the various nations of Christendom.

How many millions of human beings lived happily during several
centuries under these great institutions of mediaeval times! And
if the members of the people at that time could seldom rise
above their order, except through the Church, this unfortunate
inability often prevented dangerous and subversive ambitions,
and was thus really the source and cause of, happiness to all.
Governments at that period lasted for thousands of years; men
could rely on the stability of things, and great enterprises
could be undertaken and carried to a successful termination.

But throughout all Europe, with the single exception of Ireland,
the people had to contend against the feudal power; and it was
only very gradually, and step by step, that it could creep up to
its rights. In Ireland, as we have seen, feudalism had failed to
strike root; so that the clansmen who represented there what the
people did elsewhere, never having been subject to slavery or
serfdom, possessed all the liberties which the ordinary class of
men can claim. They had always borne their share in the affairs
of their own territory, at least by the willing help they
afforded to their leaders, during the Danish wars chiefly, and
afterward throughout the four hundred years of struggle with the
Anglo-Normans. The people were the real conquerors under the
lead of their chieftains, and the perpetual enjoyment of their
beloved customs was the privilege of the least among them as
much as of the proudest of their nobles. They themselves were
well aware of this, and to their own efforts no less than to the
heads of the clans they attributed the advantages which they had

Thus, when the conduct of their chieftain was not in accordance
with what the clansmen considered the right, they were ready to
express their disapproval of his actions by deposing him, and
placing their allegiance at the service of the man of their

But though this course of action is true of the whole period of
their history, more especially from the date of their becoming
Christian up to the time when the blows of religious persecution
welded them into one people, yet they were divided and often at
war among themselves. But no sooner did the work of perversion
make itself felt among them, than we behold the clansmen
exhibiting a unity of feeling on many points which never marked
them before. So that thenceforth the separated clans gradually
began to merge into Irishmen.

This unity of feeling showed itself, above all, in the deep love
for their religion, which at once became universal and all-
pervading. This love had undoubtedly existed before, as it could
scarcely have originated and swollen to such proportions all at
once; but as the stroke of the hammer reveals the spark, so the
force of opposition enkindled the flame and caused it to burst
forth into view. At the first blow it showed itself throughout
the island, and thus the people became once and forever united.

This unity of feeling was displayed likewise in an ardent love
for their country in contradistinction to the special locality
of the tribe. Thus arose a true fraternal union with all their
countrymen of whatever county or city. The old antagonism
between family and family only appeared at fitful and unguarded
intervals; but in general each one grasped the hand of another
only as a Catholic and an Irishman.

This is clearly attributable to their religion. Catholicity
knows no place; its very name is opposed to restrictions of this
character. Could it carry out its purpose, which is that of its
Divine founder, it would make one of all nations; and, to a
certain extent, it has achieved this task. Differences of
character, which are deeply impressed in the nature of various
branches of the human family, are indeed never totally
obliterated by it; but such differences disappear when kneeling
at the same altar and receiving the same sacraments. The
Catholic religion is the only one which is, has ever been, and
must ever claim to be, universal; the religions of antiquity
were purely local.

Since the coming of our Lord, no heresy, no schism has ever
pretended to the reality of a catholic existence, and, if the
word is self-applied by certain sects, the world laughs at it as
a meaningless thing. The Catholic Church alone has truly claimed
and possessed such a character.

But if of all men it makes one family with respect to spiritual
matters, what unanimity of feeling must it not create in a
single nation truly imbued with its spirit, which is attacked
for its sake? Until the reign of Henry VIII., the Irish, in
their struggle with England, could summon no religious thought
to their aid, since England was Catholic also, and the Norman
nobles established among them followed the same calendar,
possessed the same churches, the same creed, the same sacraments.
But as soon as the English power was stamped with heresy, the
opposition to that power assumed a religious aspect, and no
longer restricted itself to the clans immediately attacked, but
spread throughout the whole nation.

To bring the case down to some particular point, in order to
render our meaning more clear, a priest or monk, who was hunted
down, was no longer sure of refuge in his own district, and
among men of his own sept merely, but he was equally welcomed in
the castle of the chieftain or the hut of the peasant through
the length and breadth of the land. Any Irishman, subject to
fine, imprisonment, or torture, for the sake of his religion,
did not find sympathy restricted to his own circle of friends or
acquaintances, but, even if tried and prosecuted in a corner of
the island, far away from his own home, he could count upon the
sympathy of as many friends as there were Irish Catholics to
witness his sufferings. This state of things was certainly
unknown before.

Religion, when deep, is the strongest feeling of the human heart,
and endows the nation steeped in it with an unconquerable
strength. To judge of the intensity of religious feeling in the
Irish, it should be remembered that it was the only legacy left
them after every thing else had been taken away, and, though it
was the special object of attack, they were to be stripped one
by one of their old customs, their own chieftains, their houses
of study and of prayer, their religious and secular teachers,
nay, of the chance even of educating their children, of the
right to possess not merely their own soil, but even to
cultivate a few acres of it, nay, of their very language itself,
in a word, of all that makes a country dear to man. For ages
were they destined to remain outcasts and strangers on the soil
which was their own; abject and ignorant paupers, without the
faintest possibility of rising in the social scale.

One thing only did they keep in their hearts, their faith,
though stripped of all the exterior circumstances which adorn it,
and reduced to its simplest elements. But at least it was their
religion, to deprive them of which, all the wealth, resources,
armies, laws of a powerful nation, were to be strained to the
utmost during long ages. How, then, could they fail to love and
cherish it, to cling fast to it, as to an inestimable treasure,
the only real one indeed they could possess on earth, where all
else passes away?

Here, then, always presupposing the paramount influence of the
grace of God, lay the secret of that indestructible strength and
unwearied energy manifested by Irishmen, from the middle of the
sixteenth century down, and we are enabled thus to appreciate
the value of that unity which persecution alone fastened upon

To the love of religion, which was the origin of that unity,
love of country was soon added, and by love of country we here
understand the love of the whole island, not merely of the
particular sept to which the individual belonged, or of the
particular spot in which he happened to be born. Such had been
the divisions among the people and the chieftains hitherto, that
England could attack one sept without fearing the revolt of the
others, nay, was often assisted by an adverse clan. And so
thoroughly had the Anglo-Normans adopted the native manners,
that the Kildares were frequently at war with the Desmonds,
though both belonged to the same Geraldine family; and the
Ormonds kept up a constant feud with both the Geraldine branches.
When Henry VIII. almost destroyed the Kildares, we do not find
that the Desmonds felt their loss at first; perhaps they even
rejoiced at it.

It was the same with the natives, particularly with the 0'Neills
and the O'Donnells, in the north. The whole island and its
general interests seemed the concern of no one, so taken up were
they by the affairs of their own particular locality. And this
state of feeling had existed from the beginning, even among holy
men. The songs of Columba, of Cormac McCullinan, even of the
Fenian heroes of old, all celebrated the victories of one sept
over another, or the beauties of some one spot in the island, in
preference to all others.

Nay, so prevalent was this clannish spirit, even at the
beginning of the religious troubles, that Henry VIII., and
Elizabeth after him, gained their successes by directing their
attacks against particular places, so certain were they that the
other districts would not come to the rescue.

The feeling of nationality, of what we call patriotism, wrestled
along time in the throes of birth, before coming forth, and it
was only during the latter half of Elizabeth's reign that those
confederacies were formed, which included the whole country and
called in even foreign aid.

But this feeling began to appear as soon as religion was
attacked; and therefore do we call this epoch the true birth of
a people.

And as it is with the people chiefly that we are concerned, it
is to our purpose to remark here that they gradually lost sight
of their petty quarrels and local prejudices in losing their
chieftains; they began to look for leaders among themselves, and,
understanding at last that the whole island was threatened by
the invading policy of England, they were to fight for the whole,
and not for any special district.

