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

Part 9 out of 14

submitted to the representatives of the nation in July, 1861. No
shorter, more decisive, or more triumphant answer could have
been given to the sarcasms and challenges of the old Protestant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conformists. Papists. Non-Conformists.
Province of
Canterbury, 2,123,362 93,151 11,878

Province of
York, 353,892 15,525 1,978

Totals 2,477,254 108,676 13,856

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



By delusive hopes are here meant some of the various schemes in
which Irishmen have indulged and still indulge with the view of
bettering their country. This chapter will aim at showing that,
for the resurrection of Ireland, the reconstruction of her past
is impossible; parliamentary independence or "home rule,"
insufficient, physical force and violent revolution, in
conjunction with European radicals particularly, is as unholy as
it is impracticable.

The resurrection of the Irish nation began with the end of last
century. As, to use their own beautiful expression, "'Tis always
the darkest the hour before day," so the gloom had never settled
down so darkly over the land, when light began to dawn, and the
first symptoms of returning life to flicker over the face of the,
to all seeming, dead nation. Its coming has been best described
in the "History of the Catholic Association" by Wyse. On reading
his account, it is impossible not to be struck with the very
small share that men have had in this movement; it was purely a
natural process directed by a merciful God. As with all natural
processes, it began by an almost imperceptible movement among a
few disconnected atoms, which, by seeming accident approaching
and coming into contact, begin to form groups, which gather
other groups toward them in ever-increasing numbers, thus giving
shape to an organism which defines itself after a time, to be
finally developed into a strong and healthy being. This process
differed essentially from those revolutionary uprisings which
have since occurred in other nations, to the total change in the
constitution and form of the latter, without any corresponding
benefit arising from them.

Before entering upon the full investigation of this uprising, it
may be well to dispel some false notions too prevalent, even in
our days, among men who are animated with the very best
intentions, who wish well to the Irish cause, but who seem to
fail in grasp in the right idea of the question. Reconstruction,
say they, is impossible-at least as far as the past history of
the country goes. Where are her leaders, her chieftains, her
nobility? Feudalism broke the clans, persecution put an
effectual stop to the labors of genealogists and bards. Where,
to-day, are the O'Neill, the O'Brien, the O'Donnell, and the
rest? Until new leaders are found, offshoots, if possible, of
the old families, more faithful and trustworthy than those who
so far have volunteered to guide their countrymen, how is it
possible to expect a people such as the Irish have always been,
to assume once more a corporate existence, and enjoy a truly
national government?

I. That the Irish nobility has disappeared forever may be
granted. In giving our reasons for believing in the
impossibility of connecting the present with the past through
that class, and thus restoring a truly national government, and
in strengthening this opinion by what follows, we shall show at
the same time that, in that regard, Ireland is on a par with all
other nationalities, among whom the aristocratic classes have
quite lost the prestige that once belonged to them, and can no
longer be said to rule modern nations.

The question of nobility is certainly an important one for the
Irish--nay, for all peoples. Up to quite recently, profound
thinkers never imagined it possible for a people to enjoy peace
and happiness save under the guidance of those then held to be
natural guides with aristocratic blood in their veins, who were
destined by God himself to rule the masses. We are far from
falling in with the fashion, so common nowadays, of deriding
those ideas. Men like Joseph de Maistre, who was certainly an
upholder of the theory, and who could not suppose a nation to
exist without a superior class appointed by Providence to guide
those whose blood was less pure, have a right to be listened to
with respect, and none of their deliberate opinions should be
treated with levity.

And, in truth, no nobility ever existed more worthy of the title,
as far as the origin of its power went, than the Irish. Its
last days were spent, like those of true heroes, fighting for
their country and their God. It is a remarkable fact that they,
the truest, were the first of the aristocratic classes to fall.
After them, all the aristocracies of Europe, with the exception
perhaps of the English, which still exists at least in name,
gradually saw their power wrested from them, so that, to-day, it
may be said with truth that the "noble" blood has lost its
prerogative of rule.

Various are the theories on these superior classes; a few words
on some of them may be as appropriate as interesting.

