Is Ulster Right?

Part 2 out of 4

institution. We may smile at his strange delusions as to the future;
but he was probably not more incorrect than many people are to-day in
their conjectures as to what the world will be like a hundred years
hence; and if we try to place ourselves in Grattan's position,
there is something to be said for his conjectures. At that time the
influence of the Church of Rome was at its lowest; Spain had almost
ceased to exist as a European power; and in France the state of
religious thought was very different from what it had been in the days
of Louis XIV. Irish Roman Catholic gentlemen who sent their sons to
be educated in France found that they came back Voltaireans; even the
young men who went to study for the priesthood in French seminaries
became embued with liberalism to an extent that would make a modern
Ultramontane shudder. Then in Ireland all local power was in the hands
of the landlords; the Roman Catholic bishops possessed hardly any
political influence. It would have required more keenness than a mere
enthusiast like Grattan possessed to foresee that the time would come
when all this would be absolutely reversed. What was there in the
eighteenth century to lead him to surmise that in the twentieth the
landlords would be ruined and gone, and that local government would
have become vested in District Councils in which Protestants would
have no power, but over which the authority of the bishops would be

So Grattan and his party entered on the new conditions of political
life with airy optimism. But there were, both in England and France,
shrewder and more far-seeing men than he, who realised from the first
that the new state of affairs could not possibly be a lasting one, but
must lead either to union or complete separation. Of course so long
as all parties happened to be of the same mind, no difficulties
would arise; but it was merely a question of time when some cause
of friction would occur, and then the inherent weakness of the
arrangement would be apparent. A moment's thought will show that
for Ireland to be subject to the English King but independent of the
English Parliament was a physical impossibility. The king would act
on the advice of his ministers who were responsible to the English
Parliament; either the Irish Parliament must obey, or a deadlock would
ensue. Then, suppose that England were to become engaged in a war of
which the people of Ireland disapproved, Ireland might not only
refuse to make any voluntary grant in aid, but even declare her
ports neutral, withdraw her troops, and pass a vote of censure on the
English Government. Again, with regard to trade; Ireland might adopt a
policy of protection against England, and enter into a treaty for free
trade with some foreign country which might be at the moment England's
deadliest rival. The confusion that might result would be endless.

Considerations such as these presented themselves at once to the
master-mind of Pitt. He pointed out that as England had relinquished
her right to limit Irish trade for the benefit of English, she was in
fairness relieved from the corresponding duty of protecting Ireland
against foreign foes; the two countries should therefore both
contribute to their joint defence in proportion to their means. He
proposed that regular treaties should be drawn up between the two
countries, by which Ireland should contribute a certain sum to the
navy, free trade between Ireland and England should be established,
and regulations made whereby the duties payable on foreign goods
should be assimilated. By such measures as these he hoped to make
things run smoothly for a time at least; but when his projects were
rejected by the Irish Parliament, he saw more clearly than ever that
sooner or later the Gordian knot would have to be cut, and that the
only way of cutting it would be the Union.



That Ireland increased in prosperity rapidly towards the end of the
eighteenth century, there is no doubt. Politicians will say that this
prosperity came from the increased powers gained by the Parliament in
1782; economists will reply that that had little if anything to say
to it; far more important causes being the abolition of trade
restrictions and the relaxation of the Penal Laws, which encouraged
people to employ their money in remunerative works at home instead of
having to send it abroad. It may sound somewhat Hibernian to mention
the rise in rents, as another cause of prosperity; yet anyone who
knows Ireland will admit that it is not impossible; and it was
certainly put forward gravely by writers of the period who were by no
means biassed towards the landlord interest. Thus McKenna, writing in
1793, says:--

"In several parts of Ireland the rents have been tripled
within 40 years. This was not so much the effect as the cause
of national prosperity; ... before the above-mentioned period,
when rent was very low and other taxes little known, half the
year was lavished in carousing. But as soon as labour became
compulsory, fortunes have been raised both by the tenantry and
landlords, and civilization has advanced materially."

There was also another cause of prosperity, which modern economists
cannot look on with much favour. It was the policy of the Irish
Government to grant enormous bounties for the development of various
industries, especially the growth of corn. This no doubt gave much
employment, promoted the breaking up of grass lands, the subdivision
of farms and the erection of mills; and so long as the price of corn
was maintained, brought much prosperity to the country, and thus was
indirectly one cause of the enormous increase of population, which
rose from about 2,370,000 in 1750, to about 4,500,000 in 1797. But
when, during the nineteenth century, prices fell, the whole structure,
built on a fictitious foundation, came down with a crash.

Not long after the Irish Parliament had acquired its independence, a
controversy arose which, although it had no immediate result, yet
was of vast importance on account of the principle involved. The king
became insane. It was necessary that there should be a Regent, and it
was obvious that the Prince of Wales was the man for the post. But
the British constitution contained no provision for making the
appointment. After much deliberation, the English Parliament decided
to pass an Act appointing the Prince Regent and defining his powers,
the Royal assent being given by Commission. The two houses of the
Irish Parliament, however, without waiting for the Prince to be
invested with the Regency in England, voted an address to him asking
him to undertake the duties of Regent, without naming any limitations.
As the king recovered almost immediately, the whole matter ended in
nothing; but thoughtful men realized what was involved in the position
which the Irish Parliament had taken up. Grattan's resolution was
to the effect that in addressing the Prince to take upon himself
the government of the country the Lords and Commons of Ireland were
exercising an undoubted right and discharging an indispensable duty to
which in the emergency they alone were competent. By the Act of Henry
VIII the King of England was _ipso facto_ King of Ireland. An Irish
Act of William and Mary declared that the Crown of Ireland and all the
powers and prerogatives belonging to it should be for ever annexed to
and dependent on the Crown of England. And the Act of 1782 made the
Great Seal of Great Britain necessary to the summoning of an Irish
Parliament and the passing of Irish Acts. Now did the words "King"
and "Crown" merely refer to the individual who had the right to wear
a certain diadem, or did they include the chief executive magistrate,
whoever that might be--King, Queen or Regent? It was ably contended by
Lord Clare that the latter was the only possible view; for the Regent
of Great Britain must hold the Great Seal; and so he alone could
summon an Irish Parliament; therefore the Irish Parliament in choosing
their Regent had endangered the only bond which existed between
England and Ireland--the necessary and perpetual identity of the
executive. If the Irish Parliament appointed one person Regent and the
English Parliament another, separation or war might be the result; and
even as it was, the appointment of the Prince with limited powers in
England and unlimited in Ireland, must lead to confusion. But more
than that; suppose that the House of Brunswick were to die out, and
another Act of Settlement were to become necessary, might not the
Irish Parliament choose a different sovereign from the one chosen by
England? Constitutional lawyers recollected that such a difficulty
nearly arose between Scotland and England, but was settled by the Act
of Union; and that it was the recognition of Lambert Simnel by the
Irish Parliament that was the immediate cause of the passing of
Poyning's Act; and saw what the revived powers of the Irish Parliament
might lead to.

Although the Parliament had now become independent, there was still
nothing like a responsible ministry as we now understand it, and the
government managed to maintain its control, partly by the peculiar
composition of the Parliament (to which I have already referred), and
partly by the disposal of favours. And it cannot be denied that the
Parliament passed much useful legislation. Two questions, however,
were now coming forward on which the whole political condition of the
country depended, and which were closely entwined with one another.
The first was the reform of the legislature, so as to make the House
of Commons a really representative body; the second was the final
abolition of the Penal Laws. As to reform, the Parliament was
naturally slow (did any political assembly in the world ever divest
itself of its own privileges without pressure from without?); but as
to the abolition of the Penal Laws there was a cordiality which is
remarkable, and which is seldom referred to by the Nationalist writers
of the present day when they discourse about the Penal Laws. With
regard to social matters--such as admission to Corporations, taking
Degrees at the University, and holding medical professorships,--there
was hardly any hesitation; the political question, however, was more
difficult. In both England and Ireland at that time a forty-shilling
freehold gave a vote. That was a matter of slight importance in
England, as the number of small freeholders was limited, land being
usually let for a term of years. In Ireland, however, the ordinary
arrangement was for peasants to hold their scraps of land for life;
and land having recently increased in value enormously, a large
proportion of these were of the value of forty shillings. Hence, the
whole constituency would be altered; thousands of new electors, all of
them poor and illiterate, would be added in many constituencies;
and the representation of the country would at once pass into Roman
Catholic hands. To fix a higher qualification for Roman Catholics than
for Protestants would be not to abolish but to perpetuate the Penal
Laws; to deprive the existing voters of the franchise was out of the
question; hence the franchise was granted but not without considerable
hesitation on the part of the more thoughtful members. On the other
hand it was urged with great force that to give these privileges to
the uneducated mass but to continue the disabilities of the Roman
Catholic gentry by not allowing them to sit in Parliament was absurd.
The proposal to abolish the religious test in the case of Members of
Parliament was, however, defeated.

Looking back, with the light of later history to aid us, it is
interesting to see how much more correct were Lord Clare's predictions
of the future than Grattan's. Grattan (as I have already explained),
taking his ideas from his lay friends among the cultured classes, and
seeing the decline of the Papal influence on the continent, considered
that anyone who regarded Popery as a political influence of the future
totally misunderstood the principles which then governed human action;
for controverted points of religion (such as belief in the Real
Presence) had ceased to be a principle of human action. He maintained
that the cause of the Pope, as a political force, was as dead as that
of the Stuarts; that priestcraft was a superannuated folly; and
that in Ireland a new political religion had arisen, superseding
all influence of priest and parson, and burying for ever theological
discord in the love of civil and religious liberty. Clare, who was
not only a shrewder observer but a much more deeply read man, realized
that in order to find out what would guide the Roman Catholic Church
in the future one must look not at the passing opinions of laymen but
at the constitution of the Church; he foresaw that if the artificial
supports which maintained the Protestant ascendancy were removed, the
mere force of numbers would bring about a Roman Catholic ascendancy;
and in enumerating the results of that he even said that the time
would come when the Church would decide on all questions as to

In order to show how far Lord Clare's expectations have been verified,
I will quote, not the words of an Orange speaker or writer, but of
an eminent Roman Catholic, the Rev. J.T. McNicholas, O.P., in his
recently published book on "The New Marriage Legislation" which, being
issued with an _Imprimatur_, will be received by all parties as a work
of authority. He says:--

"Many Protestants may think the Church presumptuous in
decreeing their marriages valid or invalid according as they
have or have not complied with certain conditions. As the
Church cannot err, neither can she be presumptuous. She alone
is judge of the extent of her power. Anyone validly baptised,
either in the Church or among heretics, becomes thereby a
subject of the Roman Catholic Church."

But whilst politicians were amusing themselves with fervid but useless
oratory in Parliament, stirring events were taking place elsewhere.
To trace in these pages even a bare outline of the main incidents of
those terrible years is impossible; and yet without doing so it is not
easy to obtain a correct view of the tangled skein of Irish politics
at the time. In studying any history of the period, we cannot but be
struck by observing on the one hand how completely in some respects
circumstances and ideas have changed since then; it is hard to realize
that Ulster was for a time the scene of wild disorder--assassination,
arson, burglary and every form of outrage--brought about mainly by a
society which claimed to be, and to a certain extent was, formed by a
union of the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic parties--whilst the south
and west remained fairly orderly and loyal. And yet on the other hand
we find many of the phenomena which have been characteristic of later
periods of Irish political agitation, already flourishing. Boycotting
existed in fact, though the name was not yet invented; also nocturnal
raids for arms, the sacking of lonely farmhouses, the intimidation of
witnesses and the mutilation of cattle. Again, we see all through the
history of Irish secret societies that their organization has been so
splendid that the ordinary law has been powerless against them; for
witnesses will not give evidence and juries will not convict if they
know that to do so will mean certain ruin and probable death; and yet
those same societies have always possessed one element of weakness:
however terrible their oaths of secrecy have been, the Government
have never had the slightest difficulty in finding out, through
their confidential agents, everything that has taken place at their
meetings, and what their projects are.