Then, for the first time, did Ireland become a reality to them,
an existing personality, a desolate queen weeping over the fate
of her children, calling, with the voice of a stricken mother,
those who survived to her aid, and worthy, by her beauty and
misfortunes, of their most heroic and disinterested efforts.

Religious feeling, then, first made the Irish a nation, and gave
them that unity of thought which they now exhibit everywhere,
even in the remotest quarters of the globe, wherever they may
choose their place of exile. And if there still exists among
them something of that former predilection for the place where
they first saw the light, the other parts of Erin are at least
included in their deep love, and they would shed their blood for
their country, irrespective of prejudice of place.

Thus have they come at last to love each other as men of no
other nation ever did. In order to understand this thoroughly,
we must remember that for ages they, as a people, have been
oppressed and held in bondage by a stern and powerful nation.
They had to defend themselves in turn against the most open and
the most insidious attacks. Bereft in many cases of all the
means of defence, they had nothing left them, save their
religion, and the support they could afford each other.

If, by any stretch of imagination, we could place ourselves in
their position, understand their language when they met each
other in their huts, in their morasses and bogs, in their
mountain fastnesses and desolate moors, could we only enter into
their feelings and see the working of their minds, we might
catch a faint conception of the affection which they must have
felt for brothers waging the deadly fight against the same
enemies, and contending in a seemingly endless and hopeless
struggle against the same terrible odds. Union, affection,
devotedness, are words too weak to serve here.

For this reason, also, do we find the Irish people stamped with
peculiarities which we find in no others. In antiquity, as we
have said, the people could never rise to any thing greater than
a mob; in modern times such has also often been the case. With
the Irish it is not, and could not be so. Their aim has always
been too lofty, their struggle of too long duration, their
morality too genuine and too pure. For their aim has constantly
been to rescue their country; their struggle has lasted nearly
three hundred years; their morality has ever been directed by
the sweetest religion. Extreme cases of oppression such as
theirs may have occasionally given rise to violent outbreaks
inevitable in human despair; but, on the whole, it may to their
honor be fearlessly said, that they have preserved, almost
throughout, a due regard for social hierarchy and all kinds of
rights. Many of them have died of hunger, rather than touch the
property of a rich and hostile neighbor. Where else can we find
such an example?

This union of the people, which was thus brought about by
religious persecution, included not only the natives of the old
race, but the Anglo-Irish themselves, who were brought by
degrees to a unanimity of feeling which they had never known
before, although they had previously adopted Irish manners - a
unanimity which the Lutheran Archbishop Browne had foreseen and
openly denounced beforehand. This was the man who had
unwittingly borne testimony to the Irish that "the common people
of this isle are more zealous in their blindness than the saints
and martyrs were in the truth at the beginning of the Gospel;"
the same George Browne, of Dublin, had also been the first to
perceive that the religious question was beginning, even under
Henry VIII., to unite the native Irish and the descendants of
Strongbow's followers, until that time bitterly opposed to each

In a letter, dated "Dublin, May, 1538," to the Lord Privy Seal,
he said: "It is observed that, ever since his Highness's
ancestors had this nation in possession, the old natives have
been craving foreign powers to assist and raise them; and now
both English race and Irish begin to oppose your lordship's
orders" (about supremacy), "and do lay aside their national old
quarrels, which, I fear, if any thing will cause a foreigner to
invade this nation, that will."

This man, who was altogether worldly and without faith,
displayed in this a keen political foresight far above that of
the ordinary counsellors of England's king. He openly announced
what actually came to pass only toward the middle of Elizabeth's
reign, and what the horrors of the Cromwellian wars were to
complete - the thorough fusion of Irish and Anglo-Norman
Catholics, both transplanted to Connaught, perishing under the
sword of the soldier, the rope of the hangman, or dying of
starvation in the recesses of their mountains - united forever
in the bonds of martyrdom.

The "birth of the Irish people" was to be insured by another
measure of the English Government - the suppression of religious
houses. We must, in conclusion, turn to this.

In the annals of the Four Masters, under the year 1537, we read:
"A heresy and a new error broke out in England, the effect of
pride, vainglory, avarice, sensual desire, and the prevalence of
a variety of scientific and philosophical speculations, so that
the people of England went into opposition to the Pope and to

"At the same time, they followed a variety of opinions; and,
adopting the old law of Moses, after the manner of the Jewish
people, they gave the title of Head of the Church of God, during
his reign, to the king. They ruined the orders who were
permitted to hold worldly possessions, namely, monks, canons
regular, nuns, and Brethren of the Cross, etc . . . . They broke
into the monasteries, they sold their roofs and bells; so that
there was not a monastery from Arran of the Saints to the Iccian
Sea that was not broken and scattered, except only a few in

And, under 1540, they say: "The English, in every place
throughout Ireland, where they established their power,
persecuted and banished the nine religious orders, and
particularly they destroyed the monastery of Monaghan, and
beheaded the guardian and a number of friars."

We may add that, at the restoration of the old faith under Queen
Mary, nothing had to be restored in Ireland save the monasteries.
These establishments had, almost without exception, been
ruthlessly destroyed.

In our previous considerations, we have spoken of no other
religious houses in Ireland, save those of the old Columbian
order of monks, as it was called, which was a growth of the
country, and bore so many marks of Irish peculiarities. This
continued until, communications with Rome becoming more frequent,
the various orders established in the West were successively
introduced into Ireland. Our purpose is not to write a history
of monasticism, and therefore we do not intend entering into
details on this point, interesting though they are. But we may
add that, gradually, the old monasteries - from the Norman
invasion chiefly - as well as the new ones which were
established, were placed under the rule of the various
congregations, acknowledged by the Holy See. It seems that the
monasteries founded by St. Columba himself afterward submitted
to the rule of St. Benedict, the others, for the most part,
embracing that of the canons regular of St. Augustine; but the
precise epoch of these changes is not known. It is certain,
however, that the Benedictines, Cistercians, and Bernardines,
were introduced into the country at a very early date, together
with the four mendicant orders of Franciscans, Dominicans,
Carmelites, and Augustinians.

The pretext for their destruction was, of course, the same in
England as in all the other countries of Europe - their need of
reformation; but it does not appear that even this pretence was
put forward in the case of the Irish monasteries. The fact was,
the breath of suspicion could not rest upon those stainless
establishments in the Isle of Saints. In the idea of the natives,
their very names had ever been synonymous with holiness and all
Christian virtues, and so they continued to enjoy the most
unbounded popularity. The fact of the English Government
selecting them as a special point of attack is in itself
sufficient to vindicate their character from any aspersion. Two
measures were deemed necessary and sufficient for the purpose of
detaching Ireland from its allegiance to the Holy See, and of
introducing schism, if not heresy, into the country. One, and
certainly the most efficacious of these, was thought to be the
destruction of convents for both sexes. This, we affirm, is
ample apology for their inmates.

But this general reflection is not enough for our purpose, which
is, to delineate and bring out the true character of the nation.
It is, therefore, fitting to give an idea of the extent to which
the monastic influence prevailed, and of the nature of the
people who cherished, loved, and accepted it at all times.

It may be said that the Christian Church, as established in the
island by St. Patrick, rested mainly for its support on the
religious orders. In many cases the abbots of monasteries were
superior to bishops, and, as a general rule, the hierarchy of
the Church was, as it were, subordinate to monastic
establishments.1 (1 Vide Montalembert's "Monks of the West:
Bollandists, Oct.," tome xii., p. 888.) At the time we speak of,
indeed, such was no longer the case; but the previously-existing
state of reciprocal subordination between abbots and bishops
during several centuries, in Ireland,, had left deep traces in
the nature of the institutions and of the people itself. It may
be said that in the mind of an Irishman the existence of
Christianity almost presupposed a numerous array of convents and
religious houses. And this idea of theirs can scarcely be called
a wrong one, nor did they exaggerate the value of religious
orders, since their estimate of them was no higher than that of
Christ himself and his Church.

