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Is Ulster Right? by Anonymous

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I. The Ulster Covenant. The Questions Stated. Ireland under the Celts
and the Danes

II. Ireland from the time of Henry II to the time of Henry VIII

III. Ireland under the Tudors

IV. The Seventeenth Century, until the end of the reign of James II

V. The period of the Penal Laws

VI. The earlier part of the reign of George III. The acquisition of
independence by the Irish Parliament

VII. The independent Parliament. The Regency Question. The
commencement of the Rebellion

VIII. The Rebellion

IX. The Union

X. The period from the Union until the rejection of the first Home
Rule Bill

XI. The Unionist Government of 1886

XII. The Gladstonian Government of 1892. The Political Societies

XIII. Ireland under the present Government

XIV. Criticism of the Bill now before the Country

XV. The danger to the Empire of any form of Home Rule. The Questions



In the following chapters I have endeavoured to lay before ordinary
readers a simple statement of the present position of the Irish
question. Following the maxim of Confucius that it is well "to study
the Past if you would divine the Future," I have first shown that the
tales which are told about the glories of the ancient Celtic
Kingdom are foolish dreams, not supported by the accounts given by
contemporary annalists or the investigations of modern writers, and
that Ireland never was a nation in the political sense, with the
possible exception of the few years between 1782 and 1800, during
which the Irish Parliament was independent; that the charges made
against the English government with reference to their action between
the "Conquest" by Henry II and the assumption of the title of King
by Henry VIII are baseless; and that though there is much which the
historian must look back upon with regret in the period between the
reign of Henry VIII and the passing of the Act of Union, it is mere
waste of time now to dwell on the wrongs of a former age which
have long since passed away and which in any other country would be
forgotten. Then I have traced the brief history of the independent
Parliament, and shown that whatever may have been its virtues or
its failings, it would be impossible to revive it now; all the
circumstances of the country have changed. I have striven also to make
it clear that the Nationalists of to-day are not the representatives
of the leaders of that Parliament but of the party which fought
against it and brought on the horrors of the Rebellion; that the
Union was a political necessity, if the connection between the British
Islands was to be maintained at all; and that if the people of Ireland
have not derived all the benefits from the Union which they might have
done, it is their own fault, as the history of Ulster during the last
century has shown. Next, I have explained the rise of the present
Home Rule movement, and its dependence on agrarian agitation. I have
analyzed some of the provisions of the present Bill, which independent
writers consider to be hopelessly unworkable; and lastly I have stated
why in my opinion Home Rule in any form must be fraught with disaster
not only to Ireland but also to the Empire at large.

I have no desire unnecessarily to wound the feelings of those who take
a different view; if it can be shown that any of my statements are
incorrect or my inference illogical, I shall be glad to correct
them; but to mere abuse, such as the Nationalists are in the habit of
pouring on Unionist writers, I shall pay no heed. I admit that it may
be said that there are several matters which I ought to have gone into
more fully; to that I can only reply that I wished to be as brief as
possible, and that I have done my best to compress with fairness.
What I am really anxious to do is to draw the attention of thoughtful
readers, before it is too late, to the terrible dangers with which we
are faced. As an Irish historian has said:--

"No political madness could be greater than to put the
legislative machinery of an integral and essential portion
of the Empire into the hands of men who are largely or mainly
disaffected with that Empire, and who, in times of difficulty,
danger and disaster are likely to betray it."

* * * * *

The following are the principal works of which use has been made
in preparing this volume. They are cited here in order to avoid the
necessity of constant footnotes:--

"Short History of the Irish People." By Professor Richey.

"Irish Nationalism." By the late Duke of Argyll.

"History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century." By W.E.H.

"History of the Legislative Union of Great Britain and
Ireland." By Dunbar Ingram.

"Ireland and Her Fairy Godmother." By J. Warren.

"The Continuity of the Irish Revolutionary Movement." By Prof.
Brougham Leech.

"A Fool's Paradise." By Professor Dicey.



"Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be
disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of
the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious
freedom, destructive of our citizenship and perilous to the
unity of the Empire, We, whose names are underwritten, Men of
Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V,
humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress
and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves
in Solemn Covenant throughout this our time of threatened
calamity to stand by one another in defending for ourselves
and our children our cherished position of equal citizenship
in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be
found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a
Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And, in the event of such
a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly
and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognise its
authority. In such confidence that God will defend the right,
we hereunto subscribe our names."

Such is the Solemn Covenant which 220,000 resolute, determined
Ulstermen--of various creeds and of all sections of the community,
from wealthy merchants to farm labourers--fully realizing the
responsibility they were undertaking, signed on the 28th September,
1912. To represent that it was merely the idle bombast of ignorant
rustics, or a passing ebullition of political passion coming from
hot-headed youths excited by irresponsible demagogues, is folly.
It expresses the calm resolution of earnest men who, having thought
deeply over the matter had decided that it was better even to face
the horrors of civil war rather than to submit to the rule of a
Nationalist Government.