As early as 1785 there had been two societies carrying on something
like civil war on a small scale in the north. How they originated,
is a matter of dispute; but at any rate before they had long been in
existence, the religious element became supreme--as it does sooner
or later in every Irish movement; whatever temporary alliances may be
formed for other reasons, religion always ultimately becomes the line
of cleavage. In this case, the "Peep of Day Boys" were Protestants,
the "Defenders" Roman Catholic. Some of the outrages committed by
the Defenders were too horrible to put in print; many Roman Catholic
families fled the country on account of the treatment which they
received from the Peep of Day Boys, and took refuge among their
co-religionists in the south.

But now a greater crisis was at hand. The terrible upheaval of the
French Revolution was shaking European society to its foundation. The
teaching of Paine and Voltaire had borne fruit; the wildest socialism
was being preached in every land. Ulster had shown sympathy with
Republican ideas at the time of the American War of Independence; and
now a large number of the Presbyterians of Belfast eagerly accepted
the doctrines of Jacobinism. Nothing can sound more charmingly
innocent than the objects of the United Irish Society as put forward
publicly in 1791; the members solemnly and religiously pledged
themselves to use all their influence to obtain an impartial and
adequate representation of the Irish nation in Parliament; and as a
means to this end to endeavour to secure the co-operation of Irishmen
of all religious persuasions. Some writers have tried to make out that
if the Relief Act of 1793 had been extended in 1795 by another Act
enabling Roman Catholics to become Members of Parliament; and if
a Reform Bill had been passed making the House of Commons really
representative, the society would never have been anything but a
perfectly legal and harmless association. Of course it is always
possible to suggest what might have been; but in this case it is far
more probable that if Parliament had been so reformed as to be a fair
reflex of the opinion of the country, it would immediately have passed
a resolution declaring Ireland a Republic and forming an alliance with
France; for whatever objects were stated in public, the real guiding
spirits of the United Irish Society from the beginning (as of other
societies of a later date with equally innocent names) were ardent
republicans, who joined the society in order to further those views;
it is absurd to suggest that men who were actually in correspondence
with the leaders of the Directory and were trying to bring about an
invasion from France in order to aid them in establishing a Republic
on Jacobin lines would have been deterred by the passing of a Bill
making it lawful for Roman Catholics to sit in Parliament. Nor again
is it reasonable to contend that earnest-minded Roman Catholics would,
in consequence of the failure of such a Bill to become law, have
rebelled against a Government under which they were able to exercise
their religion in peace and which was at that moment founding and
endowing a College for the training of candidates for the priesthood,
in favour of one which had confiscated the seminaries and was sending
the priests to the guillotine. The fact seems to have been that the
society was formed by Presbyterians, for political reasons; they tried
to get the Roman Catholics to join them, but the lower class Roman
Catholics cared very little about seats in Parliament; so the founders
of the society cleverly added abolition of tithes and taxes, and
reduction of rents, to their original programme; this drew in numbers
of Roman Catholics, whose principles were really the very antithesis
of Jacobinism.

It is a fair instance of the confusion which has always reigned
throughout Irish politics, that after the Relief Act of 1793 had been
passed, the Catholic Committee expressed their jubilation by voting
L2,000 for a statue to the King, and presenting a gold medal to their
Secretary, Wolfe Tone, who was at that moment scheming to set up a
Jacobin Republic.

This celebrated man, Wolfe Tone, was not unlike many others who have
posed as Irish patriots. Hating the very name of England, he schemed
to get one appointment after another from the English Government--at
one time seeking to be put in command of a filibustering expedition to
raid the towns of South America, at another time trying for a post in
India; hating the Pope and the priests, he acted as Secretary to the
Catholic Committee; then hating Grattan and the Irish Parliament and
everything to say to it, he showed his patriotism by devoting his
energies to trying to persuade the French Republican Government to
invade Ireland.

On the 21st of September, 1795, an incident occurred which, though
apparently trivial at the time, was destined to be of great historical
importance. Ulster had now for some time been in a state bordering
on anarchy; not only were the secret societies constantly at war,
but marauding bands, pretending to belong to one or other of the
societies, were ravishing the country. Something like a pitched battle
was fought between the Protestants and the Defenders, in which the
Defenders, although they were the stronger party and made the attack,
were utterly routed. In the evening, the victors agreed to form
themselves into a society which should bear the name of William of
Orange. There had previously been some societies called by that name;
but this was the foundation of the Orange Society of the present day.
The oath which at first was taken by every member of the society was
to defend the king and his heirs so long as he or they support the
Protestant ascendancy. (This conditional form of oath of allegiance
has long since been abolished.) It was industriously circulated by
the United Irishmen that the actual words of the oath were: "I will be
true to the King and Government and I will exterminate as far as I am
able the Catholics of Ireland." There is no evidence, however, that
any words of the kind ever formed part of an oath prescribed by the
Orange Society; and those who make the statement now must be aware
that they are repeating a calumny.

After this time, the quarrel gradually tended more and more to become
a religious one; the Peep of Day Boys becoming merged in the Orange
Society, and the Protestants slowly withdrawing from the United Irish
Society; on the other hand, the Defenders ultimately coalesced
with the United Irishmen and thus, by an illogical combination of
inconsistent forces, formed the party which brought about the terrible

The close of the year 1796 was one of the most critical moments in the
history of England. On the continent the power of republican France
under the genius of Napoleon and his generals was sweeping all before
it. England was in a state of bankruptcy, and almost as completely
isolated as she had been in the time of Elizabeth. Wolfe Tone and his
Irish plotters saw their opportunity as clearly as their predecessors
had in the times of Edward Bruce and Philip II. They laid a statement
of the condition of Ireland before the French Government which,
though as full of exaggerations as most things in Irish history, was
sufficiently based on fact to lead the French Government to believe
that if a French force were landed in Ireland, the Irishmen in the
British Army and Navy would mutiny, the Yeomen would join the French,
and the whole of the North of Ireland would rise in rebellion.

Accordingly a French fleet of forty-three sail, carrying about 15,000
troops, sailed from Brest for Bantry Bay. No human power could have
prevented their landing; and had they done so, they could have
marched to Cork and seized the town without any difficulty; the United
Irishmen would have risen, and the whole country might have been
theirs. But the same power which saved England from the Armada of
Catholic Spain 200 years before now shielded her from the invasion of
republican France. Storms and fogs wrought havoc throughout the French
fleet. In less than a month from the time of their starting, Wolfe
Tone and the shattered remains of the invading force were back at
Brest, without having succeeded in landing a single man on the Irish

Had this projected invasion taken place fifty years before, amongst
the French troops would have been the Irish brigade, who were always
yearning for the opportunity of making an attack on their native land.
But half a century had caused strange changes; the Irish brigade had
fallen with the collapse of the French monarchy; and some of the few
survivors were now actually serving under King George III.

It was a remarkable fact that no one in the neighbourhood of Bantry
showed the slightest sympathy with the Frenchmen. The few resident
gentry, the moment the danger was evident, called together the
yeomanry and organized their tenantry to oppose the foe--though the
utmost they could have done would have been to delay the progress
of the invaders for a little at the cost of their own lives; and the
peasantry did all in their power to support their efforts.

If it is possible to analyse the state of political feeling at
this time, we may say that first there was a very limited number of
thoughtful men who saw that after the Acts of 1782 and 1793 either
separation or union was inevitable, and who consequently opposed all
idea of parliamentary reform, because they thought it would tend to
separation and make union more difficult. A second party (a leading
member of which was Charlemont) approved of the existing state of
things, and believed that it could be continued; a third (of which
Grattan was one) fondly imagined that all would go smoothly if only a
Catholic Relief Bill and a Reform Bill were carried, and so directed
all their efforts towards those objects; and a fourth believed that
no reform would be granted without pressure, and so were ready even to
work up a rebellion in order to obtain it; but that was a very small
party at best, and was soon carried away by the whirlwind of those
revolutionists who cared nothing about the Parliament then sitting
in Dublin, or about any other possible Parliament which might own
allegiance to the King of England, for their real aim was to sever
Ireland from England altogether and establish a separate republic. As
Wolfe Tone wrote: "To break the connection with England and to assert
the independence of my country were my objects."

It is this party that is represented by the Nationalists of to-day,
except that when they look for foreign aid, their hopes lie in the
direction of Germany rather than France. I know that this remark may
call forth a storm of denials from those who judge by the speeches
which Nationalist leaders have made in England when trying to win the
Radical vote, or in the Colonies when aiming at getting money from
people who had not studied the question. But I judge not by speeches
such as those, but by statements continually put forward by political
writers and orators when they have cast off the mask and are
addressing their sympathizers in Ireland and America:--

"The Nationalists of Ireland stand for the complete
independence of Ireland, and they stand for nothing else. In
the English Empire they have no part or lot, and they wish to
have no part or lot. We stand for the Irish nation, free
and independent and outside the English Empire."--(_Irish

"Our aim is the establishment of an Irish Republic, for the
simple and sole reason that no other ending of our quarrel
with England could be either adequate or final. This is the
one central and vital point of agreement among all who are
worthy of the name of Irish Nationalists--that Ireland is
a separate nation--separate in thought, mind, in ideals and
outlooks. Come what may, we work for Ireland as separate from
England as Germany is separate."--(Ib.)

"Year by year the pilgrimage to the grave of Theobald Wolfe
Tone grows more significant of the rising tide of militant and
uncompromising Nationalism, more significant of the fact that
Young Ireland has turned away from the false thing that has
passed for patriotism, and has begun to reverence only the
men and the things and the memories that stand for Ireland an
independent nation. Paying tribute to the memory of men
like Tone, lifting up the language of Ireland from the mire,
linking up the present with the old days of true patriotic
endeavour--these are the doings that will eventually bring our
land from the mazes of humbug into the clear dawn that heralds
Nationhood."--(_The Leinster Leader_.)

"The object aimed at by the advanced National party is the
recovery of Ireland's national independence and the severance
of all political connection with England."--(_J. Devoy_.)

"In the better days that are approaching, the soil of Ireland
will be populated by a race of Irishmen free and happy and
thriving, owning no master under the Almighty, and owning no
flag but the green flag of an independent Irish nation."--(_W.
O'Brien, M.P._)

"In supporting Home Rule for Ireland we abandon no principle
of Irish nationhood as laid down by the fathers in the Irish
movement for independence, from Wolfe Tone and Emmett to John
Mitchell, and from Mitchell to Kickham and Parnell."--(_J.

"Our ultimate goal is the national independence of our

"In its essence the National movement is the same to-day as it
was in the days of Hugh O'Niell, Owen Roe, Emmett, or of Wolfe

"We are as much rebels to England's rule as our forefathers
were in '98."--(Ib.)

"I remember when Parnell was asked if he would accept as a
final settlement the Home Rule compromise proposed by Mr.
Gladstone. I remember his answer. He said 'I believe in the
policy of taking from England anything we can wring from her
which will strengthen our hands to go for more.'"--(Ib.)

"When we have undermined English misgovernment we have paved
the way for Ireland to take her place among the nations of the
earth. And let us not forget that that is the ultimate goal
at which all we Irishmen aim. None of us, whether we be
in America or in Ireland, or wherever we may be, will be
satisfied until we have destroyed the last link which keeps
Ireland bound to England."

(_C.S. Parnell_.)

"I know there are many people in America who think that the
means which we are operating to-day for the good of Ireland
are not sufficiently sharp and decisive ... I would suggest
to those who have constituted themselves the censors of our
movement, would it not be well to give our movement a fair
chance--to allow us to have an Irish Parliament that will give
our people all authority over the police and the judiciary
and all government in the nation, and when equipped with
comparative freedom, then would be the time for those who
think we should destroy the last link that binds us to England
to operate by whatever means they think best to achieve that
great and desirable end? I am quite sure that I speak for the
United Irish League in the matter."