If with justice it was said that the French monarchy was
established by bishops, with equal justice may it be said that
the Irish people had been educated, nay, created by monks. The
monks had taken the place left vacant by the Druids, and thus
they became for the Christian what the others had been for the
pagan Irish. For a long period the Irish monks formed a very
considerable portion of the population. In their body were
concentrated the gifts of science, art, holiness, even miracles
without number, unless we are to suppose that the hagiography of
the island was intrusted to the care of idiots incapable of
ascertaining current facts. The vast literature of the island,
greater indeed than that of any other Christian country at the
time, was either the product of monastic intellect and learning,
or at least had been translated and preserved by monks. The
gifted Eugene O'Curry could fill numbers of the pages of his
great work with the bare titles of the books which are known to
have issued from the Irish monasteries, of which but a few
fragments remain; and no sensible man who has read his book can
affect to despise establishments which could produce so many
proofs of fancy, intellect, and erudition. The scattered
fragments of that rich literature, which had escaped the fury of
the Scandinavian, the ignorance and rapacity of the early Anglo-
Norman, the blind fanaticism of the Puritan, could still in the
seventeenth century furnish materials enough for the immense
compilations of the Four Masters, Ward, Wadding, Lynch, and

What we have here stated is the simple, unvarnished truth; yet
it is but yesterday that the subject has really begun to be

But what is chiefly worthy our attention is, that the
monasteries were not only the seats of learning and literature
in Ireland, but they constituted and comprised in themselves
every thing of value which the nation possessed. As they were
found everywhere, there was not room for much else in the
department they filled in the island. Take them away, and the
country is a blank. So well were the crafty counsellors of Henry
VIII. and Elizabeth satisfied of this, that they insisted on the
destruction of the monasteries, and turned all their efforts to
carry their purpose into effect.

Feudalism had failed in its endeavor to cover the country with
castles; the native royalty and inferior chieftainship being
engaged in constant bickerings with each other and with the
common foe, had been unable to enrich the country with monuments
of art and wealthy palaces; the Church alone had accomplished
whatever had been effected in this way, and in the Church the
monks rather than the bishops had for a long time exercised the
preponderating influence. Hence, it may be truly said that
Ireland was essentially a monastic country, more so than any
other nation of Christendom.

This fact explains how it happened that the monastic
institutions could not be destroyed. The convent-walls might be
battered down, the more valuable edifices might be converted
into dwellings for the new Protestant aristocracy, their
property might go to enrich upstarts, and feed the rapacity of
greedy conquerors, but the institution itself could not perish.

It is true that in all Catholic countries this seems also to be
the case; but wide is the difference with regard to Ireland. In
all places religious establishments have frequently been the
object of anti-Christian fury and rage. They have often been
destroyed, and seem to have utterly disappeared, when the world
has been surprised by their speedy resurrection. The fact is,
the Church needs them, and the practice of evangelical counsels
must forever be in a state of active operation upon earth, since
the grace of God always inspires with it a number of select
souls. God is the source; consequently the stream must flow,
since the life-spring is eternal and ever-running.

But in other countries besides the one under our consideration
religious houses and institutions have sometimes been
effectually rooted out, at least for a time. When the French
Constituent Assembly, by one of its destructive decrees, closed
those establishments all over France, such of them as by their
laxity deserved to die, ceased at once to exist, and poured
forth their inmates to swell the ranks of a corrupt society, and
add religious degradation to the immoral filth of the world.
Those religious houses, within whose walls the spirit of God had
not ceased to dwell, were indeed closed and emptied; but their
inmates endeavored to live their lives of religion in some
unknown and obscure spot, until the madness of the Convention,
and the Reign of Terror which soon followed, rendered the
continuation of the holy exercises of any community absolutely
impossible. But mark this well: the holy aims of the monks and
nuns found no response in the nation, and, finding themselves
almost entirely rejected by a faithless people, with no resting-
place in the whole extent of the country, a sudden and total
interruption of religious ascetic life in the once most Catholic
nation of Europe was the result.

The same may soon come to pass in our days in Italy and Spain,
until better times return to those now distracted countries, and
the extremities of evil bring them back to something of their
primitive faith.

Not so in Ireland: the communities could continue to exist even
when turned out-of-doors, because the nation wanted them, and
could afford them asylum and peace in the worst periods of
persecution. And this great fact of the mutual love between
monks, priests, and people, contributed also in no small degree
to that union among all, which henceforth became the
characteristic feature of a people hitherto split up into
hostile clans. Nothing probably tended so much toward effecting
the birth of the nation as the deep attachment existing between
the Irish and their religious orders. The latter had always
preached peace and often reconciled enemies, and brought furious
men to the practice of Christian charity and forbearance.

We have seen instances of this when the clans were all powerful
and the chieftains thought of nothing but of "preyings," as they
called them, compelling their enemies to give "hostages" and
devastating the territories of hostile clans. Then the voice of
the monk came to be heard in the midst of contending passions,
and real miracles were often performed by them in changing into
lambs men who resembled roaring lions or devouring wolves; but
their action became much more efficacious when nothing was left
to the people save their religion and the "friars." These, it is
true, could no longer reside within the walls of their convents,
but on that very account their life became more truly one with
that of the people.

Sometimes they found refuge in the large, hospitable dwellings
of the native nobility, where, during the latter part of the
reign of Henry VIII. and the whole of that of Elizabeth, the
almost independent power of the chieftains could still afford
them succor. Sometimes also the humbler dwelling of the farmer
or the peasant offered them a sure asylum, wherein they could
practise their ministry in almost perfect freedom, owing to the
sure and inviolable secrecy of the inmates and neighbors. For a
great distance around, the Catholics knew of their abode, were
often visited by them, even without mach danger of the fact
becoming known to spies and informers. And this brings naturally
before us a new feature of the Irish character.

Their nature, which was so expansive and passionate on all other
subjects, so that to keep a secret was an impossible feat to
them, wore another character when danger to their religion or
its ministers required of them to set a seal on their lips. For
years frequently, large numbers of priests and religious could
not only exist, but move and work among them, without their
place of abode becoming known to the swarms of enemies who
surrounded them. The nation was trained to prudence and
discretion by centuries of oppression and tyranny. Many facts of
this nature are known and recorded in the dark annals of those
times; but how many more will be known never!

Thus, in the year 1588, during the worst part of Elizabeth's
reign, "John O'Malloy, Cornelius Dogherty, and Walfried Ferral,
of the order of St. Francis, fell finally victims to the malice
of the heretics. They had spent eight years in administering the
consolations of religion throughout the mountainous districts of
Leinster. Many families of Carlow, Wicklow, and Wexford, had
been compelled to take a refuge in the mountains from the fury
of the English troops. The good Franciscans shared in all their
perils, travelling about from place to place, by night; they
visited the sick, consoled the dying, and offered up the sacred
mysteries for all. Oftentimes the hard rock was their only bed;
but they willingly embraced nakedness, and hunger, and cold, to
console their afflicted brethren." - (Moran's Archbishops of

In these few words, we have a picture of the mountain monastery.
During those eight years, how many Irish were consoled and
comforted by those few laborers, who, driven from their holy
home, had chosen to live in the wilderness, and practise their
rule among the wandering people of three large counties,
receiving in return the substance, the love, and loving secrecy
of their flock! We have only to figure to ourselves this scene,
or similar, repeated in every corner of the land, and we may
then easily understand how the Irish people were brought to the
unanimous resolve of standing by each other, and how, from the
state of complete division which formerly prevailed, the
elements of a compact, solid, and indestructible body, began to

We attribute this "birth of a nation" to Henry VIII., because
the change which he tried to introduce into the religion of the
island constituted the occasion and origin of it; and, although
his reign never witnessed that perfect union of the people which
came later on, nevertheless, it is true that then it surely
began, and its origin was the attempt to establish his spiritual
supremacy in Ireland.