Of all those advanced, Vico's are the least defensible, though
they seem to rest on a deep knowledge of antiquity. No Christian
can accept his view of a universal savage state of society after
the Flood; and his explanation of the origin of aristocratic
races, and of the plebeians, their slaves, is purely the work of
imagination, however well read in classic lore may have been the
author of "Scienza Nuova." To suppose with him that the primeval
"nobles" reached the first stage of civilization by inventing
language, agriculture, and religion, and by imposing the yoke of
servitude on the "brutes" who were not yet possessed of the
first characteristics of humanity, is revolting to reason, and
contradictory to all sound philosophy and knowledge of history.
His aristocracy is a brutal institution which he does well to
doom to extinction as soon as the plebs is sufficiently
instructed and powerful enough to seize upon the reins of
government, before it, in its turn, is brought under by the
progressive march of monarchy, with which his system culminates.

The feudal ideas concerning "noble" blood rested on an entirely
different basis. The feudal monarch is but the first of the
nobles, and the possession of land is the true prerogative and
charter of nobility. The inferior classes being excluded from
that privilege, are also excluded from all political rights, and
are nothing more nor less than the conquered races which were
first reduced to slavery. Christianity was the only power which
effected a change, and a deep one, in the relations of these two
classes to each other; the rigorous application of the system by
the Northmen being entirely opposed to the elementary teachings
of our holy religion.

From the change thus brought about resulted the Christian idea
of aristocratic and monarchical government which had the support
of some gifted writers of the last and present centuries. It was
in fact a return to the old system realized by Charlemagne in
the great empire of which he was the founder--a system whose
glorious march was interrupted by the invasion of feudalism in
its severest form, which, according to what was before said,
came down from Scandinavia in the time of Charlemagne's
immediate successors. Under the regime of the noble emperor, the
Church, the Aristocracy, and the People, formed three Estates,
each with its due share in the government. This mode of
administering public affairs became general in Europe, and stood
for nearly a thousand years.

But is it the particular form of government necessary for the
happiness of a nation, as it was held to be by some powerful
minds? If it is, then are we born, indeed, in unhappy times; for
the corner-stone of the edifice, the aristocratic idea, has
crumbled away, and is apparently gone forever.

Any one, looking at Europe as it stands to-day, must feel
constrained to admit that its history for the last hundred years
may be summed up in the one phrase: admission of the middle
classes of society to the chief seat of government. Russia now
makes the solitary exception to this rule; for in England, which
seems the most feudal of all nations, the middle classes have
attained to a high position, and, through their special
representatives, have often taken the chief lead in public
affairs, ever since the Revolution of 1688, a lead which is now
uncontested. And as individuals of the middle class are often
admitted into the ranks of the aristocracy, it would indeed be a
hard thing to find purely "noble" blood in the vast majority of
aristocratic families now existing in Great Britain.

The history of the gradual decline of what is called the
nobility in the various states of Europe would require volumes.
In many instances it would certainly be found to have been
richly merited, in France particularly, perhaps, where the
corruption of that class was one of the chief causes which led
to the first French Revolution.

But in Ireland the original idea of nobility was different from
that entertained elsewhere; the action of the institution on the
people at large was peculiar in its character; and if, in early
times, those rude chieftains were often guilty of acts of
violence and outrage against religion and morality, they atoned
for this by that last long struggle of theirs, so nobly waged in
defence of both. But the destruction of the order was final and
complete, and seems to have left no hope of resurrection.

In our first chapter, when treating of the clan system, the
origin of chieftainship among the Celts was referred back to the
family: all the chieftains, or nobles, were each the head of a
sept or tribe, which is the nearest approach to a family; all
the clansmen were related by blood to the chieftain. The order
of nobility among the Celts was therefore natural and not
artificial; being neither the result of some conventional
understanding nor of brute force. Nature was with them the
parent of nobility and chieftainship; and the ennobling, or
raising a person by mere human power to the dignity of noble,
was unknown to them: a state of things peculiar to the race.