(_J. Devlin, M.P._)

"What was it, after all, that Wolfe Tone, and Fitzgerald, and
Mitchell, and Smith O'Brien, and O'Meagher Condon, and Allen,
Larkins and O'Brien, and all the other gallant Irishmen strove
for, who from generation to generation were inspired with
the spirit of revolution? ... In what respect does our policy
differ from the purpose of these men?"--(Ib.)

"In my opinion, and in the opinion of the vast majority of the
advanced Nationalists of Ireland, the Repeal of the Union
is not the full Nationalist demand; separation is the full
Nationalist demand; that is the right on which we stand, the
Nationalist right of Ireland."--(_J. Dillon, M.P._)

"I should never have dedicated my life to this great struggle
if I did not see at the end the crowning and the consummation
of our work--a free and independent nation."--(Ib.)

"We aim at nothing else than establishing a new nation upon
the map of Europe."--(_Dr. Douglas Hyde_.)

"If there is any man in this audience who says to us as
representing that Parliamentary movement--'I don't believe
in your Parliamentary ideas, I don't accept Home Rule, I go
beyond it; I believe in an independent Irish nation'--if any
man says this, I say that we don't disbelieve in it. These
are our tactics--if you are to take a fortress, first take the
outer works."--(_T.M. Kettle, M.P._)

"We want to carry on the work that the Fenians tried to do to
a triumphal issue. The Fenians stood for an Irish Republic,
and so do we. No policy which left England in control of the
Irish Nation could be regarded as final. There is only one
way, and that is to get the absolute and complete independence
of Ireland, free from English rule and English domination. The
Fenians did not go to the Prime Minister for concessions.
No: they started into arms, and if people of the present
day believed in that they should arm themselves to get
the independence of Ireland."--(_B. Hobson_, speaking at a
demonstration at Cork, on the anniversary of the "martyrdom"
of Allen, Larkins, and O'Brien.)

"Should the Germans land in Ireland, they will be received
with willing hearts and strong hands, and should England be
their destination, it is to be hoped that they will find time
to disembark 100,000 rifles and a few score of ammunition for
the same in this country, and twelve months later this Ireland
will be as free as the Lord God meant it should be."--(_Major
McBride_, who organized an Irish force to aid the Boers
against England, and has consequently been appointed to a
municipal inspectorship by the Corporation of Dublin.)

"I appeal to you most earnestly to do all in your power to
prevent your countrymen from entering the degraded British
army. If you prevent 500 men from enlisting you do nearly as
good work, if not quite so exciting, as if you shot 500 men on
the field of battle, and also you are making the path smoother
for the approaching conquest of England by Germany."--(Ib.)



Early in 1797 it became evident to all but the most shortsighted of
politicians that a rebellion, of which none could foretell the result,
was imminent. As one shrewd observer wrote: "I look upon it that
Ireland must soon stand in respect to England in one of three
situations--united with her, the Legislatures being joined; separated
from her, and forming a republic; or as a half-subdued Province." The
supporters of law and order were naturally divided in opinion as to
the course to pursue. Some were in favour of a policy of conciliation.
Grattan induced his friend Ponsonby to bring forward another Reform
Bill, abolishing the religious test and the separate representation
of boroughs, and dividing each county into districts; and when he saw
that the motion could not be carried, delivered an impassioned speech,
declaring that he would never again attend the House of Commons, and
solemnly walked out. It was a piece of acting, too transparent to
deceive anybody. Grattan was a disappointed man--disappointed not
so much because his proposals were not adopted, as because his own
followers were slipping away from him. They had begun to realize that
he was an orator but not a statesman; his ideas were wild, fanciful
dreams. Whilst vehemently upholding the English connection he was
playing into the hands of England's opponents by reminding them that
England's difficulty was Ireland's opportunity; whilst hating the
very idea of a Union, he was making the existing system impossible
by preventing the passing of a commercial treaty; whilst passionately
supporting Protestant ascendancy, he was advocating a measure which
at that moment would have brought about the establishment either of a
Roman Catholic ascendancy or more probably of a Jacobin Republic.
He saw his supporters dwindling slowly from seventy-seven in 1783 to
thirty in 1797. Men were now alive to the fact that the country was in
an alarming condition. They saw what had happened in France but a few
years before, and how little Louis XVI had gained by trying to pose
as a liberator and a semi-republican; and, knowing that the rebellion
with which they were faced was an avowed imitation of the French
Revolution, they were coming to the opinion that stern measures were
necessary. In almost every county of three Provinces conspirators were
at work, trying to bring down on their country a foreign invasion, and
stirring up the people to rebellion and crime by appealing to their
agrarian grievances and cupidity, their religious passion, and the
discontent produced by great poverty. For a second time it appeared
that Wolfe Tone would succeed in obtaining aid from abroad--this time
from Spain and Holland; and the rebel party in Ireland were now so
well organized, and Jacobin feeling was so widespread, that had he
done so, it was almost inevitable that Ireland would have been lost to
England. But once more the unexpected was destined to occur. Early in
February Jervis shattered the power of the Spanish Fleet off Cape St.
Vincent; and in the summer, just when the Dutch ships, with 14,000
troops on board, were ready to start, and resistance on the part of
England seemed hopeless, a violent gale arose and for weeks the whole
fleet remained imprisoned in the river; and when at length they did
succeed in making a start, the English were ready to meet them within
a few miles of the coast of Holland; after a tremendous battle the
broken remnant of the Dutch fleet returned to the harbour defeated.
The rage and mortification of Wolfe Tone at his second failure knew no

In the North of Ireland, however, the rebellion had practically begun.
The magistrates were powerless; the classes who had supported the
gentry during the Volunteer Movement were amongst the disaffected. The
country was in a state of anarchy; murders and outrages of every
sort were incessant. That the measures which the Government and
their supporters took to crush the rising rebellion were illegal
and barbarous, cannot be denied; that they in fact by their violence
hurried on the rebellion is not improbable. But it is still more
probable that they were the means of preventing its success; just as,
had the Government of Louis XVI shown more vigour at the outset of the
Revolution, the Reign of Terror would probably never have taken place.
Through evidence obtained by torture, the Government got possession
of vast stores of arms which the rebels had prepared; by twice
seizing the directors of the movement they deprived it of its central
organization; and if they were the cause of the rebellion breaking out
sooner than had been intended, the result was that they were able
to quell it in one district before it had time to come to a head in

War at best is very terrible; and there were two circumstances which
made the war in Ireland more terrible than others. It was a religious
war, and it was a civil war. It often happens that when religion is
turned to hatred it stirs up the worst and most diabolical passions
of the human breast; and the evil feelings brought on by a civil war
necessarily last longer than animosity against a foreign foe. The
horrors of 1798 make one shudder to think what must happen in Ireland
if civil war ever breaks out there again.

From Ulster the United Ireland movement spread during 1797 to
Leinster, as far south as Wexford, and began to assume a more
decidedly religious character. As a contemporary historian wrote:--

"So inveterately rooted are the prejudices of religious
antipathy in the minds of the lower classes of Irish
Romanists, that in any civil war, however originating from
causes unconnected with religion, not all the efforts of their
gentry, or even priests, to the contrary could (if I am not
exceedingly mistaken) restrain them from converting it into a
religious quarrel."

(Had he lived a century later, he might have used the same words.)
But though this was generally the case, there were complications as
embarrassing as they usually are in Irish affairs. The yeomanry
were mainly Protestants, but the majority of the militia were Roman
Catholics, and those commanded by Lord Fingall entirely so. There
was much disaffection in both branches of the service; besides which,
officers and men alike lacked the discipline and experience of
regular troops; but as the supply of soldiers from England was wholly
inadequate for the situation, the Government were obliged to rely on
any forces they could obtain. As the rebellion drifted into being a
Roman Catholic movement, the Orangemen became intensely loyal, and
were eager to fight on the king's side, but the Government dreaded
lest by employing them they might offend the militia. By 1798, when
the rebellion in the south was at its height, the north had become
comparatively calm. The severities of the previous year had had some
salutary effect; the staunch Protestants had no desire to aid in what
had become a Roman Catholic rebellion; and the republican party had
seen that the universal fraternity of the Jacobin Government of France
had turned into a military despotism which was engaged in crushing the
neighbouring republics and was almost at war with the sister Republic
of America.

But whilst Ulster was growing calmer, the condition of the south
was becoming daily more appalling. On the 23rd of May the rebellion
actually broke out in the counties of Dublin, Kildare and Meath; and
many skirmishes took place in which the losses on the king's side were
comparatively few but those of the rebels enormous, in consequence of
their ignorance of the use of firearms. The better-trained forces soon
got to know that an Irish peasant when armed with a pike was a deadly
foe; but when armed with a musket was almost harmless. This part of
the campaign will always be specially memorable for the attack made
on the little town of Prosperous, in the county of Kildare. It was
cleverly made in the early morning; the garrison, taken unawares, were
nearly all killed; the Commander, Captain Swayne, being amongst the
victims. It was soon afterwards found out that the leader of the
rebels was Dr. Esmonde, a gentleman of good family, and first
lieutenant in a regiment of yeomanry stationed a few miles off, who
had been dining with Captain Swayne the previous evening. He appeared
in his regiment the next day, but was identified by a yeoman who had
seen him at Prosperous; arrested, tried, and hanged as a traitor.

A Nationalist has recently referred to him as a martyr to the cause of
Irish liberty.

By the month of June Wexford had become the centre of the rebellion.
In that county it had assumed an essentially religious character
(there being, however, a few exceptions on each side), and in no
other part of Ireland was the war so terrible either on account of its
magnitude or barbarity. The passions of the ignorant peasantry were
inflamed by all Protestants being spoken of as Orangemen and a report
being diligently circulated that all Orangemen had sworn to destroy
the Catholic Faith--exactly the same course that was followed a
hundred years later. Roman Catholic priests, wearing their sacred
vestments and carrying crucifixes, led the rebel forces; and the
ignorant peasants, believing them to be endowed with miraculous
powers, followed them with the blind adherence that only fanaticism
can inspire. And yet--so strangely contradictory is everything in
Ireland--there is clear evidence that amongst those priestly agitators
many were at heart deists, who were making use of religion in the
hope of furthering Jacobinism. Many Protestants saved their lives by
apostatizing, or by allowing their children to be rebaptized; it is
but fair to add, however, that several of the older priests, shocked
at the conduct of the rebels, concealed heretics in their houses and
churches; and that all through the war many priests, in spite of the
difficulty of their position, remained loyal and did what they could
to aid the king's troops.

The rebels for some weeks held command of the town and county of
Wexford, their chief camp being at a place called Vinegar Hill. The
country around was searched and plundered; the Protestants who were
captured were brought into the rebel camp, and there deliberately
butchered in cold blood. How many perished it is impossible to say;
the number must have been at the least 400.

I would willingly pass over this dreadful episode. I have no more
desire to dwell on it than I have on Cromwell's conduct at Drogheda.
I regard it merely as one of those terrible incidents which alas have
taken place in almost every campaign. It was probably equalled in
character if not in magnitude by several outrages committed by the
other side; and certainly parallels could be found in the French
invasion of Algeria fifty years later and in many other wars of the
nineteenth century. When men have been fired with the diabolical
passions that war arouses, and have grown accustomed to the ghastly
sights on battlefields, they cease to be reasoning beings; they become
fiends. But unfortunately it is necessary to explain what really
occurred, as it is to Vinegar Hill and its terrible associations that
the Nationalists of to-day refer with triumph. Songs in praise of the
massacre are sung at Nationalist gatherings; and W. Redmond, speaking
at Enniscorthy (close to the scene of the massacre) on the 110th
anniversary of the outrages said: "The heroic action of the men who
fought and died around Vinegar Hill was the heritage of all Ireland.
Whatever measure of comparative freedom we now enjoy was entirely
attributable to the Insurrection of '98. It was the pikemen of '98 who
made the world and England understand that Irishmen knew how to fight
for their rights, and it is to the knowledge of that fact by England
that we may look for the real driving force of any effort we may make
for our liberty. The Irish people are in no position to resort to
arms, but the spirit is there, and by demonstrations like this we show
our rulers that it is essential for any real and lasting peace that
the aspirations of the patriots of '98 must be satisfied, and that a
full measure of National freedom must be granted to Ireland."

