Front Page Titles (by Subject) THIRD EPOCH,: From 1688 to 1755. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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THIRD EPOCH,: From 1688 to 1755. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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From 1688 to 1755.
On the 1st of July, 1690, William of Orange, a Protestant prince, and under this title chosen as king by the English aristocracy, gained in person the famous battle of the Boyne over James II., a Catholic prince, the champion of absolute power, and under both titles expelled from the throne of England. Thus Catholic Ireland fell in its last struggle with Protestant England; henceforth resistance was impossible; Ireland made a final effort—it failed—the war was ended.
Catholicism, conquered once again, must pay for its audacity in daring to raise its head.
After the Restoration of 1660, some Catholics, whose loyalty was recognised by the king himself, or who were declared innocent by the court of claims, resumed possession of their estates. Amongst these restored Catholics, a great number joined James II,, when that prince, expelled from England, appealed to the fidelity of his Irish subjects. Four thousand of them were declared rebels and traitors, and their property, amounting to sixty thousand acres, was confiscated. Although this act of public robbery* was perpetrated under the reign and with the consent of William III., it would be unjust to charge it on his memory, for he tried to prevent it. The treaty of Limerick obliged him to use his utmost efforts to obtain from parliament the security of Irish Catholics in their religion and property; but though a Protestant king, and the chosen head of a new dynasty, he had not sufficient credit with his parliament to obtain this justice: the passions of England against popish Ireland were too strong to lose an opportunity of confiscation; and though the king had signed the treaty of Limerick with his own hand, the parliament ordained that the adherents of the dethroned prince should be prosecuted and dispossessed of their lands.
By the Act of Settlement only two millions out of the eleven millions of acres which Ireland contains were left to Catholic proprietors.* Out of these two millions one was now taken; so that, by successive confiscations, the Irish Catholics retained only one million of acres, or one eleventh of the (arable) soil; and even this small portion was not divided among a great number; it was concentrated in the hands of five or six Catholic families, English by descent, who, from private considerations, found favour when justice was refused. Thus the Protestant population, which was to the Catholic in the proportion of one to four, possessed ten-elevenths of the soil,—a feeble minority in presence of a plundered majority.
It is true that an attempt had been made to separate the two populations by enclosing the Catholics in one particular district, with fixed limits. But this plan could only be imperfectly accomplished. The only proscription completely executed was that which deprived one party of its property for the benefit of the other; no Catholic proprietor retained his forfeited estate; but many poor and ruined persons, who were ordered into Connaught, remained in some one of the other three provinces: they remained concealed during the first burst of extermination, and when the storm had passed by, they appeared again.
Ludlow, a general of Cromwell’s army during the Irish war, depicts in his memoirs, with remarkable energy, the terror of the Irish papists at the approach of his army; they disappeared, as if by enchantment at the mere sound of its name; they were vainly sought in their houses, in the woods, in the plains; not a trace of them could be discovered. His conduct to a band of these unhappy wretches, which he once surprised, is thus related by himself:—
“I went to visit the garrison of Dundalk, and being upon my return, I found a party of the enemy retired within a hollow rock, which was discovered by one of ours, who saw five or six of them standing before a narrow passage at the mouth of the cave. The rock was so thick that we thought it impossible to dig it down upon them, and therefore resolved to reduce them by smoke. After some of our men had spent most part of the day in endeavouring to smother those within by fire placed at the mouth of the cave, they withdrew the fire; and the next morning, supposing the Irish to be made incapable of resistance by the smoke, some of them, with a candle before them, crawled into the rock. One of the enemy, who lay at the entrance, fired his pistol, and shot the first of our men into the head, by whose loss we found that the smoke had not taken the designed effect. But seeing no other way to reduce them, I caused the trial to be repeated; and upon examination found that a great smoke went into the cavity of the rock, yet it came out again at other crevices; upon which I ordered those places to be closely stopped, and another smother to be made. About an hour and a half after this, one of them was heard to groan very strongly, and afterwards more weakly; so, therefore, we presumed that the work was done; yet the fire was continued till about midnight, and then taken away, that the place might be cool enough for ours to enter the next morning, at which time some went in armed with back, breast, and head piece, to prevent such another accident as fell out at their first attempt; but they had not gone above six yards before they found the man that had been heard to groan, who was the same that had killed one of our men with a pistol, and who, resolving not to quit his post, had been, upon stopping the holes of the rock, choked by the smoke. Our soldiers put a rope about his neck, and drew him out. The passage being cleared, they entered, and having put about fifteen to the sword, brought four or five out alive, with the priest’s robes, a crucifix, chalice, and other furniture of that kind. Those within preserved themselves by putting their heads close to a water that ran through the rock. We found two rooms in the place, one of which was large enough to turn a pike; and having filled the mouth of it with large stones, we quitted it.”
This recital contains the history of all the violent expedients employed to kill or banish the Catholics of Ireland. The unfortunate man, menaced by a fatal decree, hides himself whilst the peril is imminent: for a moment he is deemed dead or exiled—but when the passions of the persecutor abate, the proscribed reappears, and it is surprising to see the victim resume his place by the side of the assassin.
The Irish Catholics were exposed to two sets of tyrants; the English Protestants established in their land, and England itself, by which they were supported. The two oppressors were closely united by one common interest, keeping down the Catholics. But they had also distinct and sometimes opposite interests.
To understand their mutual situation and their respective position to the nation that groaned beneath their yoke, it as necessary to distinguish the new state of things from preceding circumstances. Before the disputes of religion, England had many interests and embarrassments in Ireland, but she had no great passions engaged in the country. The struggles of the conquest interested the sovereign more than the nation. The English settlers were the means by which the king remained master of Ireland, and the Irish tribes enabled him to check those settlers whose efforts for independence he always dreaded. England, which detested one party as enemies, had little sympathy for the other. In this state of things, its policy to Ireland was marked out; England supported the settlers against the natives, but did not hesitate to support its own interests at the expense of the settlers.*
When the Reformation came, and Ireland preserved its ancient faith, the mutual relations of the countries were simplified. All the inhabitants of Ireland, natives or settlers, being Catholics, England regarded both without distinction as enemies, enveloped them in the same proscription, blindly struck all Ireland, exterminating natives and settlers as odious papists.†
But when, at the end of the civil wars, a Protestant population was established in Ireland, the condition of England in relation to Ireland was very different from what it had been after the conquest, and after the earlier periods of the Reformation.
Doubtless, England was then more animated than ever by implacable hatred towards the Catholics of Ireland; but as the detested Catholics were intermingled with Protestant friends, the indulgence of hate was not easy—it was difficult to strike the one without injuring the other by the same blow. The embarrassment of England was extreme; she felt a warm sympathy for the young Protestant nation she had just founded in Ireland, composed of men who had fought with her under the same banner for the same liberties and the same religion, and which not only had the merit of braving the terrible hydra of popery in Ireland, but was moreover destined to rear the young plant of the Protestant faith in that accursed land. The passion of England was then as friendly to the Protestant settlers as it was hostile to the Irish Catholics.
There were doubtless many cases in which it was easy for England to oppress the one without ceasing to protect the other; but there were some occasions in which it was impossible to make a distinction. Thus, in commercial affairs, the restrictions on the Catholics necessarily touched the Protestants; but at this epoch such restrictions appeared to England a fundamental condition of her industrial prosperity. The English nation which, at the close of the seventeenth century, was profoundly religious, was also at the same period essentially commercial. Thus she was at once under the yoke of two passions very different in their nature, whence resulted opposite sentiments towards the Protestants of Ireland,—an ardent sympathy for them as brothers in the faith, an anxious jealousy of them as commercial rivals.
Divided on one point, the England and the Irish Protestants were closely united on another. The annihilation of Irish Catholicism had been their common work, and England was as interested as they were in maintaining their social and political ascendency over the Catholics of Ireland.