This feeling of union and strength in love went on growing, and
showed itself more and more, wring the two centuries which
followed, when so many scenes similar to the one described were
enacted in the remotest parts of the island. God, in his mercy,
provided it with many high mountains, difficult of access, whose
paths were known only to the natives. In these fastnesses, the
holy men, who had been driven from their dwellings and their
churches, could rest in peace and attend to the duties of their
office. They could even recruit their shattered forces, admit
novices, and train them up; and thus their rule continued to be
observed, and their existence as a body protracted, long after
their enemies imagined that they had perished utterly. As soon
as quiet was restored, when persecution abated, and breathing-
time was given them, so that they could show themselves, with
some safety, more openly, they visited their old abodes, often
found some portions of the ruins which admitted of repair, and
dwelt again in security where their predecessors had dwelt for

The peasant's hut would also often afford them shelter; some
solitary farm-house on the borders of a lake, or near a deep
morass, took the name of their monastery; some cranogue in the
lake, or dry spot in the thick of the morass, which they could
reach by paths known to themselves only, was their asylum in
times of extraordinary danger. In ordinary times, the farm-house,
to which they had given the name of their lost monastery, was
their convent. It was thus the brothers O'Cleary, and their
companions, lived for years, editing the work of the "Four
Masters," until, at length, they succeeded in publishing their
extraordinary "Annals." The manuscripts which, in spite of the
raging persecution, and the "penal laws," they traversed the
whole island to collect, were preserved, with a reverend care,
in a poor Irish hut. Literary treasures which have since
unfortunately perished, but which they saved for a time from the
reach of the enemy, and which they perpetuated by having them
printed, filled the poor presses and the old furniture of their
asylum, and, owing purely to the friendly help of those who had
given them shelter, they were enabled to enrich the world with
their marvellous compilation.

From the mountain and the hut, on the river-side, the monks were
sometimes allowed to move to their former dwellings, at the risk,
nevertheless, of their liberty and lives. What their ancestors
had done during the Scandinavian invasions, when the monasteries
were so often destroyed and rebuilt, that did the monks of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries likewise in many parts of
the island.

Thus, Father Mooney, a Franciscan, relates that his monastery -
that of Multifarnham - having been totally destroyed by Sir
Francis Shean, and many monks having been killed, he, with a few
others, after long and extraordinary adventures, came back to
the spot, then abandoned by the enemy, and "before the feast of
the Nativity of our Lord, we built up a little house on the site
of the monastery, and there we dwelt who were left after the
flight . . . . . Afterward, Father Nehemias Gregan, the father
guardian, began to build a church, and to repair the monastery,
and for this purpose caused much wood to be cut in the territory
of Deabhna McLochlain; and when they had roofed a chapel and
some other buildings, there came the soldiers of another Sir
Francis Ringtia, and they burned down the monastery again, and
carried off some of the brethren captive to Dublin."

This convent of Multifarnham was raised a third time; and, in
fact, remained in possession of the Franciscans throughout the
persecution, so that to this day the old church has been restored
by them, and the modern house, which now forms their convent,
is built on the site of the old monastery.

Such for a long time was the case with many other religious
establishments; for the same Father Mooney, writing as late as
1624, says: "When Queen Elizabeth strove to make all Ireland
fall away from the Catholic faith, and a law was passed
proscribing all the members of the religious orders, and giving
their monasteries and possessions to the treasury, while all the
others took to flight, or at least quitted their houses, and,
for safety's sake, lived privately and singly among their
friends, and receiving no novices, the order of St. Francis
alone ever remained, as it were, unshaken. For, though they were
violently driven out of some convents to the great towns, and
the convents were profanely turned into dwellings for seculars,
and some of the fathers suffered violence, and even death; yet,
in the country and other remote places, they ever remained in
the convents, celebrating the divine office according to the
custom of religious, their preachers preaching to the people and
performing their other functions, training up novices and
preserving the conventual buildings, holding it sinful to lay
aside, or even hide, their religious habit, though for an hour,
through any human fear. And, every three years, they held their
regular provincial chapters in the woods of the neighborhood,
and observed the rule as it is kept in provinces that are in

Thus, when the Cromwellian persecution began, the religious
orders were again flourishing in Ireland. They had obtained from
the Stuarts some relaxation in the execution of the laws, and,
as all at the time were fighting for Charles I. against the
Parliamentarians, it was only natural that the authorities did
not carry out the barbarous laws to their full extent in the

It is no matter of great surprise, therefore, that, in 1641,
more than one hundred years after the decree of Henry VIII., the
Franciscan order still possessed sixty-two flourishing houses in
Ireland, each with a numerous community, besides ten convents of
nuns of the order of St. Clare. The acts of the General Chapter
of the Dominicans, held in Rome in 1656, referring to the same
persecution of Cromwell, state that, when it began, there were
forty-three convents of the order, containing about six hundred
inmates, of whom only one-fourth survived the calamity. The
Jesuits were eighty in number, in 1641, of whom only seventeen
remained when the storm had passed away. From a petition
presented to the Sacred Congregation, in 1654, we learn that all
the Capuchins had been banished, except a few who remained on
the island, where they lived as "shepherds," "herdsmen," or
"tillers of the soil."

All the decrees of the Parliaments of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth
had not succeeded, in the space of a century, in destroying
monasticism; the Cromwellian war alone seemed to have done so,
as it left the entire nation almost at the last gasp, on the
verge of annihilation. Nevertheless, a few years saw the orders
again revive and prepare to start their holy work anew. Henry
VIII. then, and his vicar, Cromwell, deceived themselves in
thinking that they had put an end to monasticism in the land
which had been the cradle of so many families of religious. They
succeeded only in intensifying the determination of Irishmen not
to allow their nationality to be absorbed in that of England. If
any thing was calculated to nourish and keep alive that
sentiment in their hearts, it was their daily communing with the
holy men who shared their distress, their mountain-retreats,
their poverty in the bogs, their wretchedness in the woods and
glens. If monasticism had created and nurtured the nation on its
first becoming Christian, it gave to the people a second birth
holier than the first, because consecrated by martyrdom.
Henceforth, divided clans and antagonistic septs were to be
unknown among them: only Catholic Irishmen were to remain ranked
around the successors of "the saints" of old, all determined to
be what they were, or die. But as laws, edicts, and measures of
fanatic frenzy cannot destroy a nation, the new people was
destined to survive for better and brighter days.

We have anticipated the course of events somewhat, in order to
pass in review the chief facts connected with the designs of the
English Government upon the religious orders. These few words
will suffice to give the reader an idea of the new character
which such events impressed upon the Irish nation. Every day saw
it more compact; every day the resolve to fight to the death for
God's cause, grew stronger; the old occasions of division grew
less and less, and that unanimity, which suffering for a noble
cause naturally gives rise to in the human heart, showed itself
more and more. A nation, in truth, was being born in the throes
of a wide-spread and long-continued calamity; but long ages were
in store in times to come to reward it for the misfortunes of
the past.

It is a remarkable thing that, when England, through fear of
civil war, was compelled to grant Catholic emancipation in 1829,
when Irish agitators succeeded in wrenching it from the enemy,
and obtaining it, not only for themselves, but likewise for
their English Catholic brethren, the British statesmen, who
finally consented to such a tardy measure of justice, steadily
refused, nevertheless, to extend the boon to the religious
orders. These remained under the ban, and so they remain still.
The "penal laws" were never repealed for them, and, even to this
day, they are, according to law, strictly prohibited from
"receiving novices" under all the barbarous penalties formerly
enacted and never abrogated.