(It will be observed that in the opinion of this orator--a prominent
Nationalist Member of Parliament, who was selected to go round the
Colonies collecting money for the Home Rule cause--the possession of
an Independent Parliament, of everything in fact short of separation,
goes for nothing; it is only those who rebelled against that
Parliament who are to be regarded as models for modern Nationalists to
follow. It is interesting also to note the different views which have
been put forward by Irish politicians with regard to the rebellion.
In 1843 the leaders of the Repeal Association stated in one of their
manifestoes, as an argument in favour of repeal, that England had
resorted to the diabolical expedient of fomenting a rebellion in order
to distract the country and give excuse for military violence and so
bring about a Union. But the Nationalists of to-day have so completely
identified themselves with the rebels of 1798 that within the last few
years splendid monuments have been erected in all the towns of Wexford
and the adjoining counties; some of these are bronze figures of
patriots brandishing pikes, others are representations of the priestly
leaders of the rebel forces. These monuments have been unveiled with
great ceremony, impassioned speeches being made on the occasion by
leading orators, both clerical and lay).

In order to realize the terrible position in which the loyalists
were placed, we must recollect that whilst the Wexford rebels were
triumphant in that county, and the movement seemed to be spreading
into Kilkenny and Carlow, there was a fresh outbreak in the north;
it appeared probable that Dublin might rise at any moment; the French
fleet was hourly expected, and the long looked-for aid from England
was still delayed. But the Irish loyalist minority showed the same
dogged determination that they had done in the time of James II, and
that they will show again in the future.

The numbers engaged in the different battles and skirmishes have
been variously estimated; it seems that at the battle of Arklow the
loyalists did not exceed 1,600, of whom nearly all were militia and
yeomanry, with a few artillery; whilst the rebels, commanded by Father
Michael Murphy, amounted to at least 20,000. Yet after a terrible
afternoon's fighting the rebels, disheartened by the fall of their
leader (whom they had believed to be invulnerable) retired, leaving
more than 1,000 dead on the field.

Soon, however, the reinforcements from England began to arrive; and
the French invasion, on which the rebels were building their hopes,
was still delayed. By July, although fighting was still going on in
the Wicklow mountains and some other parts of the country, the worst
of the rebellion in Wexford was crushed, and an Act of Amnesty was
carried through Parliament. It is worthy of note that the trials of
the rebels which took place in Dublin were conducted with a fairness
and a respect for the forms of law which are probably unparalleled in
the history of other countries at moments of such terrible excitement;
we can contrast them for instance with the steps that were taken in
putting down the outbreak of the Commune in Paris in 1871. It is easy
now to argue that, as the force of the rebellion was being broken, it
would have been more humane to have allowed those who had plotted and
directed it to go unpunished. But as Lecky has pointed out, "it was
scarcely possible to exaggerate the evil they had produced, and they
were immeasurably more guilty than the majority of those who had
already perished.

"They had thrown back, probably for generations, the civilization of
their country. They had been year by year engaged in sowing the seed
which had ripened into the harvest of blood. They had done all in
their power to bring down upon Ireland the two greatest curses that
can afflict a nation--the curse of civil war, and the curse of foreign
invasion; and although at the outset of their movement they had
hoped to unite Irishmen of all creeds, they had ended by lashing
the Catholics into frenzy by deliberate and skilful falsehood. The
assertion that the Orangemen had sworn to exterminate the Catholics
was nowhere more prominent than in the newspaper which was the
recognised organ of the United Irish leaders. The men who had spread
this calumny through an ignorant and excitable Catholic population,
were assuredly not less truly murderers than those who had fired the
barn at Scullabogue or piked the Protestants on Wexford Bridge."

A strong party, however, led by Lord Clare were in favour of clemency
wherever possible; and there seemed good reason for hoping that the
rebellion would slowly die out. Cooke, the Under Secretary, wrote
on the 9th of August: "The country is by no means settled nor secure
should the French land, but I think secure if they do not." Suddenly,
however, the alarming news came that the French were actually in
Ireland. Wolfe Tone and his fellow-plotters, undaunted by their
previous failures, had continued ceaseless in their efforts to induce
Napoleon to make an indirect attack on England by invading Ireland;
and if they had succeeded in persuading the French Government to send
an expedition two months earlier when the rebellion was at its height
and the English reinforcements had not arrived, Ireland must have been
lost. Once again, however, fortune favoured the English cause. The
first instalment of the French fleet, carrying 1,000 soldiers, did
not start until the 6th of August, and only arrived on the 22nd. They
landed at Killala, in Mayo, and were not a little surprised at the
state of things existing there. They had expected to find a universal
feeling of republicanism; but instead of this, whilst the Protestants
refused to join them, the Roman Catholic peasantry received them with
delight, and declared their readiness to take arms for France and the
Blessed Virgin. "God help these simpletons," said one of the officers,
"if they knew how little we care about the Pope or his religion, they
would not be so hot in expecting help from us!"

Arriving at the wrong time and the wrong place, the expedition was
foredoomed to failure. The French were brave men and trained soldiers;
but they found their Irish allies perfectly useless. They succeeded
in capturing Castlebar, and routing a force of militia; but
their campaign was brief; on the 8th of September the whole force
surrendered. The Connaught rebellion was speedily and severely put

The second instalment of the French invasion consisted of one ship.
They landed on the Island of Arran on the 16th of September; but after
spending eight hours on shore, re-embarked and sailed away to Norway.

The third instalment was, however, more serious. It consisted of a
ship of the line, eight frigates and a schooner, having on board
an army of about 3,000 men. They arrived at Lough Swilly early in
October, where they were met by a more powerful English fleet, and
nearly all were destroyed or captured. Amongst the prisoners taken
was Wolfe Tone; who soon afterwards in order to avoid a felon's death,
ended his life by suicide.[See note at the end of the Volume]

A fortnight later the fourth and last instalment arrived at Killala
Bay; but the Admiral, hearing that the rebellion was over, promptly
weighed anchor and returned to France. Thus ingloriously ended the
French attempts at the invasion of Ireland. The calling-in of the
foreigner had been of as little use to the cause of Irish rebellion as
it had been two centuries before.

By the end of the year the worst of the rebellion was over. But the
evil it had wrought was incalculable. How many had perished during
that terrible summer will never be known; the numbers have been
variously computed at from 15,000 to 70,000. At the outset of the
rebellion--in February 1798--Lord Clare had made a memorable speech in
the House of Lords, which has been so often misquoted that it is well
here to cite the passage in full:--

"If conciliation be a pledge of national tranquillity and
contentment; if it be a spell to allay popular ferment; there
is not a nation in Europe in which it has had so fair a trial
as in the Kingdom of Ireland. For a period of nearly twenty
years a liberal and unvaried system of concession and
conciliation has been pursued and acted on by the British
Government. Concession and conciliation have produced only a
fresh stock of grievances; other discontents of Ireland have
kept pace with her prosperity; for I am bold to say there
is not a nation on the habitable globe which has advanced in
cultivation and commerce, in agriculture and in manufactures
with the same rapidity in the same period. Her progress is now
retarded, and it is a heart-breaking spectacle to every man
who loves the country to see it arrested only by the perverse
and factious folly of the people, stimulated and encouraged by
disappointed statesmen."

Within a few months after that speech was made, Ireland was well-nigh
ruined. All the progress in material prosperity which had taken place
in the years immediately following 1782 was swept away. The national
debt, which in 1791 had stood at L2,442,890, involving an annual
charge of L142,716, had risen to L26,662,640, with an annual charge of
L1,395,735; the exports of woollen goods had almost ceased, and those
of linen gone down by more than a third; other industries showed
a decay nearly as lamentable; public bankruptcy seemed inevitable.
Though the violent outbreak of rebellion had been put down, many parts
of the country were in a state of anarchy. In the west, armed bands
went about every night houghing the cattle and murdering all who dared
to oppose them. If any man prosecuted one of the offenders, he did
it at the moral certainty of being murdered. The same fate hung over
every magistrate who sent a hougher to gaol, every witness who gave
evidence against him, every juryman who convicted him. In Limerick one
man ventured on his own part and on that of eight others to prosecute
an offender who had destroyed their property. All nine were murdered
in one night. It was not safe to travel along the high road within
six miles of Dublin. The militia had, from their misbehaviour in
the field, and their extreme licentiousness, fallen into universal
contempt and abhorrence; officers of English regiments declared that
it would be impossible to maintain discipline amongst their troops
if they remained in such a country. It was discovered that the rebels
were forming another Directory, and, still expecting aid from France,
planning a fresh outbreak. Religious animosities were more violent
than ever. Government was becoming impossible; for the Roman Catholic
population, now thoroughly disaffected, would not continue to submit
to the rule of the Protestant oligarchy; but the only way to put an
end to it would be by another rebellion which if successful would
(as the Roman Catholic bishops and educated laymen fully realized)
probably result in the establishment of a Jacobin republic;
clear-headed men of all parties were beginning to think that there was
but one solution of the problem; and that was--the Union.



We come now to the great turning point in the modern history of
Ireland--the Union. It has been so constantly and so vehemently
asserted that this momentous event was prompted by the wicked desire
of England to ruin Ireland, and was carried out by fraud, bribery,
intimidation, and every form of political crime, that not only
ordinary readers, but even writers who are content to receive
their information at second hand without investigating evidence for
themselves, generally assume that no other view is possible. Thus
O'Connell boldly asserted that the Irish Catholics never assented
to the Union. Others have blindly repeated his words; and from those
reiterated statements has been developed an argument that as the
Catholics did not assent to the Union, they cannot be bound by it.

I believe that there has been as much exaggeration about this as about
most other episodes of Irish history; and that anyone who, fairly and
without prejudice, takes the trouble to go through the history of the
Union as it may be gathered from contemporary documents, will come to
the conclusion that it was devised by great and earnest statesmen who
had the good of both countries at heart. As to the means by which it
was carried, there is much to be said on both sides of the question;
Lecky has stated the case against the Union ably and temperately;
other writers, equally honourable, have taken the opposite side. There
is at any rate very much to be said for the opinion, that, considering
the circumstances and the peculiar constitution of the Irish
Parliament, there was nothing which the Government did that was not
perfectly justifiable. As to whether it was in accordance with the
wish of the people or not, there are several points which ought to be
borne in mind but to which sufficient attention is not usually given.
A very large part of the nation were ignorant peasants, who did not
and could not properly understand the question; and as a matter
of fact cared little about it. Then of those who were against the
measure, many opposed it not because they wished the existing state
of things to continue, but because they thought that the Union would
prevent the one object of their ambition--total separation and the
establishment of a republic; their opinion therefore has but little
weight. When we come to the more educated and propertied classes, it
seems that the majority were in favour of the measure; and as to the
opinion of the Roman Catholic section (which after all was far the
largest part of the nation) I think there can be no doubt whatever.
Fortunately it is no longer necessary to wade through the mass of
original papers; for the evidence has been so carefully investigated
during recent years by various impartial writers, and has been
presented to the general reader in so clear and concise a manner
that no one now has any excuse for being led away by the impassioned
statements of partisan orators. I refer specially to the "History of
the Legislative Union of Great Britain and Ireland," by Dr. Dunbar
Ingram, published in 1887.

