Front Page Titles (by Subject) Which of the Penal Laws were executed, and which not. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Which of the Penal Laws were executed, and which not. - 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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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.
[*]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.