But the nation has constantly considered this exception as not
to be taken into account. The religious orders now existing are
under the protection of the people, and England has never dared
to use even a threat against the open violation of these "laws."
Dr. Madden, in his interesting work on "Penal Laws," gives
prominence to this fact by warmly taking up the old theme of
thorough-going Irish Catholicity, by asserting, with force, that
"religious orders are necessary to the Church," and that to deny
their right to exist, even though it be only on paper in the
statute-book, is none the less an outrage against so thoroughly
Catholic a nation as the Irish.

The only fact which appears to clash with our reflections is the
one well ascertained and mentioned by us, that some native Irish
lords occupied certain monasteries and took their share in the
sacrilegious plunder. But a few chieftains cannot be said to
constitute the nation, and doubtless many of those who yielded
to the temptation, listened later to the reproving voice of
their conscience, as in the following case, given by Miles
O'Reilly, in his "Irish Martyrs:"

"Gelasius O'Cullenan, born of a noble family in Connaught . . .
joined the Cistercian order. Having competed his studies in
Paris, the monastery of Boyle was destined as the field of his
labors. On his arrival in Ireland, he found that the monastery,
with its property, had been seized on by one of the neighboring
gentry, who was sheltered in his usurpation by the edict of
Elizabeth. The abbot . . . went boldly to the usurping nobleman,
admonishing him of the guilt he had incurred; and the
malediction of Heaven, which he would assuredly draw down upon
his family. Moved by his exhortations, the nobleman restored to
him the full possession of the monastery and lands; and, some
time after, contemplating the holy life of its inmates, . . . he,
too, renounced the world and joined the religious institute."



On January 12, 1559, in the second year of the reign of
Elizabeth, a Parliament was convened in Dublin to pass the Act
of Supremacy; that is to say, to establish Lutheranism in
Ireland, as had already been done in England, under the garb of

But the attempt was fated to encounter a more determined
opposition in Dublin than it had in London.

Sir James Ware says, in reference to it: "At the very beginning
of this Parliament, her Majestie's well-wishers found that most
of the nobility and Commons--they were all English by blood or
birth--were divided in opinion about the ecclesiastical
government, which caused the Earl of Sussex (Lord Deputy) to
dissolve them, and to go over to England to confer with her
Majesty about the affairs of this kingdom.

"These differences were occasioned by the several alterations
which had happened in ecclesiastical matters within the compass
of twelve years.

"1. King Henry VIII. held the ecclesiastical supremacy with the
first-fruits and tenths, maintaining the seven sacraments, with
obits and mass for the living and the dead.

"2. King Edward abolished the mass, authorizing the book of
common prayers, and the consecration of the bread and wine in
the English tongue, and establishing only two sacraments.

"3. Queen Mary, after King Edward's decease, brought all back
again to the Church of Rome, and the papal obedience.

"4. Queen Elizabeth, on her first Parliament in England, took
away the Pope's supremacy, reserving the tenths and first-fruits
to her heirs and successors. She put down the mass, and, for a
general uniformity of worship in her dominions, as well in
England as in Ireland, she established the book of common
prayers, and forbade the use of popish ceremonies."

Such is the very lucid sketch furnished by Ware of the changes
which had taken place in religion in England within the brief
space of twelve years.

The members of the Irish Parliament, although of English descent,
could not so easily reconcile themselves to these rapid changes
as their fellows in England had done; in fact, they laid claim
to a conscience--a thing seemingly unknown to the English
members, or, if known at all, of an exceedingly elastic and
slippery nature. Here lay the difficulty: how was it to be
overcome? The conversation between Elizabeth and Sussex must
have been of a very interesting character.

Returning with private instructions from the queen, the Earl of
Sussex again convened the Parliament, which only consisted of
the so called representatives of ten counties--Dublin, Meath,
West Meath, Louth, Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford,
Tipperary, and Wexford. We see that the almost total extinction
of the Kildare branch of the Geraldines had extended the English
Pale. The other deputies were citizens and burgesses of those
towns in which the royal authority predominated. "With such an
assembly," says Leland, "it is little wonder that, in despite of
clamor and opposition, in a session of a few weeks, the whole
ecclesiastical system of Queen Mary was entirely reversed." It
is needless to remark that the people had nothing whatever to do
with this reversal; it merely looked on, or was already
organizing for resistance.

Nevertheless, even in that assembly the queen's agents were
obliged to have recourse to fraud and deception, in order to
carry her measures, and it cannot be said that they obtained a

"The proceedings," according to Mr. Haverty, "are involved in
mystery, and the principal measures are believed to have been
carried by means fraudulent and clandestine." And, in a note, he
adds: "It is said that the Earl of Sussex, to calm the protests
which were made in Parliament, when it was found that the law
had been passed by a few members assembled privately, pledged
himself solemnly that this statute would not be enforced
generally on laymen during the reign of Elizabeth."1 (1 Dr.
Curry, in his "Civil Wars," has collected some curious facts in
illustration of this point.)

Whatever the means adopted to introduce and carry out the new
policy, it was certainly enacted that "the queen was the head of
the Church of Ireland, the reformed worship was reestablished as
under Edward VI., and the book of common prayers, with further
alterations, was reintroduced. A fine of twelve pence was
imposed on every person who should not attend the new service,
for each offence; bishops were to be appointed only by the queen,
and consecrated at her bidding. All officers and ministers,
ecclesiastical or lay, were bound to take the oath of supremacy,
under pain of forfeiture or incapacity; and any one who
maintained the spiritual supremacy of the Pope was to forfeit,
for his first offence, all his estates, real and personal, or be
imprisoned for one year, if not worth twenty pounds; for the
second offence, to be liable to praemunire; and for the third,
to be guilty of high-treason."

It was understood that those laws would be strictly enforced
against all priests and friars, though left generally
inoperative for lay people; and, with certain exceptions,
mentioned by Dr. Curry, such was the rule observed. Thus, the
reign of Elizabeth, which was such a cruel one for ecclesiastics,
produced few martyrs among the laity in Ireland. And, for this
reason, Sir James Ware is able to boast that, in all the
"rebellions" of the Irish against Elizabeth; they falsely
complained that their freedom of worship was curtailed, as
though they could worship without either priests or churches.

But the law was passed which made it "high-treason" to assert,
three times in succession, the spiritual supremacy of the Pope;
and, henceforth, whoever should suffer in defence of that
Catholic dogma, was to be a traitor and not a martyr.

The woman, seated on the English throne, speedily discovered
that it was not so easy a matter to change the religion of the
Irish as it had been to subvert completely that of her own

Deprived of religious houses and means of instruction, deprived
of priests and churches, no communication with Rome save by
stealth, the Irish still showed their oppressors that their
consciences were free, and that no acts of Parliament or
sentences of iniquitous tribunals could prevent their remaining

By promising to deal as lightly with the laity as severely with
the clergy, Elizabeth felt confident that the Catholic religion
would soon perish in Ireland, and that, with the disappearance
of the priests, the churches, sacraments, instruction, and open
communion with Rome, would also disappear. To all seeming, her
surmises were correct; but the people were silently gathering
and uniting together as they had never done before.

The whole of Elizabeth's Irish policy may be comprised under two
headings: 1. Her policy toward the nobles, apparently one of
compromise and toleration, but really one of destruction, and so
rightly did they understand it that they rose and called in
foreign aid to their assistance; 2. Her church policy, one of
blood and total overthrow, which priests and people, now united
forever in the same great cause, resisted from the outset, and
finally defeated; and the decrees of high-treason, which were
carried out with frightful barbarity, only served to confirm the
Irish people in that unanimity which the wily dealings of Henry
VIII. had originated.

I. With the nobility Elizabeth hoped to succeed by flattery,
cunning, deceit, finally by treachery, and sowing dissension
among them; but all her efforts only served to knit them more
firmly one to another, and to revive among them the true spirit
of nationality and patriotism.

She did not state to them that her great object was to destroy
the Catholic Church; neverthless they should have felt and
resented it from the beginning; above all, ought they to have
given expression to the contempt they entertained for the bait
held out to them that the "laws" would not be executed against
them, but against Churchmen only. Had they been truly animated
by the feelings which already possessed the hearts of the people,
they would have scornfuly rejected the compromise proposed.