In Vico's system, aristocracy sprang from physical force or
skill; consequently, nobility was founded on no natural right,
although the author does his best to prove the contrary, chiefly
by ascribing to the aristocratic class the discovery or
invention of right (jus) which thus becomes a mere derivative of

In feudalism, pure and unmixed, after it had penetrated farther
south, under the lead of the Scandinavians, nobility was derived
from conquest and armed force. It is true that, by this system,
the viking, monarch, or sovereign lord, was the one who
distributed the territory, won from conquered nations, among his
faithful followers, and thus land and its consequence, nobility,
were apparently the award of merit; but the merit in question
being equivalent to success in battle, it again resolved itself
into armed force. In fact, the power of feudalism proper rested
in the army; the chief nobles were duces or combats (dukes or
counts), the inferior nobles were equites (knights) and milites
(men-at-arms). All power and title began and ended with force of
arms, which was the only foundation of right: jus captionis et
possessionis--the right of taking and of keeping.

Eventually feudal ideas underwent considerable change among the
aristocracy of Christendom, by the gradual spread of Christian
manners; and the first establishment of nobility by Charlemagne,
which was anterior to pure feudalism, afterward revived, and
lasted a thousand years. Then it was conferred by the monarch on
merit of any kind, and it was understood that those whom
superior authority had raised to the dignity had won their title
by their deeds, which were sufficient to prove their noble blood,
and that they were empowered to transmit the title to their
posterity. The idea was a grand one, and gave proof of its vast
political and social usefulness in the immense benefits which it
brought upon Europe during so many ages. Unfortunately, the
inroad of the Scandinavians, following closely on the death of
its great founder, introduced feudalism as better known to us,
interfered with the institution which Charlemagne had
established in such admirable equipoise, and added to it many
barbarous adjuncts, which for a long time entered into the idea
of nobility itself. Thus the titles of feudal lords were
retained--duce, comites, equites, milites--with, all the
paraphernalia of brute force which the harsh mind of northern
despotism had made divine. Thus was the holding of landed
property allowed to the nobles alone; the great mass of the
population being composed of men--ascripti glebae-- who were
incapable from their position of rising in the social scale; so
that all were duly impressed with the idea that the mass of the
people had been conquered and reduced, if not to slavery, to
what greatly resembled it--serfdom. From this order of things
arose that fruitful source of all modern revolutions, the
division of Europe into two great classes antagonistic to each
other and separated by an almost impassable gulf--the lords and
the "villeins."

To be sure, the supreme lord had the power to raise even a
villein to the rank of noble, after he had proved his superior
elevation of mind by heroic achievements; but what superhuman
exertions did not those achievements call for; what a concourse
of fortuitous circumstances rarely occurring, so as to render
almost illusory the hope of rising held out by the feudal theory!
The Church alone opened her highest grades to all
indiscriminately; and, in her, true merit was really an
assurance of advance.

Further details are not needed. The difference between the idea
of the nobility entertained in Celtic countries, and that held
by the rest of Europe, is already in favor of the former.

For this reason the action of the Irish aristocracy on the
people at large was happily altogether free from those causes of
irritation so common in feudal countries. A close intimacy and
personal devotion naturally existed between the chieftain of a
clan and his men--an intimacy manifested by the free manners of
the humblest among them, and that ease of social intercourse
between all classes of people, which was a matter of so much
surprise to the Norman barons at their primitive invasion.

At first sight, the Celtic system appears, in one respect at
least, inferior to that which prevailed throughout the rest of
Europe: the simple clansmen could never indulge in the hope of
attaining to the chieftainship, being naturally excluded from
that high office. Only the actual members of the chieftain's own
family could hope to succeed him after his death, by election,
and take the lead of the sept; thus nobility was entirely
exclusive, and regulated by the very laws of Nature. The office
was really not transferable, and no degree of exertion, of
whatever nature, could win it for any person born out of the one
family. But the difference was scarcely one in fact; and we know
how illusory, often was that ambition which the system of merit
inspired in the man born of an inferior class in other races
than the Celtic. The broad assertion, that no man could rise
from the condition in which he happened to be born, remains true
for nearly all cases.

But, on the other hand, there were motives of ambition besides
that of becoming chieftain, or entering on the road thereto, by
being admitted into the ranks of the nobility, which lay open to
the Celt; and if the desire of a mere clansman to become a
chieftain lay within the bounds of possibility, the social state
of Celtic countries would have been broken up and become
intolerable, and society would have been dissolved into its
primitive elements. Two considerations of importance:

The whole of Irish history teaches one lesson, or, rather,
impresses one fact: that every member of a clan took as much
pride in the sept to which he belonged, and labored as zealously
for its head, as he could have done had the advantage turned all
to himself. The peculiar features engendered by the system were
such that each man identified himself with the whole tribe and
particularly with its leader; and this is easily understood, as
we see the same sort of feeling existing to-day among families.
It is in the very essence of natural ties to merge the
individual in the community to which he belongs, as in questions
which affect the whole family to merge self in the whole, to
forget one's own identity, to be ready for any sacrifice,
particularly when the sacrifice is called forth in defence of a
beloved parent.