In this state of things England deemed, that by lending the strength of her army to enable the Protestants of Ireland to maintain their ground, she might claim in turn an equivalent concession. A sort of tacit compact was then formed between England and the Irish Protestants, which might be expressed in the following terms:—
“England will aid the Protestants of Ireland, with all her might, to oppress the Catholics of that country, and keep them in servitude and misery; for which purpose she will place at their disposal her treasures, her army, her parliament: in return for which, the Protestants agree to impoverish Ireland, and sacrifice her industry and commerce to England.” In other words, England said to the Protestant faction, “Resign to me the general interests of the country, and I will ensure you dominion over the nation in which you live.” The Irish Protestant answered, “I am willing to be your slave, provided you will aid me to tyrannise over others.”*
Thus the Irish Protestants were secured in the conquered country, and England was gratified in her two most ardent passions, religion and love of money.
Doubtless the treaty was never reduced to writing, but what I have stated, if not its exact words, were its genuine spirit.
The mutual situation of England and the Protestants of Ireland must be taken into account, to comprehend the two kinds of oppression which weighed down the Catholics of Ireland; one which we may call general, and which the Protestants had to endure likewise; the other special, which fell exclusively on the Catholics; the first striking at the interests of the entire nation for the profit of England—the second falling only on the Catholic population of Ireland.
Let us now see how the Protestants of Ireland kept their engagement to England.
The first sacrifice required was the recognition of the supremacy of the English parliament over the Irish parliament. In former times, England had attempted to establish this legislative supremacy. Poyning’s law was nothing else than an organisation of this dependence of Ireland on the English government; but, before as well as after Poyning’s law, the Irish parliament, though yielding to superior force, had always protested against it, and claimed its national independence. Now the Irish parliament abandoned all its prerogatives; England declared it in a state of absolute subjection, and it kept silence.
The Irish parliament was then as much at the service of England as the English parliament itself. What the latter decreed was directly binding on Ireland; if England willed the acts of its parliament to be ratified by the Irish parliament, the latter granted the approbation requested, and if any act originating in this parliament displeased England, it was rendered null and void. Thus, the English parliament could impose any laws (save those for taxation) on Ireland without the approbation of the Irish legislature, and the latter could make no law for Ireland without the express or tacit sanction of the English parliament. Reduced to this passive condition,* the Irish parliament perfectly accomplished its object; it was an excellent agent to consent to all the acts of oppression which should be asked of it in execution of the treaty. When a question was debated between Irish Catholics and Protestants, it was allowed full scope within this narrow sphere, and might persecute, ruin, and crush its enemies without English interference. But when a question arose between Ireland and England, the Irish parliament bowed to that of England.
I shall only cite one example of this legislative despotism imposed by the parliament of England, and accepted by that of Ireland.
One branch of industry had attained a high degree of perfection in Ireland at the close of the seventeenth century, and was especially a source of wealth to the southern provinces; this was the woollen manufacture. It had a double influence on the prosperity of the country. Numerous flocks were required to produce the wool, which engaged vast pasturages for their support—this was the advantage of the landed proprietor; manual labour was required for the manufacture—this was the poor man’s profit. Still, as the superiority of the Irish stuffs injured English fabrics, the parliament of England resolved that they should be annihilated. This resolution, which included the ruin of Ireland, was transmitted to the Irish parliament, and accepted.*
Such a decree, which suddenly destroyed industrial establishments, founded under the protection of the laws, was difficult of execution; and as there was reason to fear that the magistrates of Ireland would not be quite so servile as its parliament, England decided that every violator should be liable to trial before both English and Irish tribunals, and that though acquitted in Ireland, he should be liable to a new prosecution in England: that is to say, to sustain iniquity, the forms and first principles of justice were violated. The Irish parliament made no objection to this injustice, and thus showed that it comprehended its mission of dependence.
Such was the oppression which weighed down all Ireland, and was equally supported by Catholics and Protestants.
Let us now see how the Protestants of Ireland were indemnified for the oppression which they endured from England, by being enabled to tyrannise over the Catholics in their turn. The means employed by the Irish Protestants, assisted by England, to crush the Irish Catholics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were the persecuting statutes called “the Penal Laws,” enacted by the parliament of Ireland, and enforced by the army of England.
Violent persecution ceased—pacific persecution came in its stead, adopting all the forms of justice, and covering its most oppressive acts with the semblance of regularity; believing itself just because it was legal, and humane because it shed little blood; but which, nevertheless, was the more iniquitous of the two, because it was more designed—the more odious, because it killed in cold blood, and would not excuse itself by heat of combat or violence of passion.
THE PENAL LAWS.
To comprehend the tyranny of the penal laws, we must not lose sight of the starting-point. There is no power that oppresses for the mere sake of oppression, or at least which does not cloak its oppression under some cause or pretext. Hence so much iniquity is committed in the name of justice—so much tyranny in the name of the law—so much impiety in the name of God. The primary cause of English oppression in Ireland during the eighteenth century—a real cause with some, a mere pretence with others—was religious proselytism. It was deemed necessary to destroy Catholicism in Ireland, and make the country Protestant. The sanguinary violence employed to attain this end had failed; men got tired of Irish rebellions and their suppression—another influence was tried, that of the penal laws. Let us see how the English governors advanced in this way, and follow them through their whole course of experiments.
The national religion of Ireland must be destroyed! Observe, that to tear from a people its religion and its creed, is a fearful enterprise. In truth, it was designed to accomplish this without driving the Irish people to revolt; but what is the difference between persecution by the sword and persecution by the law? The tyranny is still the same, and it is the most depraving of all persecutions, for it strikes the most deeply into the soul.
It is designed to persecute without driving to revolt—to practise oppression without provoking resistance; but this is a difficult problem. How can it be solved? In truth, a law existed from the very commencement of the Reformation, which absolutely interdicted the exercise of the Catholic worship;* this law had not been abolished, but its application was suspended.
Another law of the same epoch ordered all Catholics, under certain penalties, to attend Protestant places of worship;† this law was allowed to stand, but it had long ceased to be enforced.
Thus the Irish Catholic, who had proved that no violence, however cruel, could lead him to forsake his religious faith, was nominally allowed his church and priest, and might be led to suppose that he would not be deprived of either.
But at the same time that the practice of the Catholic worship, and the presence of the Catholic priest, were, at least, tacitly tolerated in Ireland, a law was passed commanding “all popish regular clergy, jesuits, friars, and bishops, or others, exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to depart the kingdom before May 1st, 1698, or be committed to gaol until transported.”* This was to declare, in other words, that the Catholic religion should cease with the generation of priests actually existing.
Return from exile was declared high treason.† Irishmen who harboured them, or concealed them, were liable to a penalty of twenty pounds for the first offence, forty pounds for the second, forfeiture of lands and goods during life, for the third.‡ At the same time the law provided rewards for the discovery of popish prelates, priests, and teachers, according to the following scale.
The twenty-first clause of the same act, (that of 1709,) empowers any two justices to summon before them any papist over eighteen years of age, and interrogate him when and where he last heard mass said, and the names of the persons present, and likewise touching the residence of any popish priest or schoolmaster; and if he refuses to give testimony, subjects him to a fine of twenty pounds, or imprisonment for twelve months. At the same time, the entrance of foreign ecclesiastics into the kingdom was strictly prohibited.
The Catholic clergy was thus reduced to the proportions strictly necessary for the exercise of a temporary worship, and was destined to be gradually extinguished in the midst of a population whose religious belief, it was supposed, would vanish at the same time.
But was even this limited practice of the Catholic worship free? No: the exercise of their religion was provisionally allowed the Catholics only to avert insurrection, but it was subjected to every possible restraint, short of actual prohibition.
Priests were only permitted to remain in Ireland on three conditions; first, that they should take the oath of abjuration;* secondly, to register their names at the court of quarter sessions, and give two sureties in fifty pounds each, that they would not go out of the county; and thirdly, that they would officiate only in the parish for which they were registered. Thus the religious ministers of the Catholic population were treated as malefactors, obliged to find security for their good behaviour, and to remain in a fixed residence, where they would always be within the reach of the public authorities.
The law then explains how the right granted to each priest of officiating in his parish must be understood. No external sign was allowed to indicate the spot where the Catholic rites were celebrated. No steeple should catch the eye of the believer, no bell should sound his summons to prayer. The priest might remain in his parish, but he was refused his ecclesiastical title, and his professional dress. He could not celebrate the rites for the burial of the dead at the grave of any of his flock. Every infraction of these prohibitions incurred the penalty of transportation.* Such was the mysterious and clandestine form under which the law endured rather than permitted the practice of the Catholic faith.