The opinions of the Nationalists with regard to the Ulster Covenant
can be gathered from many speeches and sermons. The following extract
from one of their papers--the _Frontier Sentinel_--may be taken as a

"It may not be out of place here to translate into simple
English the terms of the Covenant. It denies the claim of
Ireland to self-government and the capacity of Irishmen to
govern Ireland. It asserts that the Catholics of Ireland are
the spawn of the devil; that they are ruthless savages and
dangerous criminals with only one object in life--the wiping
out of Protestants. It claims for the Protestant Unionist
majority of four Ulster counties a monopoly of Christianity,
public and private morality, and clean successful business
enterprise. In the name of God it seeks to stimulate the
basest passions in human nature, and calls on God to witness
a catalogue of falsehoods. Only a few of the local Protestant
clergymen, it should be stated, signed this notoriously wicked

It is well then to pause and consider calmly two questions: What
are the real objects of the Nationalists; and, Are the men of Ulster
justified in resisting them to the uttermost?

It is a mere truism to remark that in every political question the
main controversy is complicated by a number of side issues. Thus in
the tangled skein of politics in South Eastern Europe there is not
merely the great struggle between the Crescent and the Cross, but
there are also jealousies between Greek and Bulgarian, between Servian
and Austrian, which have to be considered. So in Ireland, if we
take the religious question as the dominating one, we find ourselves
involved in a maze of racial animosities, class prejudices, and
trade disputes; by ignoring these we can arrive at a simple but
unfortunately a totally erroneous solution of the question. And to
weigh them all fairly involves more trouble than the average man cares
to take.

Irish history is at best a dismal subject. And those who ought to
be historians are too often politicians; regarding themselves as
advocates and not as judges they deliberately omit incidents which
tell against their views, and enlarge on others, frequently without
even examining the evidence in support of them. Then in arriving
at the truth about any matter connected with Ireland there is the
additional difficulty arising from the custom, almost universal
amongst Irishmen, of talking in superlatives. The exaggerated
expressions, both of praise and blame, which are constantly employed,
at first puzzle a stranger coming to Ireland from another country; he
soon, however, gets to realize that they are mere forms of speech, and
are no more intended to be taken seriously than similar phrases are
when used by an Oriental. They are therefore harmless. But it becomes
a more serious matter when learned men employ inflated language in
addressing ignorant and excitable audiences. Thus Bishop Gaughran,
when recently preaching to a crowded congregation in Dublin a sermon
which was reported in full in the Roman Catholic papers, said:--

"The persecution of the Catholics in Ireland had no parallel
in the history of the Church save perhaps those of the early
Christians in the Catacombs of Rome. Edicts were sent
forth before which those of Nero might be said to pale into
insignificance--the Edicts of Elizabeth and Cromwell, for

Yet these words came from a man who was doubtless familiar with the
histories of Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands; and who is a
leader of a party which had not long before expressed the opinion that
Catholics have no reason to be ashamed of the Inquisition, which was
a coercive and corporally punitive force which had effected its ends

One of the many popular delusions under which English people labour
with regard to Ireland is that all the population of the country at
the present day are Celts, and that this is the key to the whole Irish
question. Thus a review of Father Tyrrell's autobiography recently
appeared in an English journal in which the reviewer said: "Probably
no Englishmen could have written such a book; it needs a Latin like
Rousseau, or a Celt like Tyrrell to lay bare his soul in this way."
No doubt these words were written in perfectly good faith; but if
the writer had cared to make any enquiry he could have found out in a
moment that the Tyrrell family were thoroughly English and that none
of them had gone to Ireland before the nineteenth century. The fact
is that the inhabitants of Ireland, like the inhabitants of all other
countries in Western Europe, are of mixed origin. The Celts were
themselves immigrants, who conquered and enslaved a pre-existing race
called the Firbolgs; then came the Scandinavian invasion; and then
wave after wave of immigration from England and Scotland, so that
Sir J. Davies, writing three hundred years ago--that was, before the
Cromwellian settlement and the arrival of the French refugees who had
escaped from the persecution of Louis XIV--said that if the people of
Ireland were numbered those descended of English race would be found
more in number than the ancient natives.