To judge by the ancient annals of Ireland which are accessible,
this was undoubtedly the sentiment pervading Celtic clans, and
it is easy to conceive how, under such conditions, ambitious
thoughts of the chieftainship or nobility could not well enter
there. Moreover, we repeat, had such ambitious thoughts been
within the compass of realization, the whole system would have
been destroyed.

The greatest source of quarrels, feuds, wars, and general
calamities among the Irish people, was the insane aspiration
among the inferior members of a chieftain's family after supreme
power. The institution of Tanist, or heir-apparent, particularly,
which was general for all offices, from the highest to the
lowest, was a constant source of trouble and contention to septs
which, without it, would have remained united and in harmony.
Montalembert has well said that it seems as if an incurable
fatality accompanied the Irish everywhere, and condemned nearly
all the highest among them to have their blood shed either by
others or by their own hand, and that few indeed are those
renowned chieftains and kings who died quietly in their beds.
Their annals are filled throughout with tales of blood; and,
when we know of their strong attachment to religion, of their
tenderheartedness for women, children, old and feeble men, it is
hard to conceive how they came to shed blood so often, and show
themselves proof against the simplest claims of humanity.

But the difficulty is sufficiently explained by their own annals
and the state of society under which they lived. The Tanistry
was the great source of all those evils. The position of a
chieftain was so honorable, so influential, and powerful, that
all natural sentiments, even those of family affection, were
often extinguished by the insane ambition of attaining to it, in
those whom Nature had set on the road toward it.

It looks like a contradiction, yet nothing is so well
established as their deep affection for their near relatives and
the fury engendered against their nearest of kin when allured by
the prospect of the chieftainship. What the case might have been,
had all the inferior clansmen been influenced by the same
motive, one shudders to think. Happily the possibility of such a
position was denied them, and thus were they spared all the
crime and horrors which it entailed. Let us now turn to the fall
of the Irish nobility, in order to see how that fall was final
and decisive, leaving little or no room for the hope of their

The great wars of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth upon the island
often drove some of the Irish chieftains to quit their country
for a time; a thing scarcely ever known before, where the Pale
was so contracted and the power of the English kings so limited.
But those first voyages of Irish lords to foreign countries had
generally no other destination than England itself, whither they
sometimes repaired to justify themselves in the presence of the
sovereign against the imputations of their enemies, or to pay
court to him for the purpose of obtaining some coveted object.
Occasionally their children were brought up at the English court,
either with the view of instilling Protestantism into their
artless minds, or to make them friends of England, so that many
of them thus became king's or queen's men. In this manner the
Irish nobility first came to look out beyond their own country.

When, as events went on, some great family was crushed or nearly
so, as were the Kildares by Henry Tudor and the Geraldines by
Elizabeth, the outraged nobility began to think of foreign
alliances, and cast their eyes abroad over Spain, Belgium, or
France, above all toward Rome, which was the centre of their
religion, attachment to which was one of their chief crimes,
where the Holy Father was ever ready to encourage and receive
them with open arms, Thus history tells us of the narrow escape
of young Gerald Desmond.

He was still a child of twelve years, and the sole survivor of
the historic house of Kildare, when his life was sought after
with an eagerness which resembled that of Herod, but the
devotion of his clansmen defeated all attempts at his capture.
"Alternately the guest of his aunts, married to the daughter of
the chief of Offaly and Donegal, the sympathy everywhere felt
for him lead to a confederacy between the northern and southern
chieftains, which had long been felt wanting, and never could be
accomplished. A loose league was formed, including the O'Neills
of both branches, O'Donnell, O'Brien, the Earl of Desmond, and
the chiefs of Moylurg and Breffni. The child, object of so much
natural and chivalrous affection, was harbored for a time in
Munster; then transported, through Connaught, into Donegal; and
finally, after four years, in which he engaged more the minds of
the statesmen than any other individual under the rank of
royalty, he was safely landed in France."-(A. M. O'Sullivan.)