But she appeared to allow them perfect freedom in religious
matters; she subjected them to no oath, as in England; the new
laws were a dead letter as far as regarded the native lords, who
lived under other laws and remained silent, as with the lords of
the Pale. Yet nothing was of such importance in her eyes as the
enforcement of those decrees; consequently, she could only
accomplish her designs by deceit. George Browne, the first
Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, had predicted that the old
Irish race and the Anglo-Irish chieftains would unite and
combine with Continental powers in order to establish their
independence. The whole policy of Elizabeth's reign would give
us reason to believe that she rightly understood the deep remark
of the worldly heretic. Hence, although (or, rather, because)
the north, Ulster, was at that time the stronghold of Catholic
feeling, and the O'Neills and O'Donnells its leaders, she
flatters them, has them brought to her court, pardons several
"rebellions" of Shane the Proud, and afterward loads with her
favors the young Hugh of Tyrone, whom she kept at her own court.
She would dazzle them by the splendor of that court, by the
royal presents she so royally lavishes upon them, and by the
prospect of greater favors still to come. Meanwhile on the south
she turns a stern eye, and makes up her mind to destroy what is
left of the Geraldine family. This was to be the beginning of
the war of extermination, and the nobility which at the time was
disunited became firmly consolidated shortly after.

It is needless to go into the glorious and romantic history of
the Geraldine family. Elizabeth chose them for the first object
of her attack, because they, as Anglo-Irish Catholics, were more
odious in her eye than the pure Irish.

She knew that the then Earl of Desmond had escaped almost by
miracle from the island with his younger brother John, when the
rest of the noble stock had been butchered at Tyburn. She knew
that Gerald, after many wanderings, had finally reached Rome,
been educated under the care of his kinsman, Cardinal Pole,
cherished as a dear son by the reigning Pontiff, had
subsequently appeared at the Tuscan court of Cosmo de Medici;
that consequently, since his return to Ireland, he might be
considered the chief of the Catholic party there, although, to
save himself from attainder and hold possession of his immense
wealth in Munster, he displayed the greatest reserve in all his
actions, appeared to respect the orders of the queen in all
things, even in her external policy against the Church; so that
if priests were entertained in his castles, it was always by
stealth, and they were compelled to lead a life of total

But, despite all this outward show, Elizabeth knew that Gerald
was really a sincere Catholic, that he considered himself a
sovereign prince, and would consequently have small scruple
about entering into a league against her, not only with the
northern Irish chieftains, but even with the Catholic princes of
the Continent. She resolved, therefore, to destroy him.

Sidney was sent to Ireland as lord-lieutenant. He travelled
first through all Munster, and complained bitterly that the
Irish chieftains were destroying the country by their divisions,
though perfectly conscious that those divisions were secretly
encouraged by England. He appeared to listen to the people, when
they complained of their lords, and yet at the holding of
assizes he hanged this same people on the flimsiest pretexts,
and had them executed wholesale. In one of his dispatches to the
home government, he makes complacent allusion to the countless
executions which accompanied his triumphant progress through
Munster: "I wrote not," he says, "the name of each particular
varlet that has died since I arrived, as well by the ordinary
course of the law, and the martial law, as flat fighting with
them, when they would take food without the good-will of the
giver; for I think it is no stuff worthy the loading of my
letters with; but I do assure you, the number of them is great,
and some of the best, and the rest tremble. For the most part
they fight for their dinner, and many of them lose their heads
before they are served with supper. Down they go in every corner,
and down they shall go, God willing."--(Sidney's Dispatches, Br. M.)

This was the man who announced himself as the avenger of the
people on their rulers. He complained chiefly of Gerald of
Desmond, and, without any pretext, summoned him with his brother
John, carried them prisoners to Dublin, and afterward sent them
to the Tower of London. The shanachy of the family relates that
then, and then only, Gerald sent a private message to his
kinsmen and retainers, appointing his cousin James, son of
Maurice, known as James Fitzmaurice, the head and leader in his
family during his own absence.

"For James," says the shanachy, "was well known for his
attachment to the ancient faith, no less than for his valor and
chivalry, and gladly did the people of old Desmond receive these
commands, and inviolable was their attachment to him who was now
their appointed chieftain."

James began directly to organize the memorable "Geraldine League,
" upon the fortunes of which, for years, the attention of
Christendom was fixed.

This, the first open treaty of Irish lords with the Pope, as a
sovereign prince, and with the King of Spain, calls for a few
remarks on the right of the Irish to declare open war with
England, and choose their own friends and allies, without being

The English were at this very time so conscious of the weakness
of their title to the sovereignty of Ireland, that they were
continually striving to prop up their claims by the most absurd

In the posthumous act of attainder against Shane O'Neill in the
Irish Parliament of 1569, Elizabeth's ministers affected to
trace her title to the realm of Ireland back to a period
anterior to the Milesian race of kings. They invented a
ridiculous story of a "King Gurmondus," son to the noble King
Belan of Great Britain, who was lord of Bayon in Spain--they
probably meant Bayonne in France--as were many of his successors
down to the time of Henry II., who possessed the island after
the "comeing of Irishmen into the same lande."--(Haverty, Irish
Statutes, 2 Eliz., sess. 3, cap. i.)

These learned men who flourished in the golden reign of
Elizabeth must have thought the Irish very easily imposed upon
if they imagined they could give ear to such a fabrication, at a
time when each great family had its own chronicler to trace its
pedigree back to the very source of the race of Miledh.

The title of conquest, at that time a valid one in all countries,
had no value with the Irish who never had been and never
admitted themselves to have been conquered. Had they not
preserved their own laws, customs, language, local governments?
Had the English ever even attempted to subject them to their
laws? They had openly refused to grant their pretended benefits
to those few "degenerate Irishmen" who in sheer despair had
applied for them. This policy of separation was adopted by
England with the view of "rooting out" the Irish. The English
Government could therefore only accept the natural consequence
of such a system--that the Irish race should be left to itself,
in the full enjoyment of its own laws and local governments.

The very policy of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, as displayed in
their attempt to break down the clans by favoring "well-disposed
Irishmen" and setting them up, by fraudulent elections, as
chiefs of the various septs, proves that the English themselves
admitted the clans to be real nation--_nationes_--as they were
called at the time by Irish chroniclers and by English writers
even. It was an acknowledgment of the plain fact that the
natives possessed and exercised their own laws of succession and
election, their own government and autonomy.

The disappearance of the Ard-Righ, who had held the titular
power over the whole country, is no proof that the Irish
possessed no government: for they themselves had refused for
several centuries to acknowledge his power. The island was split
up into several small independent states, each with the right of
levying war, and making peace and alliance. Gillapatrick, of
Ossory, dispatched his ambassador to Henry VIII. to announce
that if he, the English king, did not prevent his deputy, Rufus
Pierce, of Dublin, from annoying the clans of Ossory,
Gillapatrick would, in self-defence, declare war against the
King of England. And the imperious Henry Tudor, instead of
laughing at the threat of the chieftain; was shrewd enough to
recognize its significance, and prevented it being carried into
execution by admitting the cause as valid, and submitting the
conduct of his deputy to an investigation.

Moreover, the principles by which Christendom had been ruled for
centuries, were just then being broken up by the advent of
Protestantism; and novel theories were being introduced for the
government of modern nations. What were the old principles, and
what the new; and how stood Ireland with respect to each?

In the old organization of Christendom, the key-stone of the
whole political edifice was the papacy. Up to the sixteenth
century, the Sovereign Pontiff had been acknowledged by all
Christian nations as supreme arbiter in international questions,
and if England did possess any shadow of authority over Ireland,
it was owing to former decisions of popes, who, being
misinformed, had allowed the Anglo-Norman kings to establish
their power in the island. Whatever may be thought of the bull
of Adrian IV., this much is certain: we do not pretend to solve
that vexed historical problem.