This, however, is only one of many errors into which English writers
have fallen. Mistakes of course will always be made; but unfortunately
it is a charge from which Mr. Gladstone's admirers cannot clear him
that when he wished to bring the English people round to the idea of
Home Rule he deliberately falsified Irish history in order to make
it serve his ends; and his misrepresentations have gained credence
amongst careless thinkers who are content to shelter themselves under
a great name without looking at what has been written in answer. The
general idea of an average Englishman about Irish history seems to be
that Ireland in Celtic times was a peaceful, orderly, united kingdom,
famous for its piety and learning, where land was held by "tribal
tenure"--that is, owned by the whole tribe who were closely related
in blood--rent being unknown, and the chief being elected by the whole
tribe in solemn assembly. Into this happy country came the Norman
invaders, who fought against and conquered the king; drove the native
owners out of their possessions, and introduced a feudal system and an
alien code of law unsuited to the people; and the modern landlords
are the representatives of the conquering Normans and the tenants
the descendants of the ancient tribesmen who naturally and rightfully
resist paying rent for the lands which by ancestral right should be
their own. There could not be a more complete travesty of history.

The Celtic Church no doubt had its golden age. It produced saints and
men of learning. It sent out its missionaries to the heathen beyond
the seas. So famous were its schools that students came to them from
distant lands. But centuries before the Normans appeared in Ireland
the salt had lost its savour. The Celtic Church had sunk into being
a mere appendage of the wild tribes it had once tried to tame. The
chiefs of one tribe would sack the colleges and shrines of another
tribe as freely as they would sack any of their other possessions.
For instance, the annals tell us that in the year 1100 the men of the
south made a raid into Connaught and burned many churches; in 1113
Munster tribe burned many churches in Meath, one of them being full of
people; in 1128 the septs of Leitrim and Cavan plundered and slew the
retinue of the Bishop of Armagh; in the same year the men of Tyrone
raided Down and a great number of people suffered martyrdom; four
years later Kildare was invaded by raiders from Wexford, the church
was burnt and many men slain; and so on with dreary monotony. Bishops
and abbots fought in the incessant tribal wars as keenly as laymen.
Worse still, it was not infrequent for one band of clergy to make
war on another. In the ninth century, Phelim, who claimed to be both
Bishop and King of Leinster, ravaged Ulster and murdered its monks and
clergy. In the eleventh century the annals give an account of a fierce
battle between the Bishop of Armagh and the Bishop of Clonard. Nor did
time work any improvement; we read of bloody conflicts between abbots
and bishops as late as the middle of the fifteenth century. What
influence for good could such a church have had upon the mass of the

And even in its noblest period the Celtic Church seems to have had but
little power beyond the walls of its own colleges. The whole history
of Celtic Ireland, as we learn from the annalists, was one miserable
succession of tribal wars, murders and plunderings. Of course it may
be said with perfect truth that the annals of other countries at the
time tell much the same story. But there is this difference between
them: wild and barbarous though the wars of other countries were,
they were at any rate the slow and painful working up towards a higher
civilization; the country became consolidated under the most powerful
chief; in time peace was enforced, agriculture improved, and towns
grew up. The tribal raids of Celtic Ireland, however, were merely
for plunder and destruction. From such conflicts no higher state of
society could possibly be evolved. The Irish Celts built no cities,
promoted no agriculture, and never coalesced so as to form even the
nucleus of a united kingdom.

It was about the end of the eighth century that the first foreign
influence was brought to bear on Celtic Ireland. The Danish invasion
began. Heathen though the Danes were, they brought some ideas of
settled government and the germs of national progress. They founded
cities, such as Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. And when they, like
their fellow-countrymen in England, accepted Christianity, they
established bishoprics in the new towns, but took care that they
should be wholly independent of the Celtic tribal episcopate; they
looked to Canterbury and Rome.

Much has been written and sung about the fame of Brian Boroo. No doubt
he was in some ways a great man; and it seemed for a time that he
might do for Ireland something like what Alfred the Great had done for
England and Kenneth MacAlpine had done for Scotland--might consolidate
the country into one kingdom. But the story of his life is a striking
commentary on the wretchedness of the period. Forming an alliance with
some of the Danes he succeeded in crushing the chiefs of several rival
Celtic tribes; then in turn he attacked his former allies, and beat
them at the battle of Clontarf in the year 1014, though they were
aided by other Celtic tribes who hated Brian and his schemes even more
than they hated the foreigners. Important though this battle was, its
effect has been much exaggerated and misunderstood. It certainly
did not bring the Danish power in Ireland to an end; Dublin was a
flourishing Danish colony long afterwards--in fact it was thirty years
after the battle that the Danish king of Dublin founded the Bishopric.

But Brian was slain in the moment of victory. The soldiers of his
army murdered his only surviving son, and began fighting amongst
themselves. Brian's dream of a united Ireland came to an end, and the
country relapsed into chaos. If the immediate result of the battle
was a victory of Celt over Dane, the lasting effect was a triumph of
anarchy over order. It was on the Celtic people that the ruin fell;
and the state of things for the next two centuries was if possible
worse than it had ever been before.