That careful writer commences his work by stating that, dissatisfied
with endless assertions unaccompanied by proof, he had determined to
investigate the subject for himself, examining closely the original
and contemporary authorities. He soon found that there was no evidence
to sustain the accusations made against the manner in which the Union
was carried; and that all the charges against the Government rested
finally on Harrington's worthless romances or the declamatory
statements of the Opposition during the sessions of 1799 and 1800,
which, when challenged, they declined to substantiate. Then, as he
proceeded in his work, he discovered that, after its terms were known
and the public had had time for reflection, the Union was thankfully
accepted by the two communities which made up Ireland; that the
Protestants, after the first burst of clamour, were as a body
converted and became well-wishers to the measure; and that the Roman
Catholics, after a short hesitation, gave the Union their hearty
assent and support. And finally, the whole inquiry left a strong
conviction on his mind that the Union was undertaken from the purest
motives, that it was carried by fair and constitutional means, and
that its final accomplishment was accompanied with the hearty assent
and concurrence of the vast majority of the two peoples that dwelt in

I feel that I cannot do better than follow some of the lines of his

It is true that in the time of the Plantagenets representatives from
Ireland were on several occasions summoned to attend the English
Parliament; and that during the Commonwealth Ireland was incorporated
with the rest of the Empire and sent members to the Parliaments of
1654 and 1657. These incidents, however, are unimportant; it is more
to the purpose to point out that from the time of the Restoration
onwards we find a long list of distinguished thinkers recommending
such a Union; and in the beginning of the eighteenth century both
Houses of the Irish Parliament twice petitioned Queen Anne to the
same effect. It may be asked why the English politicians, who were so
anxious to bring about the Union with Scotland, turned a deaf ear
to these petitions. The answer is simple. The Scotch Parliament
was independent, and the impossibility of having two independent
Parliaments under one sovereign had become manifest. Trade jealousies
had arisen; the action of the Scotch had nearly involved England in a
war with Spain; the Scotch Parliament had passed an Act declaring that
until provision was made for settling the rights and liberties of the
Scotch nation independently of England the successor to the Scotch
Crown should not be the same person that was possessed of the Crown
of England. The Parliament of England commenced arming the militia and
fortifying the towns near the Border. England being at war with France
the Scotch Parliament passed an Act allowing Scotchmen to trade with
that country; it therefore was a choice between Union and War; and
the two countries wisely chose Union. In the case of Ireland, however,
England saw no such danger; the Irish legislature was subordinate;
Ireland was bound by English statutes; and the Irish Parliament
represented not the whole people but only that one section of it which
was necessarily bound to the English connection; the Irish petitions
for Union therefore remained unheeded. The great Bishop Berkeley,
writing in 1735, strongly advocated a union; at a later time Adam
Smith wrote: "By a union with Great Britain Ireland would gain besides
the freedom of trade other advantages much more important ... Without
a union with Great Britain the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely
for many ages to consider themselves as one people." But, as we
have seen, by the Act of 1782, the Irish Parliament had become
independent--that is, it was placed in the same position as the
Scotch Parliament had been; and by the Act of 1893, the bulk of the
constituencies in the counties had become Roman Catholic. Except
in the opinion of thoughtless optimists like Grattan, matters were
approaching a deadlock; for sooner or later the Roman Catholic
electors would demand representation in Parliament; the borough
members would most probably refuse it, in which case war might break
out again; and if they granted it, the Irish Parliament, then almost
entirely Roman Catholic, would be anxious to break the tie that bound
Ireland to England.

But apart from the religious question, it was evident that the
constitution, as fixed by the Act of 1782, was fraught with dangers.
And it is no answer to say that not many difficulties had arisen
in the few years between 1782 and 1799; for, even though that is
partially true, the question for a statesman to consider was whether
they were likely to arise in the future; and the rebellion, which
was still seething, had made this all the more probable. First, on a
declaration of war by England, Ireland might refuse to take part in
it; and her refusal would paralyse the Empire. As early as 1791, Wolfe
Tone had pointed out that Ireland need not embark on the side of
Great Britain in the contest which was then pending; and one of his
followers had advocated an alliance with France. (This is of all the
more importance at the present day, when the Nationalists state that
their principles are the same as those of Wolfe Tone.) Secondly,
during a war, Ireland might refuse supplies to England. This course
was actually hinted at by Grattan. Thirdly, she might provoke a
commercial war of rates with England. This course was proposed in the
Irish House of Commons in 1784. Fourthly, she might put pressure on
the Sovereign to declare war against a country with which England was
at peace. This also was proposed in the Irish House, in the case of
Portugal. Fifthly, she might differ from England in any international
question in reference to the connection between them, as she did in
the Regency question. Sixthly, she might refuse--as she did--to make
a commercial treaty with Great Britain; and thus keep open the most
fertile sources of mutual jealousies and discontent. Grattan's best
friends had urged upon him in vain that refusing to assent to a
commercial treaty made the permanent government by two independent
legislatures impossible, and would bring about separation; he refused
to be guided by their advice, and at that time he still had supreme
power in the House. It is remarkable that even at a later date, whilst
vehemently opposing the Union, he took a delight in pointing out
how many ways there were in which an Irish Parliament might injure
England; seeming not to realize that he was supplying a forcible
argument in favour of the measure he was opposing.

The dangers of the situation were summed up by Pitt in a few
words:--"A party in England may give to the Throne one species of
advice by its Parliament. A party in Ireland may advise directly
opposite upon the most essential points that involve the safety of
both; upon alliance with a foreign power, for instance; upon the army;
upon the navy; upon any branch of the public service; upon trade; upon
commerce; or upon any point essential to the Empire at large." And
long afterwards Sir Robert Peel pointed out that within the short
period of six years from the establishment of what is called the
independence of the Irish Parliament--from 1782 to 1788--the foreign
relations of the two countries, the commercial intercourse of the two
countries, the sovereign exercise of authority in the two countries,
were the subjects of litigation and dispute; and it was more owing
to accident than to any other cause that they did not produce actual
alienation and rupture.

The idea of a Union was first brought before Parliament by the Lord
Lieutenant (Lord Cornwallis) in his speech at the opening of the
Session in January 1799. It appeared at first that a majority of the
Peers were in favour of the proposal, but a small majority of the
House of Commons hostile--some to the scheme altogether, others to
its being brought forward at that time. This small majority, however,
rapidly diminished; and before many weeks had passed, the Government
possessed a majority in both Houses. The citizens of Dublin were
naturally strongly against the measure, thinking that it would injure
the prestige of the capital; as were also the proprietors of boroughs
and the legal members of the House; and soon after the scheme had
been proposed, several counties held meetings and passed resolutions
against it; but as the year went on, when the details of the measure
had been more carefully considered, there was a general change of
feeling throughout the country. Lord Cornwallis went on tours both
north and south, through both Protestant and Roman Catholic
districts, everywhere receiving addresses in favour of the Union from
corporations, grand juries, leading residents, and especially from
Roman Catholic bodies. And, if we may believe Lord Cornwallis's own
letters, these addresses were entirely spontaneous, and represented
the real feelings of the community. Before Parliament met in March
1800, twenty-two counties had passed resolutions in favour of the
Union; and Lord Castlereagh was able to say in the House that the
great body of the landed property of Ireland, and all the great
commercial towns except Dublin and Drogheda, were friendly to the
measure. The Opposition attempted to meet this by presenting a number
of petitions showing that the people of Ireland were against it. Of
the fifty-four petitions presented, five were not against the Union at
all, but merely requests for compensation in the event of its coming
about; three were from individuals or commercial firms; and eight were
from Dublin alone. The number therefore was much smaller than appears
at first sight. Besides obtaining these petitions, the Opposition
also collected a large sum of money for the purchase of seats; in the
circumstances and according to the ideas of the time, I do not say
that they were in the least morally wrong in doing so; but the fact
takes away from the value of the votes given; and it neutralizes
anything that was done by the Government in the same way--if it can be
proved that the Government so acted.

But as the Roman Catholics constituted three-fourths of the population
of Ireland, it is more important to investigate what their feelings
were than to scrutinize the division lists of the House, if we wish to
ascertain what was really the wish of the nation. Fortunately we have
an opportunity of testing whether there is any truth in the statement
of O'Connell to which I have already referred--that the Irish
Catholics did not assent to the Union. The evidence shows conclusively
that the Roman Catholic peerage, episcopate, priesthood and laity all
gave the movement their hearty concurrence and co-operation. Lords
Kenmare and Fingall assured Lord Cornwallis that the Catholics were
in favour of a Union; the entire episcopate--that is, the four
archbishops and nineteen bishops, three sees being vacant--expressed
the same view by their letters which are still extant or by
resolutions signed by them; for instance, the Archbishop of Tuam
wrote: "I have had an opportunity of acquiring the strongest
conviction that this measure alone can restore harmony and happiness
to our unhappy country." The Bishop of Cork wrote: "Nothing in my
opinion will more effectively tend to lay these disgraceful and
scandalous party feuds and dissensions, and restore peace and
harmony amongst us, than the great measure in contemplation, of
the legislative Union, and incorporation of this Kingdom with Great
Britain. I am happy to tell you it is working its way, and daily
gaining ground in the public opinion. Several counties which appeared
most adverse to it have now declared for it, and I have no doubt but,
with the blessing of God, it will be effected, notwithstanding the
violent opposition of Mr. Foster and his party. The Roman Catholics in
general are avowedly for the measure. In the south, where they are the
most numerous, they have declared in its favour." The Bishop of Ferns
presided at a meeting of Catholics of Wexford at which an address
in favour of incorporation of both legislatures was signed by 3,000
persons; and throughout the country meetings, presided over by parish
priests, were held to further the movement; and the laity were quite
as eager as the clergy in the matter. Plowden, the Roman Catholic
historian, says: "A very great preponderancy in favour of the Union
existed in the Catholic body, particularly in their nobility, gentry
and clergy." Thomas McKenna, the Secretary to the Catholic Committee,
wrote two pamphlets in the same interest; whilst on the other hand not
a single petition against it was presented by any Roman Catholic body.

When the Session of 1800 commenced, a leading member of the Opposition
sadly confessed that the people had deserted them. But the struggle
in the House of Commons was tremendous. The Anti-Unionists had the
advantage of the oratory of Grattan, who, though he had not been in
Parliament since 1797, now purchased a seat for L2,400, and entered
the House in a theatrical manner in the midst of the discussion. But
his vehement and abusive style of declamation could not in debate
be compared with the calm reasoning of Castlereagh. The most able
speeches against the measure were not those of Grattan, but Foster.
Many divisions were taken, the Government majority steadily rising
from forty-two to sixty-five, and comprising an actual majority of
the members of the House. In the House of Lords it was relatively
much larger. But it is constantly affirmed that this majority was only
brought about by bribery and intimidation. The word "bribery" has an
ugly sound; and in such a case as this, it is only fair to examine
what is exactly meant by the term. There is no doubt that compensation
was given to the proprietors of boroughs which were not allowed
representation in the United Parliament; and it is said that as the
return of members to Parliament is a public trust and not a species of
property, this was not a fair matter for pecuniary compensation; hence
it amounted to bribery. But the ownership of boroughs had grown up
insensibly; and they had long been looked upon and treated as private
property, not only in Ireland but in England and Scotland also; and
there were many honest men in all three countries who contended that
the system worked well, as it was the means whereby a large number
of distinguished men obtained their first introduction into public
life--amongst them being Pitt, Canning, and Fox in England, Grattan,
Flood and Plunkett in Ireland. Then in other cases when powers which
had long been regarded as property have been abolished, compensation
has been given. This was the case when the heritable jurisdictions in
Scotland were abolished, and when by the disestablishment of the Irish
Church the right of patrons to nominate to livings was taken away. And
even granting for the sake of argument that this is wrong, is it fair
to call it bribery? Eighty-four places were disfranchised, and a sum
of L1,260,000 (which did not nearly amount to the price which the
boroughs at that time fetched in the market) was paid. Of this,
L67,500 was paid to Englishmen who owned seats in the Irish
Parliament; L60,000 to boroughs who had no owners; L30,000 to the
executors of a deceased owner; L18,750 to two ladies; and
L1,100,000 to Irishmen who owned boroughs--of which L400,000 went to
Anti-Unionists who opposed the Bill. In many cases, of course, the
actual occupant of the seat was a different person from the owner who
received the compensation; for instance, there is reason to believe
that all the fifty barristers in the house had purchased their seats,
but not one of them was the permanent owner. Now, if compensation
is bribery, who was bribed? Really it must be admitted that
on investigation the charge of bribery, so far as it refers to
compensation to borough-owners, falls to the ground.