Doubtless, the legislators supposed that the Irish priest, thus placed in a state of legal suspicion, subjected to rules whose violation entailed terrible penalties, would often bewail his lot, and fail in courage to support it; they counted on the weakness of the priest, and opened a way of escape. If he only would turn Protestant, the law ceased to be severe, and even became generous. The state offered an annuity of twenty pounds for apostasy,* and when this prize appeared inefficient, it was raised to thirty pounds,† and even to forty-eight pounds at a later period.‡
At the same time that the law deprived the Catholic ritual of all its external pomps, it prohibited everything which in the religious customs of Ireland addressed itself to the heart or the imagination. It was an old custom in Ireland to undertake a pilgrimage at certain seasons to some holy isle, some sacred well, blessed by St. Patrick, some particular crucifix, or image of the Virgin. The images were destroyed, the crosses thrown down, the pilgrimages forbidden under pain of whipping.*
Ireland possessed the liberty strictly necessary for remaining Catholic, and yet suffered incessantly for its attachment to that faith; its religion was not taken away, but the profession of it entailed a thousand grievances, and this was what the law desired. The law willed that the Irish should suffer incessantly for keeping their ancient religion, and not adopting the new creed; and this suffering was felt not only in religious, but still more severely in civil and political life. In fact, the penal laws struck the citizen more heavily than the Catholic, because the blows directed against the former, though they affected his dearest interests, irritated the passions, whose effervescence was dreaded, much less than an attack on the second. Here was demonstrated in its true aspect the legal system of corruption substituted in the government of Ireland, for the brutal violence which had been hitherto predominant. Here was the system described with equal force and truth by Edmund Burke: “It was a system of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”*
This system attacked the infant in its cradle. Conversion being the great object, every Catholic school was prohibited. It is true that Protestant instruction was not imposed on the Catholics; but no other was permitted in the country, and the father of a family had to choose between the apostasy or the ignorance of his children. If he became a renegade, a convert was gained to the reformed worship; if he remained faithful to his creed, the child of a Papist was placed in a state of intellectual inferiority to Protestants. But how could such a law be enforced? All Catholic schoolmasters were banished from Ireland, under penalty of death in case of return.* The law pushed its foresight and care still further, making a provision of five pounds sterling for the transportation of every Catholic schoolmaster, teacher, or usher, to the West Indies.†
Under the influence of such prudential measures, it is easy to see that the immense bulk of the people must have been consigned to profound darkness. It was foreseen that the richer Catholics might send their children to be educated on the continent; provision was made for this difficulty, and sending children beyond sea, without special license, was prohibited under the gravest penalties:‡ and as this prohibition might be secretly infringed, power was given to the magistrates to demand the production of the child on mere suspicion, and if not produced, its parents or guardians were liable to the penalties for removing it beyond sea.*
Assuredly it would be difficult to find a more minute law of persecution; the child of every faithful Catholic was doomed to grow up in ignorance.
Let us follow the Catholic in every phase of civil life. All roads of honourable ambition were shut against him. He was ineligible to parliament;† he was deprived of the elective franchise;‡ he could hold no commission in the army or navy, and no office under the crown.§ He was excluded from every liberal profession save that of medicine: nothing was left him but the industrial professions, and here new obstacles were placed in his path.¶ The sixth clause of the act of 1703 (2 Anne, chap. vi.) renders Papists incapable of purchasing any manors, tenements, hereditaments, or any rents or profits arising out of the same, or holding any lease for lives, or other lease whatever for any term exceeding thirty-one years. And with respect even to such limited leases, which must have been considered short when the greater part of the land in Ireland was absolutely waste, it is further enacted, that if a Papist should hold a farm producing a profit greater than one third of the amount of the rent, his right to such should immediately cease and pass over entirely to the first Protestant who should discover the rate of profit. Restricted within such limits, the agricultural industry of the Catholics presented nothing formidable to the Protestant party; but it is clear that it could have little interest for the Catholic.
Let us now examine the condition of the Irish Catholic in relation to trade and commerce. Without doubt, he might (with a few trifling exceptions* ) adopt any industrial or commercial pursuit he pleased; but, in order to exercise it, he must be dependent on a corporation naturally hostile to him as a privileged body, and his religious enemy as a Protestant body.* Though the corporation did not actually prohibit his enterprise, it placed him in the most disadvantageous position possible. Catholics were excluded from corporations, and subject to the tolls from which Protestant freemen were exempt. One employment only was open freely to the Irish Catholic—that of a labourer or journeyman; but even here the poor Irish Catholic was subject to a tyranny. The law compelled him to labour, and subjected him to an arbitrary fine if he refused to work on any holiday not recognised in the Protestant ritual.† Thus a double violence was done—first, to the man, who has always a right to give or refuse his labour; secondly, to the Catholic, whose conscience forbade him to work. The legislator still feared that commercial and manufacturing industry might afford the Catholic too speedy means of elevation, and in order to limit further the industry already so trammelled, a law was passed that no Catholic should take more than two apprentices.*
Even if a Catholic was enriched by his industry, he could not make that use of his gains which reason, necessity, or inclination suggested; he could not purchase an estate, or hold a mortgage. He was even prevented from displaying luxuries offensive to the Protestants above whom he was raised by fortune. To prevent this peril, Catholics were prohibited from possessing horses of higher value than five pounds sterling, and the law authorised any Protestant to seize even the best horse from a Catholic, on the payment of that sum; furthermore, penalties were inflicted on the Catholic who concealed his horse.† One exception was made, which reason showed to be necessary. Protestants would not allow Catholics to possess showy horses, whose possession implied a superior condition; but in order to keep up a good breed of horses, they were permitted to retain even the best horses under the age of five years.* The Catholic was permitted to rear horses in which he could not have final property, just as he was allowed to farm the lands he was forbidden to acquire.
But the Catholic was not even certain of retaining the wealth acquired by his industry. There is no security for property but in law, and in Ireland the Catholic was placed beyond the protection of law.† The legislators and electors being Protestants, it is not surprising that laws were frequently passed which placed the property of Catholics in peril. Was the country agitated, and was it necessary to embody the militia?—the law pointed out a simple expedient; it declares that all the horses of Catholics might be seized without any reference to their value,‡ and the militia thus drawn out must be paid by contributions levied on Catholics.§ And finally, the law declared that all public robberies should be indemnified by taxes levied on Catholics, as also the losses which Protestant merchants suffered from privateers when the country was at war with a Catholic potentate.* Thus Catholic property was incessantly charged with the most iniquitous and arbitrary taxes. It was taxed for the necessities of the state by a Protestant parliament; for the necessities of the county by a Protestant grand jury, for the necessities of the parish by a Protestant vestry, and for the necessities of the town by a Protestant Corporation. What security could Catholic property have, when thus exposed and thus menaced?
Even those few Catholics whose estates had been spared, were denied the protection of the rules of inheritance which preserved properties in Catholic families. By the tenth clause of the Act of 1703, the estate of a Papist not having a Protestant heir is ordered to be gavelled, or divided in equal shares amongst his children.† Thus there was, on the one hand, an obstacle to the acquisition of wealth by a Catholic family; and, on the other hand, the certainty that it would be lost in a given time.
The interests of riches, property, and industry, having been swept away along with political interests, nothing remained but private life and the domestic circle. Even this simple life, exempt from ambition and accidents, was rendered bitter to the Irish Catholic. When he went to select a partner for life, he was not always free to choose according to the dictates of his heart. Such a power seemed to the Irish legislator open to great inconvenience. A Catholic was not allowed to take a Protestant wife.* This law, which contradicts the first law of nature, was enforced by the most terrible sanctions. The penalty of death was denounced against any priest who married a Protestant and a Catholic; and, to remove all hope of escape, his knowledge of the religion of the parties was presumed unless he could prove his ignorance:† a strange law, which released the prosecutor from the care of proving the crime, and threw upon the accused the charge of proving his innocence.