It will be readily understood that throughout this terrible period of
history anything like a peaceful cultivation of the soil or a regular
election to the office of chief was out of the question. It was quite
an ordinary thing for a chief to obtain his position by murdering his
predecessor. The annalists give us a long list of Kings of Ireland
dating from before the Christian era until the arrival of the Normans.
Of course the word "king" can mean little more than "prominent
chief," for no one man ever had real authority over the whole of the
distracted land. Even of these prominent chiefs, however, according
to the annalists, very few died natural deaths. Some fell in battle,
others were assassinated; but the most common fate for a monarch was
to be "slain by his successor." If this was true of the most powerful
men in the country, to speak of the office of chief as elective is
really absurd. But more than this: there is no evidence that the
"tribal system," in the sense of all the tribe being related by blood
and all owning their lands in common, ever existed in Ireland even
in theory. At the earliest date of which we possess any distinct
information on the subject, wealth, representing physical force, had
become the acknowledged basis of political power and private right;
and the richer members of the community were rapidly reducing the
poorer freemen--many of whom were the descendants of an earlier race
or of conquered tribes--to a state of serfdom. The system (if such
a word can be applied at all) was in fact a bad form of feudalism
without its advantages. There was no central overlord (like those
in other countries who gradually developed into the sovereigns of
mediaeval kingdoms and thus became able to enforce peace and progress),
each petty chief being independent; and on the other hand the dues
payable by the retainers were not fixed by law or custom. We must
probably reject the suggested derivation of the word "feodal" from the
Celtic "Fiudir"; but if so, it is curious that two words accidentally
resembling each other conveyed ideas so closely alike; for a Celtic
"Fiudir" was practically a tenant at the will of the lord; and it must
be admitted that the word "vassal" is of Celtic origin. Charters which
date from before the Norman invasion show that the land was regarded
as the private property of the chiefs; frequently the wretched
occupiers, instead of paying fixed rents, were liable to unlimited
exactions, one of them being the right of the lord to "coigne and
livery"--that is, to quarter himself and his retainers as long as he
pleased on any occupier who possessed a few cows (which were the only
form of wealth in those days of universal poverty); in some cases,
however, land was let for a term of years, on a fixed payment of

On the death of a freeholder his land was divided amongst his sons
equally, according to what is called "the custom of gavelkind."
Whether primogeniture is a good or a bad thing in England or the
British Colonies at the present day is of course a totally different
question; the circumstances of the times are totally different. But
it can hardly be doubted by a thoughtful student of history that the
adoption of primogeniture in the early days of feudalism in other
European countries was a social necessity if civilization was to rise
to a higher state; and that its not being introduced in Ireland was if
not a cause at least an evidence that civilization in that country
did not progress. For in a condition not far removed from anarchy
the connection between the ownership of land and political power is
inevitable; hence if holdings are small their owners become an easy
prey to stronger neighbours; whereas the possessors of larger areas
can repel attacks and enable their dependents to live in some sort of
security. It was the enormous number of petty independent chiefs that
added to the miseries of Celtic Ireland.

I shall probably be accused of having painted too dark a picture in
the brief sketch that I have given of Ireland before the coming of the
Normans. I admit that it is very different from the glowing accounts
of "Irish Ireland" that may be found in the pages of Nationalist
journals. But the question to me is not which account is more pleasant
but which is true. And I defy anyone who has cared to look through the
works of such writers as Richey, Stokes, and Sullivan, to prove that
what I have said is incorrect or unfair.



In the last chapter I dealt with the long period during which the
Celtic tribes of Ireland were free from foreign influence except for
the comparatively brief time when a small part of the country was
under the rule of the Danes; and I endeavoured to show that according
to the evidence of their own annalists and in the opinion of modern
writers of various political sentiments, the whole island throughout
that period remained in a chronic state of anarchy, without any
advance towards a higher civilization.

As Dr. Richey, when describing the condition of Ireland about the year
1170, says, "The state of the Celtic people was beyond all hope of
self-amendment. The want of law, order and justice, the absence of
self-knowledge and self-control, paralysed their national action and
reduced the power of their chief king to insignificance."

I come now to what has been absurdly called the conquest of Ireland
under Henry II.

That the English king was instigated in his efforts by the Pope is
perfectly clear. The Bull of Pope Adrian, issued in 1155, is still

"... There is indeed no doubt but that Ireland, and all the
islands on which Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, hath shone,
and which have received the doctrine of the Christian faith,
do belong to the jurisdiction of St. Peter and the Holy Roman
Church ... therefore we are the more solicitous to propagate
the righteous plantation of faith in this land, and the
branch acceptable to God, as we have the secret conviction of
conscience that this is more especially our bounden duty. You
then, our dear son in Christ, have signified to us your desire
to enter into the island of Ireland, in order to reduce the
people to obedience under the laws, and to extirpate the
plants of vice, and that you are willing to pay from each
house a yearly pension of one penny to St. Peter, and that you
will preserve the rights of the churches whole and inviolate.
We, therefore, do hold it good and acceptable that ... you
enter this island and execute therein whatever shall pertain
to the honour of God and welfare of the land; and that the
people of the land receive you honourably and reverence you as
their lord."