Then it is said that the Government made actual payments to members
for their votes. This charge was brought forward in a general way at
the time in both Houses; the Government indignantly denied it, and
called on the Opposition to prove their accusation; but they failed to
do so. To repeat it now is therefore unjust. It may be admitted that
amongst Lord Castlereagh's letters there is one which taken by itself
looks as if a certain sum of money was to be used in bribery; but,
as Dr. Ingram has pointed out, a careful investigation of the matter
shows that it refers to proposed changes in the tariff, and not to
bribery at all.

Again, it is argued that the lavish distribution of titles amounted
to bribery. If so, it is hard to find any Government in England or
Ireland that has not been to some extent guilty of bribery--though it
is true that no British Premier has ever created peerages or salaried
offices on anything like the scale that Mr. Asquith has done. After
the Bill had passed, Pitt created twenty new Irish peerages and four
English ones; and promoted sixteen peers a step in their order; which
after all is not very much more than Lord North had done in 1779, on
no special occasion, when he had created eighteen Irish peerages and
promoted twelve existing peers.

As to the charges of intimidation, they may be dismissed at once; the
very few that were brought forward were so completely answered at the
time, that even the Opposition dropped them. The presence of such a
large number of troops in Ireland was quite accounted for by the fact
that the rebellion was still to some extent going on, and that there
was again a danger of a French invasion.

And I must contend further that even admitting that there were
some acts on the part of the Government which will not bear strict
investigation according to present ideas, it is only fair to remember
the tremendous difficulties of the occasion. The English House of
Commons was almost unanimously in favour of the Union--not more than
thirty members ever voted against it; and in the opinion of Lord
Cornwallis, who throughout his long and varied career showed himself
to be a shrewd observer and an upright, honourable man, "This country
could not be saved without the Union."

But really the whole discussion is beside the mark. The Nationalists
continually repeat the charge that the Union was carried by fraud; and
so it must be answered; but it has no bearing on anything existing at
the present day. For the old Irish Parliament has disappeared--merged
in the greater and more honourable Assembly of the United Kingdom; and
to revive it now would be a physical impossibility. The whole state
of circumstances has changed; no assembly that could now be formed in
Ireland would bear the faintest resemblance to that which met in the
eighteenth century. As Lecky has well expressed it:--

"To an historian of the eighteenth century, however, few
things can be more grotesquely absurd than to suppose that the
merits or demerits, the failure or the successes of the
Irish Parliament has any real bearing on modern schemes for
reconstructing the Government of Ireland on a revolutionary
and Jacobin basis; entrusting the protection of property and
the maintenance of law to some democratic assembly consisting
mainly of Fenians and Land-leaguers, of paid agitators and
of penniless adventurers. The Parliamentary system of the
eighteenth century might be represented in very different
lights by its enemies and by its friends. Its enemies would
describe it as essentially a government carried on through the
instrumentality of a corrupt oligarchy, of a large, compact
body of members holding place and pensions at the pleasure of
the Government, removed by the system of rotten boroughs from
all effectual popular control. Its friends would describe it
as essentially the government of Ireland by the gentlemen of
Ireland and especially the landlord class.

"Neither representation would be altogether true, but each
contains a large measure of truth. The nature of the Irish
constituencies and the presence in the House of Commons of a
body of pensioners and placemen forming considerably more than
a third of the whole assembly, and nearly half of its active
members, gave the Government a power, which, except under
very rare and extraordinary circumstances, must, if fully
exercised, have been overwhelming ... On the other hand,
the Irish Parliament was a body consisting very largely of
independent country gentlemen, who on nearly all questions
affecting the economical and industrial development of the
country, had a powerful if not a decisive influence ... and
it was in reality only in a small class of political questions
that the corrupt power of government seems to have been
strained. The Irish House of Commons ... comprised the flower
of the landlord class. It was essentially pre-eminently the
representative of the property of the country. It had all the
instincts and the prejudices, but also all the qualities
and the capacities, of an educated propertied class, and it
brought great local knowledge and experience to its task. Much
of its work was of that practical and unobtrusive character
which leaves no trace in history."



As soon as the Union had become law, the opposition to it died down
rapidly. All the members who had voted for it who became candidates
for the Imperial Parliament were elected, and Irish orators soon began
to make their mark in the greater Assembly. In 1805, however, there
was another slight rebellion, led by Robert Emmett. It never had
a chance of success; the mass of the people, thoroughly tired of
anarchy, refused to take part in it; and though the rebels succeeded
in committing a few murders, the movement was speedily quelled, mainly
by the yeomen of Dublin. At the trial of Emmett, Plunket, who had been
a vehement opponent of the Union, was counsel for the prosecution, and
in his speech bitterly denounced the conduct of those men who,
having done their utmost to oppose the Irish Parliament, now made the
abolition of that Parliament the pretext for rebellion. "They call for
revenge," said he, "on account of the removal of the Parliament. These
men, who, in 1798, endeavoured to destroy the Parliament, now
call upon the loyal men who opposed its transfer, to join them in
rebellion; an appeal vain and fruitless."

It will be observed from statements already quoted, that the
Nationalists of to-day claim that they are the successors of
Emmett; he is counted amongst the heroes who fell in the cause of
Ireland--thus making it all the more clear how wide is the gulf
between the Parliamentary opponents of the Union and the modern

During the early part of the century, Ireland had another period of
prosperity. Travellers through Ireland at the present day cannot fail
to notice how many of the country seats (now, in consequence of later
legislation, mostly deserted and already beginning to fall into ruin)
were built at that time. No doubt much of the prosperity was caused
by the rebound which often takes place after a period of anarchy and
desolation; and it would not be fair to attribute it wholly to the
effect of the Union; but at least it proves that the melancholy
prognostications of the opponents of the measure were happily
unfulfilled. The total value of the produce and manufactures exported
from Ireland between 1790 and 1801 amounted to L51,322,620; between
1802 and 1813 it amounted to L63,483,718. In 1800 the population
of Ireland was under 5,000,000; in 1841 it was over 8,000,000. The
tonnage in Irish ports in 1792 was 69,000; by 1797 it had fallen to
53,000; before 1852 it had risen to 5,000,000. The export of linen
in 1796 was 53,000,000 yards; in 1799 it had fallen to 38,000,000;
in 1853 it had risen to 106,000,000; and every other department of
industry and commerce showed figures almost as satisfactory.

There were, however, three important measures which the leading
advocates of the Union had desired to see carried as soon as possible
after the great change had been effected, but which--as many writers
of various schools of thought to this day consider unfortunately--were
postponed. The first was a provision by the State for the payment of
the Roman Catholic clergy. The bishops had fully expected that this
would be carried. Some modern Nationalists, wishing to win the
favour of the English Nonconformists, have represented that the Roman
Catholic Church refused to accept the money; but that is not the case.
Whether the policy of "levelling up" would have been a wise one
or not, it is useless now to conjecture; for once the policy of
"levelling down" had been decided upon, and the Irish Church had been
disestablished and disendowed, it became impracticable. The second
measure was Roman Catholic emancipation. This had been intended by
Pitt and other statesmen who helped to bring about the Union; but
unforeseen difficulties arose; and unfortunately nothing was done
until the agitation led by O'Connell brought matters to a crisis;
and the emancipation which might have been carried gracefully years
before, and in that case would have strengthened the Union, was
grudgingly yielded in 1829.

The third measure was a readjustment of tithes. All will now admit,
and very many politicians and thinkers at the time fully realized,
that the old law as to tithes was a cruel injustice; but no change
was made until the opposition to the payment of tithes amounted to
something like civil war, involving a series of murders and outrages.
Then the fatal precedent was set of a successful and violent revolt
against contracts and debts. In 1838 an Act was passed commuting
the tithes into a rent-charge payable not by the occupiers but the
landlords. Some modern writers have argued that the change was merely
a matter of form, as the landlords increased the rents in proportion;
and it seems such a natural thing to have happened that earlier
writers may well be excused for assuming that it actually occurred.
But there is no excuse for repeating the charge now; for in
consequence of recent legislation it has been necessary for the Land
Courts to investigate the history of rents from a period commencing
before 1838; and the result of their examination has elicited the
strange fact that in thousands of cases the rent remained exactly the
same that it had been before the Tithe Commutation Act was passed.

But ere long economic causes were at work which tended to check the
prosperity of Ireland. It was soon found that the proportion which by
the Act of Union Ireland was to contribute to the Imperial Government
was too large for the country to bear. The funded debt of Ireland
which amounted to L28,000,000 in 1800 rose by 1817 to L130,000,000;
in that year the whole liability was taken over by the Imperial
Government. Then the fall in prices which naturally resulted from
the peace of 1815 pressed heavily on an agricultural community.
Improvements in machinery and the development of steam power squeezed
out the handlooms of Ulster and the watermills of other parts of the
country. Wages were low; and the people who depended mainly on the
potato were underfed and undernourished. In 1846 and 1847 came the
two terrible blows to Ireland--first, the potato disease; and then the
Repeal of the Corn Laws, which made the profitable growing of wheat
with its accompanying industries, impossible. During the fearful years
of the potato famine, it is only too probable that some of the efforts
for relief were unwisely conducted and that some persons sadly failed
in their duties; no measures or men in the world are ever perfect; and
the difficulties not only of obtaining food but of getting it to the
starving people in days when there were few railways and no motors
were enormous. But when modern writers shower wholesale abuse over
the landlords of the period, and even hint that they brought about the
famine, it is well to turn to the writings of an ardent Home Ruler,
who was himself an eye-witness, having lived as a boy through the
famine time in one of the districts that suffered most--Mr. A.M.
Sullivan. He says:--

"The conduct of the Irish landlords throughout the famine
period has been variously described, and has been, I believe,
generally condemned. I consider the censure visited on them
too sweeping. I hold it to be in some respects cruelly unjust.
On many of them no blame too heavy could possibly fall.
A large number were permanent absentees; their ranks were
swelled by several who early fled the post of duty at
home--cowardly and selfish deserters of a brave and faithful
people. Of those who remained, some may have grown callous;
it is impossible to contest authentic instances of brutal
heartlessness here and there. But granting all that has to be
entered on the dark debtor side, the overwhelming balance
is the other way. The bulk of the resident Irish landlords
manfully did their best in that dread hour ... No adequate
tribute has ever been paid to the memory of those Irish
landlords--they were men of every party and creed--perished
martyrs to duty in that awful time; who did not fly the
plague-reeking work-houses or fever-tainted court. Their names
would make a goodly roll of honour ... If they did too little
compared with what the landlord class in England would have
done in similar case, it was because little was in their
power. The famine found most of the resident gentry of Ireland
on the brink of ruin. They were heritors of estates heavily
overweighted with the debts of a bygone generation. Broad
lands and lordly mansions were held by them on settlements
and conditions that allowed small scope for the exercise
of individual liberality. To these landlords the failure of
year's rental receipts meant mortgage fore-one and hopeless
ruin. Yet cases might be named by the score in which such men
scorned to avert by pressure on their suffering tenantry the
fate they saw impending over them.... They 'went down with the

Soon after the famine, the Incumbered Estates Act was passed, by which
the creditors of incumbered landlords could force a sale. This in
effect worked a silent revolution; for whatever might have been said
up to that time about the landed proprietors being the representatives
of those who acquired their estates through the Cromwellian
confiscations, after those proprietors had been forced to sell and the
purchasers had obtained a statutory title by buying in the Court, the
charge became obsolete. The motive of the Act was a good one; it
was hoped that land would thus pass out of the hands of impoverished
owners and be purchased by English capitalists who would be able to
execute improvements on their estates and thus benefit the country
as a whole. But the scheme brought with it disadvantages which the
framers of the Act had not foreseen. The new purchasers had none of
the local feelings of the dispossessed owners; they regarded their
purchases as an investment, which they wished to make as profitable as
possible, and treated the occupants of the land with a harshness which
the old proprietors would never have exercised. Like most things in
Ireland, however, this has been much exaggerated. It is constantly
assumed that the whole soil of Ireland after this belonged to absentee
proprietors who took no interest in the country. That absenteeism is a
great evil to any country, and to Ireland especially, no one can deny;
but a Parliamentary enquiry in 1869 elicited the fact that the number
of landed proprietors in the rural area of Ireland then (and there
is no reason to suppose that any great change had taken place in
the previous eighteen years) was 19,547, of whom only 1,443 could
be described as "rarely or never resident in Ireland"; and these
represented 15.7 per cent. of the rural area, and only 15.1 per cent.
of the total poor-law valuation of that area.