But the intercourse between the Irish nobility and foreign
powers was chiefly increased during the reign of Elizabeth, when
by the great league of the Desmond Geraldines in the south,
which was followed by that of the O'Neills and O'Donnells in the
north, they entered into open treaty with the Popes and the
Kings of Spain; and, when reverses came, no other resource was
left to the outlawed chieftains than flight to the Continent,
where they abode till the storm blew over, sometimes for the
remainder of their lives.

James Fitzmaurice stayed a long time in Italy, where, on hearing
of the imprisonment of his cousins, the Desmonds, he planned the
first great league in defence of religion, no longer for the
purpose only of righting family wrongs, but of waging a holy war
which might draw the cooperation of all the Catholic powers.

These few details are here furnished, because they mark a new
starting-point in the history of the race, when the nobility of
the land first went abroad to live with a view of finding allies
for the Irish cause; while the Irish at home looked anxiously to
their chieftains abroad to return to them with the promised

A few words on the policy exercised toward the Irish nobility by
Henry VIII., Elizabeth, and James I., at the beginning of his
reign, will give us a sufficiently clear insight into the means
adopted for the gradual attack upon them, which resulted first
in their partial subjugation, finally in their total destruction.
Those monarchs thought that, to reduce Ireland to an English
colony, all they had to do was to destroy the chieftains, and
the subjugation of the country was complete. They were
strengthened in this opinion by the outbreak of Protestantism,
which had deprived the lower classes not only of their material
comfort and religious consolations, but of all the immunities
and liberties which the middle ages had left to them. While the
mass of the nation was not only denied all political influence,
but even all right to any consideration whatsoever on the part
of the state, when the highest nobles were cowering at the feet
of royalty, utterly at the mercy of the Tudor despots, how could
the plebs of England and Ireland dare show its front even to
testify to mere existence?

The English monarchs were aware that the spirit of the Irish
nobles was not broken like that of their English vassals; and
they resolved on bringing the proud lords of the Pale and the
chieftains of the old race to a like submission with their own
nobles. But of the common clansmen they made no more account
than of the English rabble, and herein lay their great mistake.
Subsequent history proved that the national leaders of the Irish
race might be utterly annihilated, and yet the Irish question
remain as great a difficulty as ever, owing to the stubborn,
though sometimes passive resistance of the peasantry. But at
that time such a thing was not contemplated.

All the cunning of diplomacy, all the artifice of the law,
finally all the material resources of England, were called in,
one after the other, or together, to achieve that great object
of the policy of the Tudors and of the first Stuart. It is not
necessary to go over what every person conversant with the
history of the time knows by heart; it is only proper to
indicate, as briefly as possible, the gradual results of that
crafty and stern policy.

The Geraldine war ended with the total destruction of the
Catholic Anglo-Irish nobles of the south, whose place was filled
by the younger sons of Protestant nobles from England. With the
Geraldines, or shortly after them, fell the O'Sullivans of Beare,
the McGeohegans, the O'Driscolls, and O'Connors of Kerry, whom
Spain and Portugal received.

Then the whole efforts of Elizabeth were turned to the
destruction of the native chieftains of the north. She failed;
and the war resulted in a peace which left their lands and the
open practice of their religion to the Ulster chiefs.

But James I., though he seemed willing to abide by the articles
of the treaty, was driven by hard pressure to employ deceit,
fraud, intimidation, and force, to bring the northern nobility
into his power, and "the flight of the earls" was the

From this date the "Irish exiles" began in good earnest,
originally consisting, for the most part, of families belonging
to the first blood of the land, with minor chiefs and captains
in their retinue. Many letters written at the time, which have
been preserved, as well as reports of spies and informers,
dispatched to the court of England from Spain, Portugal, Belgium,
France, and Italy, give us an insight into the life led by
those noblemen in foreign countries. They were sometimes
supported by the sovereigns who received them; but at others
neglected and reduced to shifts for a living.