And in 1172 Pope Alexander III ratified the action of his predecessor.

"Forasmuch as these things which have been on good reasons
granted by our predecessors, deserve to be confirmed ...
and considering the grant of the dominion of the land by the
venerable Pope Adrian, we ... do ratify and confirm the same
(reserving to St. Peter and to the Holy Roman Church, as well
in England as in Ireland the yearly pension of one penny from
every house) provided that, the abominations of the land being
removed, the barbarous people, Christians only in name, may
by your means, be reformed, and their lives and conversations
mended, so that their disordered Church being thus reduced
to regular discipline, that nation may, with the name of
Christians, be so in act and deed."

Whether the description here given was literally correct, or whether
the Pope's views were coloured by the fact that the Celtic Church did
not acknowledge the supremacy of Rome and was heretical on certain
points of doctrine, is a question outside the present subject. The
Bulls are only quoted here as showing the part taken by Rome. And it
must be admitted that in the succeeding century the power of the Pope
became strong enough to enable him to levy taxes in Ireland for the
purpose of carrying on his wars against the Emperor and the King of

But Henry did not conquer Ireland. He did not even pretend to do so.
Previous to his arrival there had been some little fighting done by a
few adventurous Norman knights who had been invited by a native chief
to assist him in a domestic war; but Henry II fought no battle in
Ireland; he displaced no ancient national government; the Irish had
no national flag, no capital city as the metropolis of the country, no
common administration of the law. The English, coming in the name of
the Pope, with the aid of the Irish bishops, with a superior national
organization which the Irish easily recognised, were accepted by the
Irish. The king landed at Waterford; his journey to Dublin was rather
a royal progress than a hostile invasion. He came as feudal sovereign
to receive the homage of the Irish tribes; the chiefs flocked to his
court, readily became his vassals, and undertook to hold the lands
they already occupied as fiefs of the Crown. But Henry did not take
the title, or assume the position of King of Ireland. He merely sought
to establish a suzerainty in which he would be the overlord. And in
fact a conquest of Ireland in the modern sense of the term would have
been impossible. England possessed no standing army; the feudal levies
of mediaeval times were difficult and expensive. It might of course
have been possible to have organized a wholesale immigration and an
enslavement of the natives, something like that which the Normans had
accomplished in England, and the Saxons had done centuries before; but
nothing of the kind was attempted. Whether Henry's original intention
was simply to leave the Irish chiefs in possession or not, it is
useless now to enquire. But if it was, he appears to have changed his
views; for not long afterwards he granted large fiefs with palatinate
jurisdiction to various Normans who had made their way over to Ireland

It may be that Henry--knowing that the Conqueror, whilst taking
care that no powerful seignories should grow up in the heart of his
kingdom, as rivals to the throne, yet made exceptions in cases
where the lands verged on hostile territory, such as Durham or
Chester--thought that he could best follow the spirit of that policy
by establishing what were practically semi-independent principalities
in an island already inhabited by another race. But the result was

That the Normans were savage and brutal, dealing out no justice or
mercy to their victims, is proved by the account of their conquest of
England. Yet they possessed certain great qualities, which eminently
fitted them to become rulers in those wild, unsettled times; as their
successes, not merely in Britain, but also in Southern Italy and
Syria, show. They had the idea of a strong, centralized Government;
and more than that they had a marvellous capacity for receptivity.
Thus we see that in England, after a period of rough tyranny, they
blended the existing Anglo-Saxon Government--the strength of which lay
in its local organization--with their own; and from the union of
the two has come the British Constitution. So too in the Lowlands
of Scotland it was the Norman knight Robert Bruce who, accepting the
already existing Saxon and Roman civilization, raised Scotland into a
powerful kingdom. But in Ireland all was different. The only state
of society which the Normans found was Celtic barbarism. Political
institutions did not exist. As the Normans in England had become
Anglified, and in Scotland Scottified, so in Ireland they became
Ersefied. It is true that they built stone castles which at any rate
were better than the hovels of the Irish Chiefs, and (like the
Danes before them) founded a few towns, such as Kilkenny, Galway and
Athenry; but there their efforts ended. Scattered amongst the tribes,
they learnt their ways. They sank to the position of the Celtic
Chiefs around them; local wars went on the same as before; the only
difference being that they were waged sometimes by Normans against
Normans or against Celts, but more frequently by one body of Celts
against another, each side being aided by Norman allies.