Between 1841 and 1851 the population of the country fell from
8,200,000 to 6,574,000. The primary causes of this were of course the
famine and the fever which broke out amongst the half-starved people;
but it was also to a large extent caused by emigration. A number
of devoted and noble-hearted men, realizing that it was hopeless to
expect that the potato disease would disappear, and that consequently
the holdings had become "uneconomic" (to use the phrase now so
popular) as no other crop was known which could produce anything
like the same amount of food, saw that the only course to prevent a
continuation of the famine would be to remove a large section of the
people to a happier country. In this good work the Quakers, who had
been untiring in their efforts to relieve distress during the famine,
took a prominent part; and the Government gave assistance. At the
time no one regarded this as anything but a beneficent course; for the
emigrants found better openings in new and rising countries than
they ever could have had at home, and the reduced population, earning
larger wages, were able to live in greater comfort. One evidence of
this has been that mud cabins, which in 1841 had numbered 491,000
had in 1901 been reduced to 9,000; whilst the best class of houses
increased from 304,000 to 596,000. In 1883 the Roman Catholic bishops
came to the conclusion that matters had gone far enough, and that in
future migration from the poorer to the more favoured districts was
better than emigration from the country; but they did not say anything
against the work that had been done up to that time. Yet a recent
Nationalist writer, wishing to bring every possible charge against the
landlords, has hinted that the total loss of population from 1841 to
1901 was caused by the brutality of the landlords after the famine,
who drove the people out of the country! To show the fallacy of this,
it is sufficient to point out that the powers of the landlords for
good or evil were considerably reduced by the Land Act of 1870, and
after that they were further diminished by each successive Act until
the last shred was taken away by the Act of 1887; yet the population
went down from 5,412,377 in 1871 to 4,453,775 in 1901--the emigration
being larger in proportion from those counties where the National
League was omnipotent than from other parts of Ireland.

In the early thirties O'Connell commenced his famous agitation for the
Repeal of the Union. After he had disappeared from the scene, his work
was taken up by those of his followers who advocated physical force;
and in 1848 an actual rebellion broke out, headed by Smith O'Brien. It
ended in a ridiculous fiasco. The immediate cause of its failure, as
A.M. Sullivan has pointed out, was that the leaders, in imitation of
the movement of half a century before, endeavoured to eliminate the
religious difficulty and to bring about a rising in which Orange
and Green should be united; but their fight for religious tolerance
exposed them to the charge of infidelity; the Roman Catholic priests
(who now possessed immense political influence) denounced them; and
their antagonism was fatal to the movement.

But one of the most far-seeing of the party--J.F. Lalor--perceived
that mere repeal would never be strong enough to be a popular cry--it
must be hitched on to some more powerful motive, which could drag it
along. As he clearly explained in his manifesto, his objects were the
abolition of British government and the formation of a National one.
He considered that neither agitation nor the attempt at military
insurrection were likely to attain those objects, but that the wisest
means for that end were the refusal of obedience to usurped authority;
taking quiet possession of all the rights and powers of government and
proceeding to exercise them; and defending the exercise of such powers
if attacked. He saw that the motive power which would carry itself
forward and drag repeal with it, was in the land. He held that the
soil of the country belonged as of right to the entire people of that
country, not to any one class but to the nation--one condition being
essential, that the tenant should bear true and undivided allegiance
to the nation whose land he held, and owe no allegiance whatever to
any other prince, power or people, or any obligation of obedience or
respect to their will, their orders, or their laws. The reconquest
of the liberties of Ireland, he argued, would, even if possible by
itself, be incomplete and worthless, without the reconquest of the
land; whereas the latter, if effected, would involve the former. He
therefore recommended (1) That occupying tenants should at once refuse
to pay all rent except the value of the overplus of harvest produce
remaining in their hands after deducting a full provision for their
own subsistence during the ensuing year; (2) that they should forcibly
resist being made homeless under the English law of ejectment; (3)
that they ought further on principle to refuse _all_ rent to the
present usurping proprietors, until they should in National Convention
decide what rents they were to pay and to whom they should pay them;
and (4) that the people, on grounds of policy and economy, should
decide that those rents should be paid to themselves--the people--for
public purposes for the benefit of the entire general people. In
that way a mighty social revolution would be accomplished, and the
foundation of a national revolution surely laid.

But these views, though shared by J. Mitchel and other leaders, were
not at the time generally adopted; and the next agitations were more
distinctly political than agrarian. The Fenian movement of 1865--1867,
the avowed object of which was the establishment of an independent
republic, arose in America, where it was cleverly devised and ably
financed. In Ireland it met with little sympathy except in the towns;
and the attempted outbreaks, both there and in Canada, were dismal
failures. Two of their efforts in England, however, led to important
results. Gladstone made the remarkable statement that it was their
attempt to blow up Clerkenwell prison that enabled him to carry
the Act for the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. Many years
afterwards, when this encouragement to incendiarism had done its work,
he denied that he had ever said so; but there is no doubt that he did.

Here I must digress for a moment to refer to the position of the Irish
Church. By the Act of Union it had been provided that the Churches of
England and Ireland as then by law established should be united, and
that the continuation and preservation of the United Church should be
deemed and taken to be an essential and fundamental part of the Union;
and at the time of the agitation for Catholic emancipation the Roman
Catholic Bishops of Ireland solemnly declared that their Church
would never attempt to destroy the Protestant Establishment. This is
interesting as showing how futile are the attempts of one generation
to bind posterity by legislation; and how foolish it is to expect
that men will regard themselves as bound by promises made by their
ancestors. (The same remark may be made with reference to the promises
now being made by Nationalists as to the Home Rule Bill.) The general
provisions of the Disestablishment Act were simple. Existing clergy
were secured in their incomes for life; the disestablished Church
was allowed to claim all churches then in actual use, and to purchase
rectory houses and glebes at a valuation; and a sum of L500,000 was
given to the Church in lieu of all private endowments. Everything
else--even endowments given by private persons a few years before the
Act was passed--was swept away. The members of the Church showed a
liberality which their opponents never anticipated. They bought the
glebes, continued to pay their clergy by voluntary assessments, and
collected a large sum of money towards a future endowment. Nationalist
writers now state that the Act left the Irish Church with an income
adequate to its needs and merely applied the surplus revenues to other
purposes; and hint that the capital sum now possessed by the Church
really came from the State, and that therefore the future Home Rule
Government can deal with it as they please. The alarm felt by Irish
Churchmen at the prospect can be understood.

The other Fenian attempt in England which has historical importance
was of a different kind. Two Fenian prisoners were being conveyed in a
prison van at Manchester. Their friends tried to rescue them by force;
and in the attempt killed the officer in charge. For this crime, three
of them--Allen, Larkin and O'Brien--were tried, convicted and hanged
in November 1867. These were the "Manchester Martyrs," in honour of
whose unflinching fidelity to faith and country (to quote the words
of Archbishop Croke) so many memorial crosses have been erected,
and solemn demonstrations are held every year to this day. At the
unveiling of the memorial cross at Limerick the orator said: "Allen,
Larkin and O'Brien died as truly for the cause of Irish Nationality as
did any of the heroes of Irish history. The same cause nerved the arms
of the brave men of '98, of '48, of '65 and '67. For the cause that
had lived so long they would not take half measures--nothing else
would satisfy them than the full measure of Nationality for which they
and their forefathers had fought."

Meanwhile another movement was going on, which seems to have been at
first wholly distinct from the Fenian conspiracy--the constitutional
agitation for Home Rule or Repeal, led by Isaac Butt. It commenced its
Parliamentary action in 1874; but was ere long broken up by the more
violent spirits within its own ranks. As had so frequently happened in
similar movements in Ireland, France and elsewhere, the moderate
men were thrust aside, and the extremists carried all before them.
Fenianism, though apparently crushed in Ireland, continued to flourish
in America. Michael Davitt, who had been a prominent member both of
the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood and of the Fenian Society, had
been convicted of treason felony, and sentenced to penal servitude. On
his release in 1877, he was received as a hero, and amongst those who
took part in the welcome to him were C.S. Parnell, J.G. Biggar, J.
Carey, D. Curley and J. Brady. He went to America and there matured
the plan of his operations on the lines laid down by Lalor, which he
proceeded to carry out in Ireland in 1879 by means of a Society which
was at first called the "Land League" but which has since been known
by various other names. Amongst his allies were J. Devoy, O'Donovan
Rossa, and Patrick Ford. Devoy and Rossa took an active part in
establishing the Skirmishing Fund, which was subscribed for the
purpose of levying war on England with dynamite. Rossa afterwards
publicly boasted that he had placed an infernal machine onboard H.M.S.
"Dottrell," and had sent it and all its crew to the bottom of the
ocean. As a reward for his patriotic conduct he was some years later
granted a pension by the County Council of Cork, payable out of the
rates. Ford was the ablest and most powerful of the number, for by
means of his paper--the _Irish World_--he collected vast sums for the
Parliamentary party. In this paper he strongly advocated the use of
dynamite as a blessed agent which should be availed of by the Irish
people in their holy war; and elaborated a scheme for setting fire to
London in fifty places on a windy night. After D. Curley and J. Brady
had been hanged for the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr.
Burke, he collected money for a testimonial to them as heroes, and
prayed that God would send Ireland more men with hearts like that of
J. Brady. Mr. Redmond has recently described him as "the grand old
veteran, who through his newspaper has done more for the last thirty
or forty years for Ireland than almost any man alive"; Mr. T.P.
O'Connor has congratulated him on the great work he is doing for
Ireland; and Mr. Devlin has eulogized him for "the brilliancy in the
exposition of the principles inculcated in our programme."