Let us suppose the Catholic to have chosen a wife of his own persuasion; his children grow; he is poor, but he has rich friends; but if they be Protestants, they cannot give him, during life, or bequeath to him after death, any portion of their properties.* Even in the hour of death, the unhappy Irish Catholic was assailed with fresh peril and terrible disgrace. He could not entrust his wife or his friend with the guardianship of his children;† his choice would be null, and the wardship would lapse to the chancellor of Ireland, who had the privilege of naming Protestant guardians to Catholic minors.‡ This last stroke of penal law was directed against a principle rendered sacred by every consideration, human and divine. As a temptation to apostasy, a child that turned Protestant became at once independent of his Catholic parents; a suitable maintenance was assigned him out of his father’s property by the chancellor of Ireland,§ and if he were an eldest son, the father became a mere tenant for life, and was not only deprived of the power of disinheriting his son, but of encumbering that property with portions for younger children.* This was a fearful law, incessantly suspended like a sword over the head of the father of a family, who every day trembled lest he should hear some fatal seduction, and who, while bestowing his last blessing on his children, had reason to dread the face of an apostate.
A persecuting code had been instituted, which held the people of Ireland in debasement and misery, without driving them to revolt. Still there was reason to dread a Catholic attempt at insurrection, and, to prevent the danger, all the Catholics were deprived of their arms.†
Such were the legal rigours to which the Catholics of Ireland were subject for more than a century.
Special Character of the Penal Laws.
The more this collection of laws is studied, the more clearly we see that the constant design of the legislator was to attack the Catholics by a double interest; one interest acting to withdraw them from Catholicism, the other to lead them to Protestantism. Persecution is always double-edged—it employs fear and hope, menaces and promises. If terror fails, bribes may succeed.
The peculiarity of these persecuting laws was, that, though political in their consequences, they always contained a principle exclusively religious. Thus it was only because the Irish were Catholics that they were excluded from parliament, the corporations, the elective franchise, and public employments. If they ceased to be Catholics, and abjured their religion, the exclusion ceased. The law did not directly say, “Irish Catholics shall be excluded from parliament;” it expressed itself thus—
“And be it further enacted, that no person shall vote or sit in the House of Lords or House of Commons of Ireland, who shall not first have taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and subscribed a declaration against transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, the idolatry of the church of Rome, the invocation of the Virgin Mary and the saints,” &c.
The greater part of the political laws are conceived in the same terms; the same spirit predominates in the civil laws; the Catholic excluded from property, incapable of purchasing lands, or inheriting by succession, gift, or devise, became on his conversion immediately capable of acquiring property and estate.
We see that these laws were constructed so as to strike obliquely; their blows were indirect, and therefore the more dangerous and treacherous; they did not say, we forbid the Catholics to practise their worship; but they banished the priest, without whom the worship could not be performed. They did not say, no Catholic shall enjoy the benefits of instruction and education, but they inflicted a severe punishment on every Catholic who exercised the profession of a teacher.
Furthermore, if we only look at the surface, we find them apparently full of solicitude for the education of the Catholics. Schools were founded for the education of poor Catholics;* but these schools were Protestant, and Catholics did not want a Protestant education for their children.
It follows that the Catholics were deprived of religious worship and moral instruction, though no law forbade them to worship God according to their conscience, and schools were provided for their education.
There is no real difference between direct and indirect persecution; but the first, more open and frank, has fewer chances of being endured, because it is comprehended by all; the second, not being avowed, escapes the numerous multitudes in every country, who only see what is pointed out to them, and comprehend what is told.
Another special Character of the Penal Laws.
We have seen how all these laws were linked together, and formed a complete whole: still it would be a mistake to regard them as a rational system, all at the same time conceived, deliberated, and decreed. No; these laws came piece by piece, one after the other, without order, method, or visible connexion. Some openly sin against logic, such as that of 1692, which excluded Catholics from parliament, and left them the elective franchise; that is to say, disputed the ends, and left the means. This anomaly lasted until 1727, when the Catholics were deprived of their right of voting at elections.
Moreover, the law which established uniformity on one point, presented in itself a remarkable dissimilarity to all the rest. Thus, preceding laws excluded Catholics from parliament and public employments; they even recognised all sorts of rights, provided they gave any sign of conformity to Protestantism: in this last law, on the contrary, the exclusion is direct and straightforward; the last law declares in express terms, “No Papist shall be permitted to exercise the elective franchise.” In the first case, the exercise of civil rights was subjected to a condition morally impossible; in the second, a direct and absolute prohibition was enacted against the Catholics.
Were I asked the cause of these different forms in laws which so constantly and uniformly tended to a common end, I should say that this irrational form belongs to the English character, which always proceeds by precedents instead of principles, by facts instead of theories; and that the logic at bottom belongs to the passions by which the legislators were then animated. I do not know if in the annals of English legislation there could be found a series of acts presenting so much harmony of spirit, and at the same time united together by no apparent chain. The English or the Anglo-Irish legislator, whilst persecuting the Catholics, did not proclaim the principle of persecution, because he never recognised it in any way; he did not organise the general system on rules solemnly established, because this is not his mode of action. But he was animated by an ardent hate of the Catholics, the more solid as it was supported by his interests; indefatigable in advising, because it was always heard with favour; unequal in its movements, but always operating; and this hatred, which reigned despotically over the legislator’s soul, did not cease during sixty years to inspire all his actions.
In the operations of a long passion, there is always an instructive logic, which can with difficulty be traced in the more regular combinations of reason and genius.
Legal Persecution was not restrained by the limits of Law.
It would be a great error to believe that the persecutions of which the Catholics were the objects, were limited to those prescribed or authorised by the law.
It might be supposed that the Catholic, in virtue of these laws, banished from political society, driven from the civil professions, deprived even of family rights, would have suffered enough from legal exclusion, without any idea being formed of searching beyond the law for means to aggravate his lot. It might naturally be supposed that, subject to so many interdictions, he should have full and free enjoyment of the small number of rights of which he was not deprived. These rights were to enjoy with security the little which belonged to him, to be protected in person and property, to have free access to courts of justice, whether as plaintiff or defendant, to find an equitable tribunal, an independent judge, and an impartial jury.
Still, a little reflection will show that the Irish Catholic was too severely crushed by persecuting laws, to breathe freely the small portion of air allowed him by law. Where tyrannical laws failed, public opinion carried on the oppression.
In 1771, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was on the point of pardoning a Catholic unjustly condemned; but seeing to what unpopularity this act of mercy, or rather justice, would lead, “I see,” said he, “that his death is resolved; let him die;” and the warrant for his execution was issued.*
How could the Protestants, daily executing iniquitous laws against Catholics, adhere strictly to legal injustice, and not pass the bounds against those whom they persecuted for conscience sake, and who were too enfeebled and troubled by legalised oppression to resist usurped tyranny?
It may be stated with certainty, that every political constitution which bestows extraordinary power on the governing body, does not give analogous means of resistance to the governed; it organises a tyranny which exceeds its legal bounds in a proportion that it is impossible to estimate.
The following example of the tyranny practised on the Irish peasantry by their superiors, is given by the author of “An Inquiry into the Causes of Popular Discontents in Ireland.” (London, 1804.)
“It has not been unusual in Ireland,” he says, “for great landed proprietors to have regular prisons in their houses for the summary punishment of the lower orders. Indictments preferred against gentlemen for similar exercise of power beyond law are always thrown out by the grand juries. To horsewhip or beat a servant or labourer is a frequent mode of correction.”
In 1718, a comedy, called the Non-juror, was represented at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, and the prologue contains the four following lines:—
No law forbade the pleasures of the theatre to an Irishman, but it was a right of which he could not take advantage, without seeing himself and his country held up to ridicule.
To leave some rights to those deprived of their essential rights is a worthless semblance of indulgence; the defect of the one renders the other void: power is too strong by what it has already taken, not to render illusory what it has left when it pleases.
All the relations of men with each other are not written in the law; those of sympathy are not susceptible of rule. Can we be surprised if the Protestant proprietor was a severe and merciless master to his Catholic tenants? When he maltreated them, who was to check his excesses? When he demanded more than was due, who was to restrain his exactions?
In order to form a correct estimate of the condition of the Irish Catholics, we must take into account not only the penalties inflicted by the judge, but all the injuries to which the feeble are subject, when brought into contact with the arbitrary power of the strong. Let those who doubt that such has been the state of affairs in Ireland, read what Arthur Young has said; he travelled through Ireland in 1778, and, though an Englishman and a Protestant, he judged the country with an impartiality far from common among his compatriots.