One class of Nationalist writers has inveighed against the English
kings for not having forcibly introduced English law and put an end to
the barbarous Celtic customs. The simple answer is, How could they do
so? Whilst England was being weakened by long continental wars or
by struggles between rival Houses, what strength had she left to
undertake the real conquest of Ireland? The English kings had turned
to the only people who could have helped them--the Normans settled in
Ireland; and they failed them. Other Nationalist writers have on
the other hand declaimed with equal vehemence against the tyranny of
England in forcing an alien system of law on an unwilling people. To
this the answer is that nothing of the kind occurred. It is true that
petitions were sent from Ireland to the King urging him to introduce
English law; but these petitions came mainly from the poorer classes
of English settlers who found that instead of attaining greater
liberty in their new home they were being ground down to the miserable
position of the native Irish. The King issued proclamations directing
the English barons to permit the Irish to be governed by the law of
England; but his orders were totally disregarded; many of the unhappy
English settlers fled from the country and returned to England;
the barons supplied their places with native retainers. Thus the
Ersefication of the degenerate Normans became complete; they
"donned the saffron"--that is, they adopted the yellow dress of the
Celts--abandoned their original language, and gave themselves up to a
life of constant plunder and rapine.

Early in the fourteenth century the Irish septs united so far as to
form a joint effort to expel the English. The incident is specially
interesting, in the light of later history. Robert Bruce, a Norman
knight, had recently consolidated the Scottish tribes into a kingdom
and succeeded in shaking off the English yoke. The Irish Celts
resolved to imitate his example. King Robert was shrewd enough to see
that by aiding them he could attack his enemy at the most vulnerable
point; consequently, when the chiefs offered the Crown of Ireland to
his brother Edward if he would come and help them, he gladly accepted
the invitation. For three years a devastating war raged over a large
part of Ireland; the Scotch went from the North of Ulster almost to
Limerick, burning, slaying, plundering, sacking towns, castles and
churches; and a terrible famine ensued. But the Irish chiefs were no
more energetic in supporting Edward Bruce than their ancestors had
been in supporting Brian; he and his chief officers fell in a battle
against the English near Dundalk, and the rest of his followers
escaped to Scotland. The coalition fell to pieces; and the only result
of the Scotch invasion was to increase the misery of the people,
especially of the unhappy English settlers, who continued to flock
back to England in greater numbers than before.

As soon as the rebellion was put down, the great legislator Edward
III made another effort at introducing order into the distracted land.
Acts were passed by the English Parliament providing that the same
law should be applicable to both English and Irish, and forbidding
landowners to keep larger bands of armed men than were necessary for
self-defence. But the Ersefied barons on whom he relied refused to
obey the new laws; they renounced their allegiance and joined the
rebellious Celtic tribes. Then the king, seeing the impossibility
of carrying out his scheme for pacifying the whole of Ireland, was
reduced to the expedient of dividing the country into two; leaving the
larger part of it for the natives and degenerate English to misgovern
as they pleased according to their own customs, and preserving only
a mere fraction (the "English Pale") in allegiance to the Crown of
England. This was the real meaning of the "Statutes of Kilkenny,"
which have been so often misrepresented by modern writers.

The next king, Richard II, attempted to imitate the policy of his
ancestor Henry II. He went to Ireland with great pomp. Again the
Celtic chiefs flocked to Dublin to swear allegiance to their lord;
and as soon as his back was turned commenced not only fighting amongst
themselves but even attacking the English Pale. The result of all his
efforts was that the limits of the Pale were still further contracted;
the English power was confined to a small area in the neighbourhood of

But even within that narrow boundary the power of the king was far
from being secure. When England was torn by the Wars of the Roses, the
so-called Parliament (which was really an irregular assembly at best
representing a territory about the size of a modern county) seized
the opportunity of declaring itself independent. It is interesting, in
view of present-day questions, to observe that Dr. Richey, writing
in 1869, seems to consider their action as not only justifiable but
inevitable. He says:--

"The Irish Parliament declared the complete independence
of the Irish Legislature, and boldly affirmed those
constitutional rights which, though involved in the existence
of separate parliament, had not hitherto been categorically
expressed. They asserted their rights to a distinct coinage,
and their absolute freedom from all laws and statutes except
such as were by the Lords spiritual and temporal and Commons
of Ireland freely admitted and accepted in their Parliament.
They declared that no Irish subject was bound to answer
any writs except those under the great seal of Ireland, and
enacted heavy penalties against any officer who should attempt
to put English decrees in force in Ireland. They, in fact,
took the same position and laid down the same principles as
the celebrated Parliament of 1782."