The "flight" itself and all its details are given by the Rev. C.
P. Meehan. The entire number of souls on board the small vessel
which bore them away was, according to Teigue O'Keenan, Ollamh
of Maguire, "ninety-nine, having little sea-store, and being
otherwise miserably accommodated." This was indeed the first
emigration of the Irish nobles and gentry, which was to be
followed by many another, to their final extinction.

Sir John Davies took an English view of the subject when he
wrote, about that time, to Lord Salisbury: "We are glad to see
the day wherein the countenance and majesty of the law and civil
government hath banished Tyrone out of Ireland, which the best
army in Europe, and the expense of two million pounds sterling,
did not bring to pass. And we hope his Majesty's government will
work a greater miracle in this kingdom than ever St. Patrick did;
for St. Patrick did only banish the poisonous worms, but
suffered the men full of poison to inhabit the land still; but
his Majesty's blessed genius will banish all those generations
of vipers out of it, and make it, ere it be long, a right
fortunate island."

Davies's prophecy ought to have been accomplished long ago, for
it is long since all the Irish nobility, "those generations of
vipers," has been destroyed; yet the poor island is still far
from being "right fortunate."

The chief means employed at the time to encompass the
destruction of the nobles was the infamous revelations of spies
and informers. The existence of these agents has long been known
to all; but the extent of their workings was not suspected even
until the state papers and the correspondence of political men,
and holders of offices at the time, came to be examined by
writers desirous of investigating the whole truth.

It was then found that every man in the English Government,
beginning from the highest, the king's ministers, through the
Lords-Lieutenants and Chief-Justices of Ireland, down to the
lowest officials, one and all kept in their pay men of all ranks
of life, who, at the bidding of their employers, were ready to
circumvent the victims of an odious policy, and under the guise
of friendship, interest, common acquaintance, to discover, and
even, if needed, to invent facts and circumstances which might
be turned against them, or against any other persons obnoxious
to England, with the view of destroying them. So that, to
England in Europe, and to Elizabeth in England, belongs the
dubious honor of having invented that great agent of modern
governments--the secret police.

But the operations of those informers were not confined to
England and Ireland alone, although those two kingdoms may be
said to have literally swarmed with them; all foreign countries
were made the scenes of their infamous machinations, wherever in
fact the Irish nobles or English Catholics fled for refuge from
persecution. At the courts of Spain and Rome they were to be
found; in Brussels and Louvain, in Paris and Rheims, as well as
in the by-lanes of London and the lowest quarters of Dublin. The
ecclesiastical establishments particularly, which were founded
by the Irish Catholics for the education of their priesthood,
were infested with them: they found means to penetrate into
their most secluded recesses, and sometimes the vilest and most
shameful hypocrisy was resorted to in order to gain admittance
into those holy cloisters devoted to science and virtue.

All the great houses and hotels in foreign countries, where the
banished nobility of Ireland passed the tedious hours, months,
and years, of their exile, were the places easiest of access to
those base tools of the English Government.

On the reports furnished by these men the British policy was
based, and the nobility and gentry still left in the island fell
into the meshes so cautiously spread around them. How many of
their number were cast into the Tower of London or the Castle of
Dublin, on the mere word of these pests of society! How many,
suddenly warned of the treachery intended, had to fly in haste
lest they should fall into the hands of their enemies! We know
that the first "flight of the earls" was brought about by such
means as these, but our readers would be mistaken in imagining
that that was an exceptional case, scarcely ever repeated. It
was in reality the ordinary way of getting rid of this hated
race of Irishmen.

The great misfortune was that, even among the Irish themselves,
nay, among friars and priests belonging to the race, the English
Government sometimes, though Heaven be thanked! rarely, found
ready tools and most useful informers. Mean and sordid souls are
to be found everywhere; our Lord himself was betrayed by an
apostle, while giving him the kiss of peace; but among the Irish,
people this class was confined to a few needy adventurers,
sometimes to men who, from some personal grievance, real or
imaginary, were blinded by the spirit of revenge to deliver
those whose destruction they thirsted for into the hands of
their common enemies, to their own eternal shame and perdition.
The common people were too noble-hearted ever to join in such
infamy, and to those who would have tempted them with gold to
betray the men concealed by them, the response was ever ready:
"The King of England is not rich enough to buy me!"