But, by rebelling against Rome, by rejecting the title of the
Pope, England threw away even that claim, and by the bull of
excommunication, issued against Elizabeth, the Irish were
released from their allegiance to her, supposing that such
allegiance had existed, solely built upon this claim.

So well was this understood at the time, that the Roman Pontiffs,
as rulers of the Papal States, the Emperors of Germany, as
heads of the German Empire, and the Kings of Spain and France,
always covertly and sometimes openly received the envoys of
O'Neill, Desmond, and O'Donnell, and openly dispatched troops
and fleets to assist the Irish in their struggle for their de
facto independence.

All this was in perfect accordance, not merely with the
authority which Catholic powers still recognized in the
Sovereign Pontiff, but even with the new order of things which
Protestantism had introduced into Western Europe, and which
England, as henceforth a leading Protestant power, had accepted
and eagerly embraced. By the rejection of the supreme
arbitration of the Popes, on the part of the new heretics,
Europe lost its unity as Christendom, and naturally formed
itself into two leagues, the Catholic and the Protestant. An
oppressed Catholic nationality, above all a weak and powerless
one, had therefore the right of appeal to the great Catholic
powers for help against oppression. And the pretension of
England to the possession of Ireland was the very essence of
oppression and tyranny in itself, doubly aggravated by the fact
of an apostate and vicious king or queen making it treason for a
people, utterly separate and distinct from theirs, to hold fast
to its ancient and revered religion.

Who can say, then, that Gregory XIII. was guilty of injustice
and of abetting rebellion when, in 1578, he furnished James
Fitzmaurice, the great Geraldine, with a fleet and army to fight
against Elizabeth? The authority greatest in Catholic eyes, and
most worthy of respect in the eyes of all impartial men--the
Pope-- thus endorsed the patent fact that Ireland was an
independent nation, and could wage war against her oppressors.
Here we have a stand-point from which to argue the question for
future times.

The rash or, perhaps, treacherous share taken by a few Irish
chieftains, in the schismatical and heretical as well as
unpatriotic decrees of the Parliament of 1541, and in the
subsequent ones of 1549, could compromise the Irish nation in
nowise, inasmuch as the people, being still even in legal
enjoyment of their own government, their chieftains possessed no
authority to decide on such questions without the full
concurrence of their clans, and these had already pronounced,
clearly enough and unmistakably, on the return of their lords
from their title-hunting expedition in England.

All the chroniclers of the time agree that "the people" was
invariably sound in faith, siding with the chieftains wherever
they rose in opposition to oppressive decrees, abandoning them
when they showed signs of wavering, even; but, above all, when
they ranged themselves with the oppressors of the Church. The
English Protestant writers of the period confirm this honorable
testimony of the Irish bards, by constantly accusing the natives
of a "rebellious" spirit.

The history of the Geraldine struggle is known to all readers of
Irish history, and does not enter into the scope of these pages.
We have, however, to consider the foreign aid which the
chieftains received, from Spain chiefly, and the causes of these
failures, which at first would seem to argue a lack of firmness
on the part of the Irish themselves. During the Geraldine wars,
and later on in what is called the rebellion of Hugh O'Neill and
Hugh O'Donnell, the King of Spain sent vessels and troops to the
assistance of the Irish. All these expeditions failed, and the
destruction of the natives was far greater than it might
otherwise have been, in consequence of the greater number of
English troops sent to Ireland to face the expected Spanish

The same ill success attended the French fleet and army
dispatched to Limerick by Louis XIV. to assist James II., and,
later still, the large fleet and well-appointed troops sent by
the French Convention to the aid of the "United Irishmen," in

In like manner, the Vendeans, on the other side, those French
"rebels" against the Convention itself, received their death-
blow in consequence of the English who were sent to their succor
at Quiberon.

It seems, indeed, a universal historic law that, when a nation
or a party in a nation struggles against another, the almost
invariable consequence of foreign aid is failure; but no
conclusion can be deduced from that fact of lack of bravery,
steadfastness, even ultimate success, on the part of those who
rise in arms against oppression. Of the many causes which may be
assigned to that apparently strange law of history, the chief

1. The difficulty of effecting a joint and simultaneous effort
between the insurgent forces and the distant friendly power.
Help comes either too soon or too late, or lands on a point of
the coast where aid is worse than useless, and where it only
throws confusion into the ranks of the struggling native forces,
whose plans are thus all disarranged, disconcerted, and thrown
into confusion. Add to this the dangers of the sea, the possibly
insufficient knowledge of the soundings and of the nature of the
coast, the differences of spirit, customs, and language, of the
two coalescing forces, and it may be easily concluded that the
chances of success, as opposed to those of failure, are but

2. The forces against which the coalition is made are always
immeasurably increased for the very purpose of meeting it, its
purport being always known beforehand. In the case under
consideration, it were easy to show that Elizabeth was prompted
by the fear of Spain to be speedy in crushing the attempted
"rebellions" in the south and north. Historians have made a
computation of the troops dispatched from England by the queen,
and of the treasure spent in these expeditions during her reign,
and the result is astonishing for the times. In fact, the whole
strength of England was brought into requisition for the purpose
of overpowering Ireland.

In our own days, the successful insurrection of Greece against
Turkey seems at variance with these considerations. But the
independence of the Greeks was brought about rather by the
unanimous voice of Europe coercing Turkey than by the few troops
sent from France, or by the few English or Poles who volunteered
their aid to the insurgents.

The remarks we have made may be further corroborated by the
reflection that the successful risings of oppressed
nationalities, recorded in modern history, were wholly effected
by the unaided forces of the insurgents. Thus, the seven cantons
of Switzerland succeeded against Austria, the Venetian Republic
against the barbarians of the North, the Portuguese in the
Braganza revolution against Spain, and the United Provinces of
the Low Countries against Spain and Germany.

The only historical instance which may contravene this general
rule is found in the Revolution of the United States of America,
where the French cooperation was timely and of real use, chiefly
because the foreign aid was placed entirely under the control
and at the command of the supreme head of the colonists, General

These few words suffice for our purpose.

The policy of Elizabeth toward the Irish nobility is well known
to our readers. The fate of the house of Desmond was, in her
mind, sealed from the beginning. It is now an ascertained fact
that she drove the great earl into rebellion, who, for a long
time, refused openly to avow his approbation of the
confederates' schemes, and even seemed at first to cooperate
with the queen's forces, in opposition to them. It was only
after his cousin Fitzmaurice and his brother John had been
almost ruined that, convinced of the determination of the
English Government to seize and occupy Munster with his five or
six millions of acres, he boldly stood up for his faith and his
country, and perished in the attempt.

It was then that "Protestant plantations" began in Ireland. The
confiscated estates of Desmond--which, in reality, did not
belong to him but to his tribe--were handed over to companies of
"planters out of Devonshire, Dorsetshire, and Somersetshire, out
of Lancashire and Cheshire, organized for defence and to be
supported by standing forces."--(Prendergast.)

Then the work set on foot by Henry II. in favor of Strongbow, De
Lacy, De Courcy, and others, was resumed, after an interval of
four hundred years, to be carried through to the end; that is to
say, to the complete pauperizing of the native race.

Among the "undertakers" and "planters" introduced into Munster
by Elizabeth, a word may not be out of place on Edmund Spenser
and Walter Raleigh, the first a great poet, the second a great
warrior and courtier. They both united in advocating the
extermination of the native race, a policy which Henry VIII. was
too high-minded to accept, and Elizabeth too great a despiser of
"the people" to notice. To Henry and Elizabeth Tudor the people
was nothing; the nobility every thing. Spenser, Raleigh, and
other Englishmen of note, who came into daily contact with the
nation, saw very well that account should be taken of it, and
thought, as Sir John Davies had thought before them, that it
ought to be "rooted out." That great question of the Irish
people was assuming vaster proportions every day; the people was
soon to show itself in all its strength and reality, to be
crushed out apparently by Cromwell, but really to be preserved
by Providence for a future age, now at hand to-day.