Whether they imagined that they could form a separate kingdom of
Dublin, or dreamt of making an alliance with the tribes outside the
Pale, it is useless now to conjecture; but we can see that though they
had no chance of benefiting themselves they might have caused serious
injury to England. Nor was it long before a difficulty arose. The
inhabitants of the Pale remained attached to the House of York even
after the Battle of Bosworth, and readily accepted Lambert Simnel as
King of Ireland. He was crowned in the Cathedral of Dublin, and held
a Parliament. After the defeat of this Pretender, the able and astute
Henry VII saw that it was necessary without further delay to make the
shadowy suzerainty of England over Ireland a reality. He accordingly
persuaded the Irish Parliament to pass an Act which from the name of
the Lord Deputy was known as "Poyning's Act." By this Act, all English
statutes then existing in England were made of force in Ireland; the
chief fortresses were secured to the Crown of England; and the Irish
Parliament was relegated to the position of a subordinate legislature;
for it was enacted that no Parliament should be held in Ireland unless
the King's Lieutenant and Council should first certify the King, under
the Great Seal of Ireland, the Acts which they considered should pass;
then the King and his Council should approve the proposed Acts,
and issue a licence under the Great Seal of England, summoning the

Though some writers have spoken of this as the most disgraceful Act
ever passed by an independent legislature, the people in Ireland at
the time considered it a boon and a favour; for it shielded them from
the unauthorized power of a Lord Deputy supported by a Parliament of
his own creatures.

And so, with the close of the mediaeval period, ended the second
chapter of Irish history. It will be observed that there had been no
religious persecution, unless indeed the conduct of the Norman--that
is, the Roman--Church towards the ancient Celtic Church, or the
burning of some heretics in the fourteenth century, could be so
described; a view which the Nationalists of to-day will hardly care to
put forward. Nor can the English Government be fairly blamed for the
condition of affairs; for responsibility depends on power, and English
power in Ireland hardly existed. The suzerainty of England, feeble at
best, had gradually been limited to a mere fraction of the country.
The Celtic tribes had long since thrown off even a nominal submission
to the English Crown; the Anglo-Norman lords had become either
avowedly or practically independent. But the inhabitants of Ireland
did not constitute a nation or possess any common interest or bond of
union. There was no trace of an organization by which the Irish tribes
could be united into one people. The ceaseless civil wars had indeed
supplanted the original tribesmen by the mercenary followers of
another set of rival chiefs; but there had been no union; and the mass
of the people, still under the influence of their native customs, were
probably in a more wretched condition than they had ever been before.



We have seen that at the close of the Middle Ages Ireland was in the
condition that some people in England now consider the panacea for
all the woes of the country; it possessed a subordinate Parliament and
England interfered as little as possible in its local affairs. Henry
VIII attempted "to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas"; having no
army of his own, he appointed the most powerful of the Norman barons
his deputy. But this deputy used his authority precisely as an
Ersefied Norman (who possessed no more patriotism or national feeling
than a Celtic chief) might have been expected to use it,--that was, to
aid him in a succession of family quarrels and tribal wars in which,
allied with some of the native septs he attacked others. Even the
towns outside the Pale fared little better than the remoter districts;
there was actually a civil war between Cork and Limerick. The state of
affairs in Celtic Ireland during the brief period from 1500 to 1534
as stated in the annals (which, however, only deal with a part of the
country, hardly referring to what took place in Leinster or Munster)
has been summed up by Dr. Richey in the following words:--

"Battles, plunderings, etc., exclusive of those in which the
English Government was engaged, 116; Irish gentlemen of
family killed in battle, 102; murdered, 168--many of them with
circumstances of great atrocity; and during this period, on
the other hand, there is no allusion to the enactment of any
law, the judicial decision of any controversy, the founding of
any town, monastery or church; and all this is recorded by
the annalist without the slightest expression of regret or
astonishment, as if such were the ordinary course of life in a
Christian country."

At length, in 1534, matters came to a head; the Lord Deputy broke out
into open rebellion. We can learn from the State papers of the period
what the condition of Ireland then was. The Pale--now but the remnant
of a fraction--was constantly invaded and ravished by wild tribes,
and was itself becoming Ersefied; for the poorer English settlers had
either fled back to England, joined the Celtic tribes in despair, as
their only way of escaping from the harshness of the English lords, or
been crushed out of existence; and, as had already happened elsewhere,
their place had been taken by Irish retainers. Then in the rest of the
country there were some ninety chiefs, of whom about sixty represented
ancient septs and the remainder degenerate Normans, all claiming
independence and preying sometimes on one another and sometimes on
their unfortunate followers. Not infrequently also a tribe was divided
against itself, and a civil war was raging between the two factions.
And one result of the Ersefication of the Norman barons was that,
in addition to the regular feudal dues, they demanded every kind
of Celtic tribute from the occupiers of the land. In fact, how the
wretched tenants managed to support life at all seems a mystery.
Whatever law there may at one time have been was now long extinct;
and as King Henry himself pointed out, if the natives were to have any
sort of law at all, the only possible law was the law of England.