Thus, piecemeal, as it were, during the reign of Elizabeth and
James I., and a part, at least, of that of Charles I., numbers
of the Irish nobles were imprisoned or slain at home, or
compelled to go into exile.

Nor, when James I., going lower in the social scale, began to
dispossess the ordinary people, the clansmen, the tenants of
Ulster, in order to make room for his Scotch Presbyterians, was,
the war on the nobility discontinued on that account. The most
prominent and, in its results, universal feature of his reign,
was the breaking up of the clans all over the island, whereby he
effected a complete change in the social state of the country.
But the most efficacious means of bringing that result about was
the total destruction of the nobility and gentry. The crafty
monarch knew that so long as the Irish could see and converse
with their natural chieftains and lords, so long would it be
impossible to extinguish or abate, in the slightest degree, the
clan-spirit. It was only when the key-stone which held their
social edifice together-the head of the sept-had disappeared,
that the whole fabric would tumble into ruins.

After a long trial of this policy of treachery and craft, came
Cromwell to complete the work with violence and brutal force.
There still remained in the island a great number of noble
families, and the ollamhs and genealogists kept clear the rolls
of the respective pedigrees. There is no doubt, at the time of
Cromwell's war of extermination, even when the English
Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement, that all the Irish
septs still knew where to find their lawful natural chiefs, who,
if no longer on the island, were at the head of some regiment in
Flanders, France, Austria, or Spain. But, as time went on, the
Irish brigades naturally came to identify themselves more and
more with the countries into whose service they had passed, and
where they had taken up their permanent abode; while in the
island itself, force came to degrade what was left of the nobles,
and to annihilate forever the national state institutions
preserved by the genealogists and bards.

One of the features which most forcibly strikes the reader of
the history of those times is, what took place all over the
island when the English Parliament issued that celebrated
proclamation in which it was declared that "it was not their
intention to extirpate this whole nation."-(October 11, 1652.)

By that time the chief officers of Cromwell's army had already
taken possession of a great number of the castles and estates of
the nobility who had not left the country. The rest had fallen
into the hands of the adventurers of 1641, who had advanced
money for the purpose of raising a private army to conquer lands
for themselves; while the body of Cromwell's troops looked on,
awaiting the small pittance of a few hundred acres; which was to
be their share of the spoil. Here is the strange and awe-
inspiring picture of the conquered island in the seventeenth

The nobles, who had survived the fighting and defeat, were
allowed to remain a short time until their transportation to
Connaught. But, driven away from their mansions, where the new
"landlords"-the word then came into use for the first time--
occupied what had been their apartments, they had to live in
some ruinous out-buildings, and to till with their own hands a
few roods of land for the support of their perishing families. A
few garans (dray-horses), and a few cows and sheep, were the
only aid in labor and production left to them. They were allowed,
by sufferance; to raise some small crops of grain and roots,
but all their time had to be occupied in purely manual labor.

Such is the image which fixes itself indelibly on the memory of
any one who reads attentively the common occurrences of those
days. It was a picture presented in every province of the island;
in the most distant mountain-fastnesses as well as in the still
smiling plains of the lowlands.

The nobles were, as a class, utterly destroyed; few of them fell
to the inferior rank of yeomen; while the mass of the people--
was at once plunged to the dead level of common peasants and
laborers. If some of the former class still retained a few
faithful servants, their help was required for the drudgery
about the farm or the miserable dwelling. None of them could be
spared to keep up "the glory of the house." Would it not have
been bitter irony to talk to this remnant of pedigree and their
long line of ancestors? And would their enemies, who were now
their masters, have countenanced the proscribed offices of files
and shanachies, when laws against them specially had been so
long enacted if not enforced? Now was the exact time for the
rigid execution of those laws so evidently designed for the
transformation of the freeborn natives into feudal serfs.

Hence, when the bitter day at last came, which was to deprive
them of even the sight of the hereditary territory of the family,
which was to transplant them to Connaught-among countrymen,
indeed, but none the less strangers to them, whose presence
could not fail to be unwelcome, and bring disturbance, confusion,
and disorder-how, in such a case, could they hope to retain or
revive their prestige as the old lords of the country? It is
said that, for this, many of the Munster chieftains preferred to
go into exile to Spain, or even to the islands of America,
rather than take up their abode in Connaught, where they were
sure to find bitter enemies in the old inhabitants of that
desolate province.