Spenser and Raleigh, being gifted with keener foresight than
most of their countrymen, were for the entire destruction of the
people, thinking, as did many French revolutionists of our own
days, that "only the dead never come back."

The author of the "Faerie Queene," who had taken an active part
in the horrible butcheries of the Geraldine war, when all the
Irish of Munster were indiscriminately slaughtered, insisted
that a similar policy should be adopted for the whole island. In
his work "On the State of Ireland," he asks for "large masses of
troops to tread down all that standeth before them on foot, and
lay on the ground all the stiff-necked people of that land." He
urges that the war be carried on not only in the summer but in
the winter; "for then, the trees are bare and naked, which use
both to hold and house the kerne; the ground is cold and wet,
which useth to be his bedding; the air is sharp and bitter, to
blow through his naked sides and legs; the kine are barren and
without milk, which useth to be his food, besides being all with
calf (for the most part), they will through much chasing and
driving cast all their calf, and lose all their milk, which
should relieve him in the next summer."

Spenser here employs his splendid imagination to present
gloatingly such details as the most effective means for the
destruction of the hated race. All he demands is, that "the end
should be very short," and he gives us an example of the
effectiveness and beauty of his system "in the late wars in
Munster." For, "notwithstanding that the same" (Munster) "was a
most rich and plentiful country, full of corne and cattle, . . .
yet ere one yeare and a half they" (the Irish) "were brought to
such wretchednesse as that any stony heart would have rued the
same. Out of every corner of woods and glynnes, they came
creeping forthe upon their hands, for their legges could not
beare them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spoke like
ghosts crying out of their graves . . . . that in short space
there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful
country suddenly left void of man and beast."

Such is a picture, horribly graphic, of the state to which
Munster had been reduced by the policy of England as carried out
by a Gilbert, a Peter Carew, and a Cosby; and to this pass the
"gentle" Spenser would have wished to see the whole country come.

Even Mr. Froude is compelled to denounce in scathing terms the
monsters employed by the queen, and his facts are all derived,
he tells us, from existing "state papers."

Writing of the end of the Geraldine war, he says: "The English
nation was at that time shuddering over the atrocities of the
Duke of Alva. The children in the nurseries were being inflamed
to patriotic rage and madness by the tales of Spanish tyranny.
Yet, Alva's bloody sword never touched the young, defenceless,
or those whose sex even dogs can recognize and respect.

"Sir Peter Carew has been seen murdering women and children, and
babies that had scarcely left the breast; but Sir Peter Carew
was not called on to answer for his conduct, and remained in
favor with the deputy. Gilbert, who was left in command at
Kilnallock, was illustrating yet more signally the same tendency.
" Nor "was Gilbert a bad man. As time went on, he passed for a
brave and chivalrous gentleman, not the least distinguished in
that high band of adventurers who carried the English flag into
the western hemisphere . . . . above all, a man of 'special
piety.' He regarded himself as dealing rather with savage beasts
than with human beings (in Ireland), and, when he tracked them
to their dens, he strangled the cubs, and rooted out the entire

"The Gilbert method of treatment has this disadvantage, that it
must be carried out to the last extremity, or it ought not to be
tried at all. The dead do not come back; and if the mothers and
babies are slaughtered with the men, the race gives no further
trouble; but the work must be done thoroughly; partial and
fitful cruelty lays up only a long debt of deserved and ever-
deepening hate.

"In justice to the English soldiers, however, it must be said
that it was no fault of theirs if any Irish child of that
generation was allowed to live to manhood."--(Hist. of Engl.,
vol. x., p. 507.)

These Munster horrors occurred directly after the defeat of the
Irish at Kinsale. Cromwell, therefore, in the atrocities which
will come under our notice, only followed out the policy of the
"Virgin Queen." And it is but too evident that the English of
1598 were the fathers or grandfathers of those of 1650. Both
were inaugurating a system of warfare which had never been
adopted before, even among pagans, unless by the Tartar troops
under Genghis Khan; a system which in future ages should shape
the policy, which was followed, for a short time, by the French
Convention in la Vendee.

Raleigh, as well as Spenser, seems to have been a vigorous
advocate of this system. It is true that his sole appearance on
the scene was on the occasion of the surrender of Smerwick by
the Spanish garrison; but the Saxon spirit of the man was
displayed in his execution of Lord Grey's orders, who, after,
according to all the Irish accounts, promising their lives to
the Spaniards, had them executed; and Raleigh appears to have
directed that execution, whereby eight hundred prisoners of war
were cruelly butchered and flung over the rocks in the sea. From
that time out the phrase "Grey's faith" (Graia fides) became a
proverb with the Irish.

After having succeeded in crushing Desmond and "planting "
Munster, the attention of Elizabeth was directed to the 0'Neills
and O'Donnells of Ulster. That thrilling history is well known.
It is enough to say that O'Donnell from his youth was designedly
exasperated by ill-treatment and imprisonment; and that as soon
as O'Neill, who had been treated with the greatest apparent
kindness by the queen, that he might become a queen's man,
showed that he was still an Irishman and a lover of his country,
he was marked out as a victim, and all the troops and treasures
of England were poured out lavishly to crush him and destroy the
royal races of the north.

In that gigantic struggle one feature is remarkable--that,
whenever the English Government felt obliged to come to terms
with the last asserters of Irish independence, the first
condition invariably laid down by O'Neill and O'Donnell was the
free exercise of the Catholic religion. For we must not lose
sight of the well-ascertained fact that the English queen, who
at the very commencement of her reign had had her spiritual
supremacy acknowledged by the Irish Parliament under pain of
forfeiture, praemunire, and high-treason, insisted all along on
the binding obligation of this title; and though at first she
had secretly promised that this law should not be enforced
against the laity, she showed by all her measures that its
observance was of paramount importance in her eyes.

Had the Irish followed the English as a nation, and accepted
Protestantism, Elizabeth would scarcely have made war upon them,
nor introduced her "plantations." All along the Irish were
"traitors" and "rebels" simply because they chose to remain
Catholics, and McGeoghegan has well remarked that, "not-
withstanding the severe laws enacted by Henry VIII., Edward VI.,
and Elizabeth, down to James I., it is a well-established truth
that, during that period, the number of Irishmen who embraced
the 'reformed religion' did not amount to sixty in a country
which at the time contained two millions of souls." And
McGeoghegan might have added that, of these sixty, not one
belonged to the people; they were all native chieftains who sold
their religion in order to hold their estates or receive favors
from the queen.

Sir James Ware is bold enough to say that, in all her dealings
with the Irish nobility, Elizabeth never mentioned religion, and
their right of practising it as they wished never came into the
question. She certainly never subjected them to any oath, as was
the case in England. Technically speaking, this statement seems
correct. Yet it is undeniable that Elizabeth allowed no Catholic
bishops or priests to remain in the island; permitted the Irish
to have none but Protestant school-teachers for their children;
bestowed all their churches on heretical ministers; closed, one
by one, all the buildings which Catholics used for their worship,
as soon as their existence became known to the police; in fact
obliged them to practise Protestantism or no religion at all.

In the eyes of Elizabeth a Catholic was a "rebel." Whoever was
executed for religion during her reign was executed for
"rebellion." The Roman emperors who persecuted the Church during
the first three centuries, might have advanced the same
pretences And indeed the early Christians were said to be
tortured and executed for their "violation of the laws of the

This point will come more clearly before us in considering the
second phase of the policy of Elizabeth, her direct interference
with the Church.

II. If the policy of England's queen had been one of treachery
and deceit toward the nobility, toward the Church it was


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