“The landlord of an Irish estate,” says he, “inhabitated by Roman Catholics, is a sort of despot who yields obedience, in whatever concerns the poor, to no law but that of his will . . . . .
“A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, labourer, or cottar, dares to refuse to execute. Nothing satisfies him but unlimited submission. Disrespect, or anything tending towards sauciness, he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security. A poor man would have his bones broken, if he offered to lift his hand in his own defence. Knocking down is spoken of in the country in a manner that makes an Englishman stare. Landlords of consequence have assured me, that many of their cottars would think themselves honoured by having their wives and daughters sent for to the bed of their master—a mark of slavery which proves the oppression under which such people must live. Nay, I have heard of anecdotes of the lives of people being made free with, without any apprehension of the justice of a jury. But let it not be imagined that this is common; formerly it happened every day, but law gains ground. It must strike the most careless traveller to see whole strings of cars whipt into a ditch by a gentleman’s footman, to make way for his carriage; if they are overturned or broken in pieces, no matter—it is taken in patience; were they to complain, they would perhaps be horsewhipped. The execution of the laws lies very much in the hands of the justices of the peace, many of whom are drawn from the most illiberal class in the kingdom. If a poor man lodges his complaint against a gentleman, or any animal that chooses to call itself a gentleman, and the justice issues out a summons for his appearance, it is a fixed affront, and he will infallibly be called out. Where manners are in conspiracy against law, to whom are the oppressed people to have recourse? It is a fact, that a poor man, having a contest with a gentleman, must—but I am talking nonsense—they know their situation too well to think of it; they can have no defence but by means of protection from one gentleman against another, who probably protects his vassal as he would the sheep he intends to eat.”*
In all the actions of oppression recorded by Young, there was not one legal, and yet not one which was not a direct consequence of the laws.
Why Persecutions continued when Religious Passion ceased.
We have seen that the persecutions in Ireland were derived from two principal causes—religious passion and self-interest.
For a long time these influences were so intermingled and confounded, that it is impossible to distinguish the special action of each. When any violence was exercised against the Catholics, it cannot be determined whether it was prescribed by some general interest, or commanded by the secret voice of some private interest. When a Catholic priest appeared in Ireland with the ensigns of his order, the cry of No Popery was raised.
Was an independent voice raised to claim for Catholics the right of acquiring property in land?—the cry of No Popery was raised again. The two cries are the same, but do they proceed from the same cause?
From the middle of the eighteenth century, England could no longer fear Ireland as an ally of the Stuarts. In 1746, the young Pretender was overthrown at Culloden; and this circumstance might have proved that the Jacobite party was extinct in Ireland, where previously the Scotch insurrection of 1715 had not produced the slightest movement.
On the other side, Catholicism, by the aid of time, had reformed those principles which were most frequently and most justly the text of the attacks of which it was the object. The Catholic church no longer insisted on obedience to the Pope in the sense formerly attached to the phrase; the most fervent Irish Papist did not look upon the Pope as his temporal sovereign, nor recognise his right to depose princes, or absolve subjects from their allegiance.
These new circumstances were sufficient to moderate Protestant passions; but they were further weakened by the utter barrenness of persecution. Many vain efforts were made before its impotence was discovered; but when, after sixty years of useless exertions, the persecutors had not advanced a step, the sad truth could not fail to be recognised. It might then be said, that the fire of religious passion, which had hitherto nourished persecution, was extinct; the passions disappeared from the scene, self-interest alone remained; it was a sad spectacle.
When the Irish Catholics, seeing that their creed was no longer assailed, attempted to claim civil liberty or political rights, passion, it is true, was silent, but mercenary interest raised the old cry of No Popery, and there were many in the multitude who were duped into believing the clamour conscientious.
In 1761, the poor peasants of the south, reduced to the lowest degree of misery by the insatiable cupidity of the landlords, revolted, and the House of Commons voted that it was “a popish insurrection.”*
From this time, Ireland was subject to a new tyranny, that of selfish interest, reigning apart from the passions which had hitherto shaded its naked deformity.
Which of the Penal Laws were executed, and which not.
There are people who deny the Protestant persecutions against Catholic Ireland, because their rigour was occasionally relaxed. It is certain that penal laws, as we have described them in their completeness, were never uniformly executed. There were some which never ceased to be enforced; such, for instance, as those which prohibited public functions and civil professions to the Catholics, and did not allow them the rights of property or trade, save on certain conditions: but the laws relating to religion were modified by circumstances; the Catholic worship was often tolerated without being prohibited; Protestants shut their eyes on religious ceremonies, feigned not to see priests, whose presence the law punished, nor chapels nor convents, which were presumed not to exist.
Sometimes the laws against the Catholic worship slumbered so long, that the Irish might have imagined that they had fallen into desuetude. Still the mistake could not be durable. Some political event, imprudence of the Jacobite party in England, a Scotch insurrection in favour of the pretender, intelligence of a French or Spanish invasion, sufficed to revive persecution; the Catholic worship was prohibited with greater severity, chapels were closed, priests banished, monasteries proscribed, and convents demolished.
Still it is a very remarkable fact, that in a country where persecutions had a religious principle and aim, the only persecution that abated was that against worship; the religious object of the persecutions was dropped out of sight, but the physical advantages which the Protestants derived from them did not cease to be present and vividly felt.
In general, the persecution against worship, the war upon Catholicism itself, was made at the suggestion of England; that which attached to the persons and properties of the Catholics, was the spontaneous work of the Protestants settled in Ireland. The former resulted from passion, the latter from interest.
The instinct of the Irish Protestant was only to take from the penal laws the enactments which assured him the monopoly of social and political advantages; but from time to time the English government commanded the literal execution of all the laws against all Papists; such was the injunction sent from England after the Scotch rebellion of 1715; and again in 1731, Ireland saw the zeal for persecuting the Catholic faith revived, when, after a solemn discussion in the English House of Lords, it was resolved—“That the insolence of the Papists in the kingdom was great.”*
From this time England left the Protestants of Ireland to themselves, and then the Catholics were more attacked in their social life than in their religion.
Arthur Young justly says, “These laws seem directed against the property rather than the religion of the Catholics. According to law, a priest should be hanged or transported for saying mass, but he is allowed to do so with perfect impunity; but if the same priest made a fortune by his masses, he would at once become an object of persecution.”
There are some who look with great indulgence on the persecutions exercised against the Irish Catholic, on account of their frequent relaxations. I have never been influenced by such a consideration. Though persecution was suspended, it could always be renewed. Now the legal power of inflicting a penalty is in fact a penalty to the person menaced. I pity the man who believes himself free because he is not imprisoned, when a law exists which permits his imprisonment. In such a case, there is not a slave who has not his hours of liberty; nevertheless, when his hands and feet are loosed to allow him repose, he does not cease to be in a state of bondage.
Far from admitting that the suspension of bad laws allows some happiness to the people, I say, on the contrary, that bad laws are never so pernicious as when they are dormant. There is no tyranny worse than that which moderates itself to become supportable. A government erected for oppression, and which does not oppress, is a deceiver and a liar; and it is to be reproached with the additional vice of hypocrisy. If the penal laws against the Catholic worship had been so faithfully executed as those of which spoliation was the object, they would have driven the Irish to revolt, who, in vindicating their religion, would have reconquered their other rights. But it is one of the most dangerous acts of tyranny, to choose among its instruments those which plunder without wounding.
It must never be forgotten, that a fact, however grave, is far less important than a right, for a fact has no to-morrow. He who is indifferent to the right, because he is in possession of the fact, resembles some domestic animal which believes itself free when set loose, and exhibits stupid astonishment when the owner comes to replace the chain.
When, under the empire of just laws, I find myself loaded with chains, I feel my liberty protected by the very act which deprives me of it; for the law which casts me into prison, fixes the day when I shall come out, and punishes any who would illegally detain my person. But what is a liberty which I enjoy, only because it does not please a tyrant to take it away? The man who goes to sleep, trusting his freedom to the faith of another man, deserves to awake a slave.
Religious persecution was so tempered as to render it endurable; in this respect the authors of the penal laws attained their objects; but social oppression, of which these laws contained the source, became too heavy to be endured in silence; and one day the Irish population, weary of the burthen, made an effort to throw it off.