This state of things knew no change, except with a very few of
the Anglo-Irish, when Charles II. came to the throne, after the
death of the Protector. He was in truth merely the executor of
the great Act of Settlement, and carried into effect what had
been enacted by the Parliament which had brought his father to
the block, and driven himself into exile.

He only restored their estates to a few families of "innocent
papists." Such was the phrase applied to them in derision,
doubtless. The generality of the old families continued to sink
deeper and deeper in degradation, and the forgetfulness of all
they had once been.

It took the greater part of a century, from 1607 to 1689, to
effect the almost total disappearance of the Irish nobility. As
Colonel Myles Byrne, in his "Irish at Home and Abroad," says:
"Few facts in history are more surprising than the rapidity and
completeness of the fall of the Irish families stricken down by
the penal laws. Reduced to beggary at once, and with habits
acquired in affluence, surrounded only by contemporaries
similarly crushed, or by the despoilers revelling and rioting in
possession of their forfeited lands, friendless and unpitied,
regarded as 'suspects' from the reasons for discontent so
abundantly furnished them, they seemed struck with stupor, and
utterly incapable of any effort to rise out of the abyss into
which they had been precipitated. Dispirited, heart-broken,
unmanned, they suffered the little personal property left them
to melt away; and, on its exhaustion, were compelled to resort
to the most humiliating means to prolong existence, and to
accept for their helpless offspring the humblest condition which
promised them a maintenance. A 'trade' was the general resort
sought for the son of the chief of a clan, landholder, or

"This gave rise to Swift's observation to Pope: 'If you would
seek the gentry of Ireland, you must look for them on the coal-
quay or in the liberty.'

"Thus, in my youth, 'the Devoy,' the head of one of the most
powerful and distinguished of our septs, was a blacksmith, I
have often seen a mechanic, named James Dungan, who was said to
be a descendant of James Dungan, Earl of Limerick; and 'the
Chevers' (Lord Mount Leinster) was the clerk of Mrs. Byrnes, who
carried on the business of a rope-maker.

"Maddened and embittered by humiliation and suffering,
renouncing all hope of recovering their stolen lands, those
victims of 'bills of discovery,' or of confiscation, burned or
destroyed, or threw aside, as worse than useless, the records of
their former possessions, the proofs of their former
respectability, and seemed, in fact, desirous to efface all
evidence of it. I know one case in which the title-deeds of an
estate were searched for an important occasion, and in which it
appeared that they had been given to tailors to cut into strips
or measures for purposes of their trade.

"A claim was set up to a dormant peerage, and a relation of mine
having been applied to for information in support of it, he said:
'You are positively in remainder; but you are in the condition
of the descendants of many Irish families, whose great
difficulty is to prove who was their grandfather.'"

The reader is naturally struck, when the sudden appearance of
James II. on the island presents to his eyes another Irish army,
and a new Irish nation, fighting again for God and the king, but
with few of the old names among those who then appeared on the
scene. The leaders throughout the three years' struggle, which
decided the ultimate fate of the country, for the most part have
names unknown to Ireland, and unassociated with its former
history, so completely had the aristocracy of the island
perished and disappeared.

It may be well imagined, then, that, after the passage of
another century of woe such as was described in the last chapter,
it would be impossible to reconstruct the genealogies of the
old families who might be entitled to lead the rising generation.
Some few names are still advanced as entitled to the hereditary
honors of once noble families, and thus we still hear of
pretensions to title of "the O'Brien," "the O'Donaghue," and a
few others. That such pretensions are acknowledged by the
generality of the nation, it would be questionable to assert.

To think, then, of reconstructing the Irish nation out of its
former elements, as they once existed, would be an idle dream.
Those elements are dissolved and forever destroyed, and all that
the nation can do with respect to its past is to preserve in
pious remembrance the former race of men who once shed down such
a glory over Irish annals. It was a happy and patriotic thought
of the antiquarian societies of the island to investigate the
old national records; to illustrate, explain, and bring them
before the public in a language intelligible to the present
generation. It is doubtful if in any other country the
aristocracy fell with a heroism and glory so pure and unalloyed.
Among all modern nations, as was said previously, the old class
of noblemen has either passed out of sight, or is fast


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