By 1880 the union between the Dynamite party in America (which bore
many names, such as the Fenian Society, the Irish Revolutionary
Brotherhood, the Invincibles, the Clan-na-gael, and the Physical
Force party, but was essentially the same movement throughout), the
constitutional agitators for Home Rule in Parliament, and the Land
Leaguers in Ireland, was complete. It was but natural that it should
be so, for their objects were the same, though their methods differed
according to circumstances. The American party (according to their own
statements) desired the achievement of a National Parliament so as
to give them a footing on Irish soil--to give them the agencies and
instrumentalities for a Government _de facto_ at the very commencement
of the Irish struggle--to give them the plant of an armed revolution.
Hence they gladly contributed large sums for the Parliamentary Fund.
Parnell, the leader of the Parliamentary party, stated that a true
revolutionary movement should partake of a constitutional and
an illegal character; it should be both an open and a secret
organization, using the constitution for its own purpose and also
taking advantage of the secret combination; and (as the judges at the
Parnell Commission reported) the Land League was established with the
intention of bringing about the independence of Ireland as a separate

In the preceding autumn the agitation against the payment of rent had
begun; and persons of ordinary intelligence could see that a fresh
outbreak of anarchy was imminent. But Gladstone, when coming into
power in March 1880, assumed that air of easy optimism which his
successors in more recent times have imitated; and publicly stated
that there was in Ireland an absence of crime and outrage and a
general sense of comfort and satisfaction such as had been unknown
in the previous history of the country. His Chief Secretary, Forster,
however, had not been long in Ireland before he realized that this
was the dream of a madman; and that the Government must either act or
abdicate in favour of anarchy; but the Cabinet refused to support him.
Before the end of the year the Government had practically abdicated,
and the rule of the Land League was the only form of Government in
force in a large part of the country. The name of the unfortunate
Captain Boycott will be for ever associated with the means the League
employed to enforce their orders. What those means were, was explained
by Gladstone himself:--

"What is meant by boycotting? In the first place it is
combined intimidation. In the second place, it is combined
intimidation made use of for the purpose of destroying the
private liberties of choice by fear of ruin and starvation. In
the third place, that which stands in the rear of boycotting
and by which alone boycotting can in the long run be made
thoroughly effective is the murder which is not to be

And a few years later--1886--the Official Report of the Cowper
Commission stated it more fully:--

"The people are more afraid of boycotting, which depends for
its success on the probability of outrage, than they are of
the judgments of the Courts of Justice. The unwritten law in
some districts is supreme. We deem it right to call attention
to the terrible ordeal that a boycotted person has to undergo,
which was by several witnesses graphically described during
the progress of our enquiry. The existence of a boycotted
person becomes a burden to him, as none in town or village are
allowed, under a similar penalty to themselves, to supply him
or his family with the necessaries of life. He is not allowed
to dispose of the produce of his farm. Instances have been
brought before us in which his attendance at divine service
was prohibited, in which his cattle have been, some killed,
some barbarously mutilated; in which all his servants and
labourers were ordered and obliged to leave him; in which the
most ordinary necessaries of life and even medical comforts,
had to be procured from long distances; in which no one
would attend the funeral, or dig a grave for, a member of a
boycotted person's family; and in which his children have been
forced to discontinue attendance at the National School of the

This was the ordinary form of Government as conducted by the
Nationalists; and any attempt to interfere with it and to enforce the
milder laws of England, is now denounced as "coercion."

In 1881 Gladstone carried another and a more far-reaching Land Act. To
put it shortly, it may be said that all agricultural land (except that
held by leaseholders, who were brought in under the Act of 1887)
was handed over to the occupiers for ever (with free power of sale),
subject only to the payment of rent--the rent not being that which the
tenants had agreed to pay, but that which a Land Court decided to Be
a "fair rent." This was to last for fifteen years, at the end of which
time the tenant might again claim to have a fair rent fixed, and so
_ad infinitum_. The Land Court in most cases cut down the rent by
about 20 or 25 per cent.; and at the end of fifteen years did the
same again. As tithes (which had been secularized but not abolished),
mortgages and family charges remained unchanged, the result was that
a large proportion of landlords were absolutely ruined; in very many
cases those who appear as owners now have no beneficial interest in
their estates.

In examining the Act calmly, one must observe in the first place that
it was a wholesale confiscation of property. Not of course one
that involved the cruelty of confiscations of previous ages, but a
confiscation all the same. For if A. bought a farm in the Incumbered
Estates Court, with a Parliamentary title, and let it to B. for twenty
years at a rent of L100; and the Act gave B. the right of occupying it
for ever subject to the payment of L50 a year, and selling it for any
price he liked, that can only mean the transfer of property from A. to
B. Secondly, the Act encouraged bad farming; for a tenant knew that
if his land got into a slovenly state--with drains stopped up, fences
broken down, and weeds growing everywhere--the result would be that
the rent would be reduced by the Commissioners at the end of the
fifteen years; as the Commissioners did not go into the question of
whose the fault was, but merely took estimates as to what should be
the rent of the land in its actual condition. That farms were in many
instances intentionally allowed to go to decay with this object, has
been proved; and this pressed hard on the labouring class, as less
employment was given. Thirdly, although the remission of debt may
bring prosperity for a time, it may be doubted whether it will
permanently benefit the country; for it will be noticed that the
attempt to fix prices arbitrarily applied only to the letting and
hiring and not to other transactions. To give a typical instance of
what has occurred in many cases: a tenant held land at a rent of L1.
15s. 0d. per acre; he took the landlord into Court, swore that the
land could not bear such a rent, and had it reduced to L1. 5s. 0d.;
thereupon he sold it for L20 an acre; and so the present occupier had
to pay L1. 5s. 0d. to the nominal landlord, and the interest on the
purchase-money (about L1 per acre) to a mortgagee; in fact, he has
to pay a larger sum annually than any previous tenant did; and this
payment is "rent" in the economic sense though it is paid not to a
resident landlord but to a distant mortgagee. In other words, rent
was increased, and absenteeism became general. Fourthly, it sowed
the seeds for future trouble; for it was the temporary union of two
antagonistic principles. On the one hand it was said that "the man who
tills the land should own it," and therefore rent was an unjust
tax (in fact it was seriously argued that men of English and Scotch
descent who had hired farms in the nineteenth century had a moral
right to keep them for ever rent free because tribal tenure had
prevailed amongst the Celts who occupied the country many hundreds of
years before); on the other it was said that the land belonged to the
people of Ireland as a whole and not to any individuals. If that is
so, what right has one man to a large farm when there are hundreds of
others in a neighbouring town who have no land at all? The passing of
the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887 made it inevitable that sooner or later
a fresh agitation would be commenced by "landless men." And fifthly,
when an excitable, uneducated people realize that lawlessness and
outrages will be rewarded by an Act remitting debts and breaking
contracts, they are not likely in future to limit their operations
to land, but will apply the same maxims to other contracts. The
demoralizing of character is a fact to be taken into consideration.

However, the Act was passed; and if Gladstone really imagined that
it would satisfy the Nationalist party he must have been grievously
disappointed. During 1881, 4,439 agrarian outrages were recorded. The
Government declared the Land League to be illegal, and lodged some of
the leaders in gaol. Thereupon Ford, carrying out the plan laid down
by Lalor in 1848, issued his famous "No Rent" proclamation. It was not
generally acted upon; but his party continued active, and in May 1882
Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke (the Chief and Under Secretary)
were murdered in the Phoenix Park. This led to the passing of the
Crimes Prevention Act, by which the detectives were enabled to secure
evidence against the conspirators, many of whom (as is usual in Irish
history) turned Queen's evidence. The Act was worked with firmness;
and outrages, which had numbered 2,507 during the first half of 1882,
fell to 836 in the latter half, to 834 in 1883, and to 774 in 1884.

In the autumn of 1885, Gladstone, expecting to return to power at
the ensuing election, besought the electors to give him a majority
independent of the Irish vote. In this he failed; and thereupon took
place the "Great Surrender." He suddenly discovered that everything
he had said and done up to that time had been wrong; that boycotting,
under the name of "exclusive dealing," was perfectly justifiable;
that the refusal to pay rent was just the same as a strike of workmen
(ignoring the obvious facts that when workmen strike they cease both
to give their labour and to receive pay, whereas the gist of the "No
Rent" movement was that tenants, whilst ceasing to pay, should retain
possession of the farms they have hired; and that a strike arises from
a dispute between employers and employed--usually about rates of pay
or length of hours; whereas Ford's edict that no rent was to be paid
was issued not in consequence of anything that individual landlords
had done, but because Gladstone had put the leaders of the Land League
in gaol); that the men whom he had previously denounced as "marching
through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire" were heroes who
deserved to be placed in charge of the government of the country; and
introduced his first Home Rule Bill. Some of his followers went with
him; others refused. His life-long ally, John Bright, said: "I cannot
trust the peace and interests of Ireland, north and south, to the
Irish Parliamentary party, to whom the Government now propose to
make a general surrender. My six years' experience of them, of their
language in the House of Commons and their deeds in Ireland, makes it
impossible for me to consent to hand over to them the property and
the rights of five millions of the Queen's subjects, our
fellow-countrymen, in Ireland. At least two millions of them are as
loyal as the population of your town, and I will be no party to a
measure which will thrust them from the generosity and justice of the
United and Imperial Parliament."

The Bill was rejected; at the general election which ensued the people
of England declared against the measure; Gladstone resigned, and Lord
Salisbury became Prime Minister.



The Unionists, on returning to power in 1886, fully realized the
difficulty of the problem with which they were faced. The Nationalists
held a great Convention at Chicago, at which they resolved to make
use of the Land League not merely for the purpose of exterminating
landlords but as a means for promoting universal disorder and so
bringing about a paralysis of the law. As J. Redmond stated at the
Convention: "I assert that the government of Ireland by England is an
impossibility, and I believe it to be our duty to make it so." And, as
he afterwards explained in Ireland, he considered that if the Tories
were able to carry on the government with the ordinary law, the
cause of Home Rule might be set back for a generation; but if the
Nationalists could succeed in making such government impossible, and
the Tories were obliged to have recourse to coercion, the people
of Great Britain would turn them out of office, and Gladstone would
return to power and carry Home Rule. (This avowed determination on the
part of the Nationalists to reduce the country to anarchy should be
borne in mind when people now express their horror at the Ulstermen
being guilty of such conduct as breaking the law.) With this object,
the Nationalists in 1887 organized the "Plan of Campaign," which
was in fact an elaboration of the "No Rent" manifesto of 1881, and
a scheme for carrying out, step by step, the programme laid down by
Lalor in 1848. One of Lalor's adherents had been a young priest named
Croke. By 1887 he had become Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel. He
had considered the "No Rent" manifesto inopportune; but now formally
sanctioned the "Plan of Campaign," and in a violent letter urged that
it should be extended to a general refusal to pay taxes. The Plan
was also approved by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and the
leaders of the Nationalist movement in Ireland and America, such as
J. Dillon and Ford; but Parnell seemed doubtful, and in England the
_Daily News_ denounced it.

However, the Unionist Government had decided on their policy, which
they were determined to carry through. The main items of their
programme were (1) To enforce the law; (2) To facilitate land
purchase; (3) To develop the industries of the country; and (4) To
extend local government. It is well to examine these in detail, so as
to arrive at a just estimate of the two rival policies.

(i) The Crimes Prevention Act passed by Gladstone in 1882 had lapsed,
having been limited to a period of three years. Mr. Balfour (who had
become Chief Secretary) was of opinion that the continual passing of
temporary measures was a mistake (as some one has said, it was like
a man burning his umbrella every fine day and then complaining of the
expense of buying so many new ones), as was shown by the fact that the
Irish Parliament had passed fifty-four of such Acts in the seventeen
years of its independent existence. He therefore, in spite of vehement
opposition from the combined forces of the English Radicals and
the Irish Nationalists, carried the Crimes Act of 1887, which was
a permanent measure, to be put in force in disturbed districts by
proclamation when necessary. This was the famous "Coercion Act"
which has been the subject of so much violent denunciation. But in
considering the matter, one must ask, What Government has there ever
been in the world that did not employ force in the carrying out of the
law? It is true that in the early days of New Zealand Mr. Busby was
sent out as a Commissioner with no means of enforcing his orders;
but the only result was that he was laughed at by the natives as "a
man-of-war without guns"; and no one can say that the scheme was a
success. In fact, how can a law be a law unless it is enforced? The
Act does not make anything a crime that was not a crime before; it
merely provides a shorter form of procedure when a district is so


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