The revolt was not general—it was not founded on a plan common to all the sufferers; it consisted of partial, successive movements, without relation or connexion—it was absolutely devoid of intelligence, such as might be expected from a population kept in profound ignorance.
The revolt displayed itself in acts of the most atrocious and revolting barbarity—it was such as should be expected from a people systematically demoralised by misery, and degraded by slavery.
The first insurrection of the Whiteboys, or Levellers, began in 1760; they received their first name from wearing their shirts over their dress as a kind of uniform, and their second from levelling the hedges erected round new enclosures.* The Whiteboys were driven to revolt by an infinity of causes, of which the most prominent were, the exorbitant rents demanded by the landlords, and the exactions of the agents (tithe proctors) employed by the Protestant clergy to raise tithes from the Catholics.†
Arthur Young gives the following description of the outrages usually committed by the Whiteboys:—
“It was a common practice with them to go in parties about the country, swearing many to be true to them, and forcing them to join by menaces, which they very often carried into execution. At last they set up to be general redressers of grievances, punished all obnoxious persons, and having taken the administration of justice into their own hands, were not very exact in the distribution of it; forced masters to release their apprentices, carried off the daughters of rich farmers, ravished them into marriages, of which four instances happened in a fortnight. They levied sums of money on the middling and lower farmers, in order to support their cause, by paying attornies, &c., in defending prosecutions against them; and many of them subsisted for some years without work, supported by these contributions. Sometimes they committed several considerable robberies, breaking into houses, and taking the money under pretence of redressing grievances. In the course of these outrages, they burnt several houses, and destroyed the whole substance of men obnoxious to them. The barbarities they committed were shocking. One of their usual punishments (and by no means the most severe) was taking people out of their beds, carrying them naked in winter on horseback for some distance, and burying them up to their chin in a hole filled with briers, not forgetting to cut off one of their ears.”*
Certainly no complete association could exist among rude and uncultivated men, for nothing separates men more than ignorance; nevertheless the Whiteboys attempted to establish a permanent association throughout Ireland, founded on a certain number of common sentiments and necessities.
This confederation, which has served as a model for all the associations of the same kind subsequently formed under other names,* was marked from the beginning by two essential characteristics.
First, all the members were compelled to keep the secrets of the association, under pain of death.
Secondly, (and this is the principal trait,) every member of the society engaged to do all that the society should command;† a formidable engagement, placing him who contracts it at the mercy of another’s caprice, deprives him of his free will, subjects him to laws of which he is ignorant, and whose execution he has blindly sworn to accomplish at all hazards, even at the expense of crime.
When the Whiteboys were excited by the secret bonds of a fearful oath and of mutual obedience, they proceeded to act by terror.
They proclaim their code, and announce its sanctions. Woe to him who is guilty of any forbidden act! Woe to him who resists their pleasure! The command is usually given in a printed or written notice, which is either sent to the individual, or posted on his door, or some conspicuous place in the neighbourhood.*
If a proprietor demands an extravagant rent from his tenants, he finds some morning a notice to the following effect, posted on his door:—
of paying double rent to farmers for land, and the gentlemen so favourable to the poor. Therefore all farmers will be obliged to return their under-tenants to the head landlord, at the same rates an acre for which they hold the land themselves. And we trust the gentlemen will not allow them any longer to tyrannise over the poor of this impoverished nation. Any farmer demanding rent from his under-tenants, or any under-tenants paying rent to the farmer, either party so violating this notice shall be used with the utmost severity imaginable, and We their cause forsake in every measure.
If his labourers are employed at too low a rate of wages, the Whiteboy society issues a decree establishing a minimum.
“From this day forward, that no man will be allowed to work in any boat without having regular wages, 10s. per week. Any person or persons daring to violate this notice, will be visited by night by those people under the denomination of Whitefeet, or Terry Alts. Any man putting us to the necessity of paying him a visit will be sorry: therefore any man who has not the above wages, let him not attempt to leave Athy.
“I remain your humble servant,
It is worthy of note, that here the menace is addressed to the labourer who works for low wages, and not to the master who employs him.
In the same way, when they wish to prevent the payment of Tithes, notices of the following description are posted.
“Remarke the concequence Thomas Wardren dant pay the tithe far if you do you may prepare your coffin you may be assured that you will loose your life either at hame or abraad.
If a landlord threatens to eject his tenant for non-payment of rent; if he announces an intention of raising his rents; if he invites strange labourers into the country;* in all these cases he encounters the penalties of the Whiteboy code, and receives notice of the menaced chastisement.
The intimidation produced by such proceedings is extreme; and when menaces fail, vengeance follows close behind. The following are the punishments usually inflicted by the Whiteboys for the violation of their ordinances.
First, death. Second, corporeal inflictions, such as severe beating, mutilation, tearing the body with briers, thorny bushes, or wool-cards; abduction of young girls with small fortunes,* who are forced to marry their ravishers. Destruction of property.
The usual modes of destroying property are, the burning of houses and haggards, the houghing of cattle. In some cases, the ears and tails of horses, and the teats of cows, are cut off; sheep are likewise shorn and mangled in a barbarous manner, not for the sake of the wool, but in order to spoil the sheep. Windows are likewise often broken, and other property in and about houses damaged or burnt. A short and easy mode of arriving at a desired end is the turning up of grass land, sometimes practised by the Whiteboys. By these means, the farmers are compelled to let their ground for setting potatoes, without the long and troublesome process of notices, burnings, beatings, and murders. This method was practised to a great extent by the Terry Alts in the last disturbances in Limerick and Clare; bodies of several hundred or even several thousand men with spades used to assemble, sometimes in the daytime, and turn up a meadow in a few hours.
Barbarous as is this penal code, its execution is conducted with considerable regularity. The Whiteboy association points out the members who are to inflict the required punishment, and the members obey. The Whiteboy is often ordered to go forty or fifty miles to kill an obnoxious individual, and he yields implicit obedience to his instructions. Men who would shudder at the idea of being assassins, do not hesitate to become executioners.*
The vengeance of the Whiteboys being accomplished, universal terror prevails, which generally prevents what they wish to hinder, and obtains what they desire.
Still this is the time when regular society, whose institutions they openly attack, appears armed against them with all its powers and attempts to enforce obedience of the laws.
But here the Whiteboys find in their association singular resources to combat justice and society; nowhere does their power appear more formidable than in resistance to the magistrates; for if they have a severe penal code to enforce their own laws, they have one still more severe to combat the laws by which they are menaced themselves.
The first article of this second code may be stated in these words: “Whoever will give evidence against a Whiteboy will be punished with death.”*
Scarcely has a judicial pursuit commenced against a Whiteboy, when the whole association is set in motion to prevent the due course of law. The most dreadful menaces against witnesses are posted up; the victims of Whiteboy violence are forbidden to complain, under pain of new tortures; and nothing is so difficult as to collect the elements of conviction for a Whiteboy crime.
It often happens that a witness who has had the impudence to give information to a magistrate, is murdered before he can be produced to give his evidence in court.
“So great indeed,” says Mr. Lewis, “is the danger to which witnesses for the crown are exposed in Ireland, and so great the probability of their being murdered, if not put in a place of safety, that it has been found necessary to provide, by a special enactment, that the depositions of murdered persons may be read in evidence.”*
In such a state of things, the magistrates have recourse to extraordinary means to procure the elements of conviction against the guilty. Payment is offered for information;* after the deposition of a witness is taken, he is lodged in a place of security, generally the gaol, where he remains until the day of trial. When the trial is concluded, the witness is protected by a guard of police until he can be removed from the county. Every individual who has figured as a witness in such a case has no choice between death and exile.†
Some writers have attributed Whiteboy insurrections and associations to political causes; they were first excited, according to these authorities, by the intrigues of France and the pretender. It is now generally recognised that the cause of these insurrections was social, not political; the insurrection was directed against the landlord and the rich, not against the Protestant: it was misery, not the spirit of party, that armed the Whiteboy.
Ireland had no share in the rebellion of 1745; the first Whiteboy movements began in 1761. It would be strange if the Irish, who made no effort when the pretender had some chance of success, should have risen in his favour twenty years afterwards, when his cause was utterly hopeless and forgotten. This error has been propagated by those best acquainted with the truth: the men who had produced and profited by the misery of Ireland, seeing the outrages which their oppression had generated, endeavoured to assign another source to those crimes, and, by ascribing them to the spirit of party, to enlist on their side all the opposite political prejudices. They attained their end without much trouble, as most of the insurgents were Catholics, and those against whom they revolted Protestants; they said, and it was believed, that the insurrection was excited by religious fanaticism; people would not see that in a country where all the rich were of the reformed religion, and all the poor Catholics, that a revolt of the poor against the rich must necessarily have been an insurrection of Catholics against Protestants.
Doubtless, political passions hostile to the government might be found amongst the Whiteboys, as well as enmity against the rich; but the former were not predominant; they were mingled with the sentiments of hate which drove the peasants to revolt; but they were not the moving power of their conspiracies. There are, moreover, two undeniable facts which show very clearly how far political passions were strangers to these agrarian insurrections.
The first is, that when the Catholic clergy levied severe dues on the peasants, the Whiteboys resisted them, and adopted measures against their own priests—measures of repression not less severe than those directed against the ministers of the Anglican church;* and on their side, the priests excommunicated those who joined Whiteboy associations. The second is, that the outrages were directed against landlords and persons who took land without distinction, and that the greater part of the latter were Catholics.* Finally, there is a third fact not less grave than the preceding; the same insurrections raised by the Catholic peasants of the south appeared soon after, from similar causes, among the Protestant peasants of the north, who, in 1764, under the name of Oakboys, took up arms against the Pressure of rent and tithes; and others, in 1772, rose as Steelboys, because the Marquis of Donegal, a large proprietor, had ejected numbers of his tenants. Assuredly the northern Presbyterians would not take arms in favour of the pretender. They were still far from the time when they would make common cause with the Papists.
“All the insurgents of the south,” says Lord Charlemont, “were Catholics; it was generally believed by Protestants that the gold and intrigues of France were at the bottom of all these rebellions; but they were not the real causes, which are very easy of detection. The causes manifest to all eyes, were misery, oppression, famine!”†
The Whiteboy insurrections are not directed against the government, but against the landlords. “They are,” says Mr. Justice Jebb, “a war of the peasantry against the proprietors and occupiers of land.” If any further proof were wanting to show that such has ever been their character, it would be sufficient to consider their character at the present day. They have been constantly reproduced, under various denominations, from 1716 to the present day, and have always originated in the excessive misery of the people, and the starting point of this misery is the persecution which arose from the penal laws.*
[*]So little regard was paid to ordinary decency by the Irish parliament, that many of the Catholics were attainted for acts performed on the day when the Prince of Orange landed in Torbay.—Tr.
[*]Ireland contains more than twenty millions; but it appears that the old writers only took into account the land which in their days was deemed capable of cultivation. M. de Beaumont deems it unnecessary to correct the estimate, especially as it is the basis of the calculations used by most historians.—Tr.
[*]By an act of Henry VIII. (1542) the importation of Irish wool into England was prohibited. The only custom-houses in Ireland were at Cork and Drogheda, and vessels from every other port of Ireland were obliged to go to one or other of these ports for a clearance.
[†]Immediately after the Restoration, the English parliament prohibited the importation of Irish cattle.
[*]It was, in fact, the argument of the fond father to the naughty child: “Take your physic, Master Tommy, and you shall have the dog to kick.” The Irish Protestants took the physic, and kicked the popish dogs with a vengeance.
[*]Swift lost no opportunity of expressing his contempt for the degraded parliament of Ireland. In his Legion Club he thus describes their houses, which stood near Trinity College, and are now a bank:—
[*]In June 1698, the English parliament addressed William III. to discourage the woollen manufactures of Ireland, and the king promised compliance; in the following year the Irish parliament levied a duty on the export of their own woollens, which amounted to a total prohibition. The manufacture was of course ruined.
[*]6 Edward VI., six months’ imprisonment for the first offence, a year for the second, imprisonment for life the third.
[†]1558. Eliz. ch. ii. sect. 14., a penalty of twenty pounds per month for non-attendance at church; banishment from the kingdom in case of refusal.
[*]Will. III. ch. i. (See collection of Irish Statutes for this and the other laws subsequently quoted.)
[†]2 Anne, ch. iii.
[‡]The act of 1709 prohibits a papist from teaching even as an assistant to a Protestant master.—Tr.
[*]This was purely a political oath, directed against the claims of the House of Stuart; it is still administered in Trinity College, Dublin, to every candidate for a degree. The other conditions form part of the statute of 1709.—Tr.
[*]These exceptions occur in an act of toleration, (21 and 22 George III. ch. 24,) one section of which is headed, “No benefit hereby to extend to any ecclesiastic officiating in church or chapel with steeple or bell; or at funeral in church or churchyard, or exercising the rites, or wearing the habit, save in usual places of worship, or in private houses, or using marks of ecclesiastical dignity or authority, or taking ecclesiastical rank or title.” The modern custom at Roman Catholic funerals in Ireland is merely to recite the psalm “De profundis” and nothing more, though, in the recent controversies about allowing Roman Catholic priests to perform the rites of burial in churchyards, it was said that these places would be polluted “by superstitious and idolatrous practices.” A penitential psalm is clearly neither the one nor the other. The dread of popery injuring the dead reminds one of the old jest, “They have buried a child who died of small-pox next to mine, who never was vaccinated, and never had the disease.”—Tr.
[*]2 Anne, ch. vii. sect. 2.
[†]8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 18.
[‡]11 and 12 Geo. III. ch. 27.
[*]“Pilgrimages and meetings at wells deemed riots: magistrates to destroy all crosses, pictures, &c., publicly set up, and occasioning such superstitions.” (2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 26 and 37.) The hostility of the Irish Protestants to the emblem of the cross is utterly incomprehensible to Englishmen; it is not allowed as an ornament inside or outside their churches, and few of them, without ocular demonstration, would believe that the symbol they so detest is erected on almost every church in England.—Tr.
[*]Burke’s Letter to Sir H. Langrishe, p. 87.
[*]“Schoolmasters and other Papists liable to transportation shall in three months, by order at assizes, be transmitted to the next seaport town, and remain in gaol till transported.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 41.
[†]“Collector to pay five pounds for each Popish schoolmaster, teacher, or usher, transported to the West Indies. The money to be received by master or freighter of ships. If schoolmaster, teacher, &c., found out of such master’s or merchant’s custody, to suffer as regular returning.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 32 and 33.
[‡]“Sending, or suffering to be sent, children beyond sea without special license, liable to penalties of præmunire.” 2 Anne, ch. vi.
[*]“Judges, or two justices, may on reasonable suspicion convene the parent, guardian, &c., and require production of the child in two months; if not produced, nor cause assigned for further time, to be deemed educated abroad.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 2.
[†]“No person to be a member of the House of Lords or Commons without first taking oaths of allegiance and supremacy.” 3 Will, and Mary.
[‡]2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 24.
[§]See the celebrated Test Act, 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 16.
[¶]“Every barrister, attorney, or solicitor, before application to be admitted, must take the oaths, 2 Anne, ch. vi., and subscribe the declaration against Popery.” 1 George II. ch. xx.
[*]The exceptions refer merely to the possession of arms or ammunition. “No Papist to be employed as fowler, or keep fire-arms for Protestants.” 10 William III. ch. viii. sect. 4. “No Papist shall keep for sale or otherwise, warlike stores, blades, gun-barrels, &c., under penalty of twenty pounds fine, or a year’s imprisonment.” 13 George II. ch. vi. sect. 13.
[*]In some corporations, freemen alone were permitted to carry on any business; in all, the goods of the non-freemen were subject to heavy tolls. Almost every corporation in Ireland became a rotten borough, and excluded from its privileges Catholics and Protestants alike.—Tr.
[†]“Holidays in the year, limited to thirty-three, (besides Sunday,) enumerated, and refusing to work on other days punished.” 7 William III. ch. 14.
[*]“Papists not to keep above two apprentices, nor under seven years.” 7 Will. III. ch. 14.
[†]“Authorising Protestants to seize the horses of Papists above the value of five pounds sterling. Penalties on Papists for concealing horses.” 7 Will. III. ch. v. sect. 10 and 11.
[*]“Papists may, notwithstanding, 7 Will. III. ch. v., keep stud mares and stallions, or their breed, under five years of age.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 34, 35, and 36.
[†]It was solemnly declared by the Irish judges, that the law did not recognise the existence of a Papist in Ireland.—Tr.
[‡]“Horses of Papists seizable for militia.” 2 Geo. I. ch. ix. sect. 4—18.
[§]“Twenty shillings per day for refreshment of each troop of militia while drawn out, leviable by presentment on Papists of the county.” 6 Geo. I. ch. iii. sect. 4.
[*]“Presentment on Popish inhabitants of the county to reimburse robberies, losses by privateers,” &c. 9 Geo. II. ch. vi.
[†]2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 10.
[*]“Penalties to prevent Protestants marrying with Papists.” 9 Will. III. ch. iii.
[†]“Priest marrying Protestants, presumed knowingly, unless minister’s certificate that they were not.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 26.
[*]“Papist to take no benefit by descent, devise, gift, remainder, or trust of lands, whereof any Protestant, seised in fee or tail.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 7.
[†]“No Papist to be guardian. Penalty on any Papist taking guardianship, £500.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 4.
[‡]“Chancery may dispose custody of Popish minors to near Protestant relations, and if not fit, to other Protestants.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 4.
[§]“On bill in Chancery by Protestant child against Popish parent, suitable maintenance ordered.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 3.
[*]“From enrolment in Chancery of bishop’s certificate of eldest son’s conformity, Popish parent made tenant for life-reversion in fee to the son, maintenance and portions of children, (Protestant or Papist,) not exceeding one-third.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 3.
[†]“Papists, notwithstanding any license heretofore, shall deliver up arms to magistrates.” 7 Will. III. ch. v.
[*]The charter-schools, founded in 1747. These schools were infamously managed, and became perfect nuisances. After many and repeated complaints, their state was investigated by a royal commission, and the parliamentary grants, by which they were chiefly supported, were withdrawn.—Tr.
[*]Plowden, vol. i. page 414.
[*]Miscellaneous Tracts, Irish Office, vol. xxix. This is by no means a solitary instance; even in plays which had no conceivable relation to politics or popery, songs were frequently introduced, ridiculing the religion of the Irish people.—Tr.
[*]A. Young’s Tour in Ireland, vol. ii. page 29.
[*]Plowden, vol. i. p. 355, 416. In a very admirable treatise on Irish disturbances, by G. C. Lewis, Esq., the glaring falsehood of this assertion is decisively exposed. See pages 6—12.—Tr.
[*]See Parliamentary History. From an abstract of a Report of a Committee of the Irish House of Commons, (ad 1731,) it appears that in the entire kingdom of Ireland there were, besides huts, sheds, and movable altars, eight hundred and ninety-two mass-houses, fifty-four private chapels, nine nunneries, and five hundred and forty-nine popish schools.—Tr.
[*]Many of these enclosures were illegal; commons were seized without the consent of the commoners, and wastes seized by neighbouring proprietors without a shadow of right. Such things were occasionally done in the early part of the present century.—Tr.
[†]I am far from being convinced by Mr. Lewis’s arguments, that whiteboyism was wholly unconnected with the cause of the pretender; it was, perhaps, not so in its origin, but assuredly efforts were made to render the popular discontent subservient to the restoration of the Stuarts. I find in my collection of popular Irish ballade, several mystical songs written about 1770, in praise of the young pretender. One of these, “The Royal Blackbird,” is still a great favourite with the peasantry of Munster, though it is rare to find any who sing it aware of its signification. The French also had agents to enlist soldiers for the Irish brigade, and many of these alimented the disturbances in order to obtain recruits. The simple truth appears to be, that the revolt was caused by the rapacity of landlords and tithe-proctors, but that the enemies of England naturally took advantage of it to forward their own purposes.—Tr.
[*]Young’s Travels, vol. i. p. 82. In the debate on the Whiteboy Act in 1786, Lord Luttrell related the following anecdote, which there is reason to believe was but too true:—
[*]The Rightboys in 1785; Peep-of-day Boys in 1772; Steelboys and Oakboys in 1764; Thrashers in 1806; Carders, Caravats, Shanavests, Rockites, &c., down to the present day.
[†]In the county of Leitrim, in 1806, the Thrasher’s oath is stated to have been,—“To keep secret; to attend when called upon; to observe the Thrasher’s laws; not to pay tithes but to the rector, and to pay only certain fees to their own clergy.” For the county of Longford it is given in similar terms, viz.—“To be true to Captain Thrasher’s laws; to attend when called upon; not to prosecute Captain Thrasher or any of his men, and to meet them the following night.”—Trials of the Thrashers, pp. 257 and 303.—Tr.
[*]When a boy, I unwittingly tore down a Rockite notice posted on a gate; several peasants seized me, but finding that I had no design in taking the placard beyond the gratification of curiosity, they let me go, warning me not to commit so perilous an act for the future.—Tr.
[*]H. C., 1832, Appendix, p. 9. This notice was in print, and was posted in different parts of the county Kildare.
[†]This and the following notices are taken from various reports of Committees of the House of Commons. I have seen some in very tolerable rhyme. They were generally written by the hedge schoolmaster, who was usually Rockite secretary to a district. The establishment of national schools has been of great service to Ireland, by removing this very dangerous class of men.—Tr.
[*]The following threatening letter, addressed to a person in the barony of Gallen, county of Mayo, (which contains a different expression of the same feeling,) is cited from a Mayo newspaper in the Times of 11th December, 1835:—
Captain Rock EsqTr.
[*]This is not a common Whiteboy outrage; it was more frequently perpetrated by the underlings of the aristocracy, called in Ireland Squireens or Buckeens—Tr.
[*]The utter disregard for human life shown on these occasions is most fearfully illustrated at Irish assizes. At the trial of Lacy for the murder of the Maras, who were sacrificed to Whiteboy vengeance, because their brother had given evidence against a Whiteboy on a former occasion, the principal witnesses for the prosecution were two approvers, Fitzgerald and Ryan. It appeared that the assassins had watched the Maras for ten days before a convenient opportunity for the murder was found. I took down at the time the following portion of Ryan’s cross-examination respecting his employment on one of those days.
[*]The menace is extended to all the relatives and friends of the informer. It appeared on the trial of the murderers of the Maras, that vengeance was extended not only to the brother of a witness, but even to that brother’s apprentice.—Tr.
[*]The 50 George III. ch. cii. sect. 55, having recited that “whereas it has happened that persons who have given information against persons accused of crimes in Ireland have been murdered before the trial of persons accused, in order to prevent their giving evidence, and to effect the acquittal of the accused,” proceeds to enact, that “if any person who shall give information on oath against any person for any offence against the laws shall, before the trial of such person, be murdered, or violently put to death, or so maimed or forcibly carried away and secreted, as not to be able to give evidence on the trial of such person, the information so taken on oath shall be admitted in all courts of justice in Ireland as evidence on the trial of such person.” This provision was extended to grand juries by 56 George III. ch. lxxxvii. sect. 3. The former act likewise contains a clause enabling grand juries in Ireland to present such a sum as they shall think just and reasonable to be paid to the personal representative of any witness who shall be murdered before trial, or to himself if maimed. Sect. 6. Lewis’s Irish Disturbances, p. 269.—Tr.
[*]It could not be obtained otherwise, but the hope of blood-money has sometimes led to the accusation of innocent persons.—Tr.
[†]Exile is not always sufficient protection. An attempt to kill an informer among the Irish at Wigan, although his offence had no Whiteboy complexion, is mentioned by Mr. Lord, a magistrate of the borough, in his evidence taken for the Irish Poor Commission.
[*]Captain Rock’s tariff always contained a clause regulating “the priest’s dues,” that is, the fees to be paid for christening, marriage, &c.—Tr.
[*]The truth is, that in all these agrarian insurrections, more Catholics were murdered than Protestants. Religious rancour, no doubt, mingles with these disturbances; but I doubt on which side the greater share of it would be found.—Tr.
[†]Hardy’s Life of Lord Charlemont, vol. i. p. 173.
[*]It is of importance to show that M. de Beaumont’s views of the causes of Whiteboy insurrection are the same as those of the most enlightened partisans of Protestant ascendency in Ireland.