At this time also a new factor came into the already complicated
problem--the Reformation. Henry VIII never was a Protestant, in
the sense of adopting the doctrines which are now usually called
Protestant; but he had renounced the authority of the Pope. In 1535
Pope Paul III passed sentence upon him, consigning his kingdoms to
whoever might invade them, and commanding his nobles to take up
arms against him. Both the Emperor and the King of France saw their
opportunity, as Robert Bruce had done centuries before. They commenced
a correspondence with the Irish chiefs with the object of bringing
about an invasion of Ireland. Thereupon King Henry resolved to take
the only course that seemed to him possible--to make the conquest
of Ireland a reality and to enforce law and order in that distracted
land. His letters, which are still extant, show the care with which he
thought out the matter, and his earnest desire for the welfare of
the people of both races; a perusal of them would astonish those who
regard him merely as a savage sensualist. Strange to say, in their
Irish policy, the character of Henry VIII shows itself at the best,
and that of Elizabeth at its worst. When Henry had with difficulty
succeeded in crushing the Geraldine rebellion and a series of others
which broke out soon after, he got the Irish Parliament to pass an
Act conferring on him the title of king; he was solemnly proclaimed as
such, and his title was confirmed by the almost unanimous consent of
the Irish princes.

This was important in more ways than one: it was universally
recognized that the word "king" meant much more than "lord"; and it
gave him a title independent of the Pope's donation.

It is one of the ironies of history that the renunciation of the Papal
authority and the submission to the king's supremacy was far more
rapid and general in Ireland than it was in England. For not only did
all the lay chiefs readily yield their adhesion, but only two of the
bishops refused to take the oath of supremacy. Rebellions such as that
of Fitzgerald had no connection with religion; it was not until years
afterwards when England had become identified with Protestantism and
Spain with Catholicism that the Irish became intensely Papal. On the
other hand, the Reformation, as a religious movement, made no headway
in Ireland. It was purely negative and destructive, and emanated from
the Government, not from the mass of the people. The monasteries were
destroyed; hence there were no vicars to supply the parish churches,
which fell into ruin; the king endeavoured rather to Anglify than to
Protestantise the people by sending to them bishops and clergy from
England--but they were mere state officials, not fathers in God;
unable even to speak the Irish language; what real preaching there
was was done by friars sent from Rome and Madrid. Henry's efforts at
establishing parish schools were also a total failure. Had there not
been later immigrations from England and Scotland, Irish Protestantism
would probably have died out. Yet it is but fair to state, and to bear
in mind, that there was no religious persecution as such in Ireland
during the Tudor period. Elizabeth's policy was, without making any
actual promise of freedom of conscience, to leave the question of
religious opinions alone as far as possible. The real difficulty came
from the political nature of the Church of Rome; when the Pope deposed
Elizabeth and gave Ireland to Philip of Spain every Irish Roman
Catholic had either to be false to his religion or to become a
traitor--_in esse_ or _in posse_--to the queen.

When Henry had resolved to do his utmost to bring Ireland to a state
of civilization, there were not wanting advisers who urged upon him
that his only safe course was absolutely to destroy the whole native
population by sword and famine and re-people the vacant lands by
immigrants from England. Such a course would have been quite in
accordance with the ideas of the time. Not thirty years previously,
the combined forces of Church and State had pursued the heretic
population of the Loise into the mountain fastnesses to which they had
fled, and had piled logs of wood at the mouths of the caves in which
they had taken refuge, and set them on fire. Then, when all the
unhappy people--men, women and children, numbering some thousands
in all--had perished, their lands were distributed amongst strangers
brought in from a distance to occupy them. And at a later date--in the
middle of the sixteenth century--the native inhabitants of the Canary
Islands were exterminated by the Spanish Inquisition, and their lands
taken by the invading race. But to Henry it appeared that there was
one milder course that might still be possible. Might not the native
chiefs and the degenerate Normans who had shown that their only idea
of independency was anarchy yet be brought together as nobles under
a strong central government with a Parliament representing not merely
the Pale, but all Ireland? Might not the mass of the people, whose
native customs had been well nigh crushed out by civil wars,
be persuaded to _adopt_ the law of England? This was the policy
deliberately adopted by Henry and acted on by him during his life.
It is easy for writers living in modern times to sneer at some of the
details of his scheme; but it is not so easy for them to point out
what other course would have been better; or indeed, whether any other
course short of a policy of extermination, would have been possible.

The remarkable thing, however, is that the change to a more severe
line took place not under Henry or his Protestant son, but under the
most Catholic Sovereigns Philip and Mary. It was by their orders that
the first of the confiscations (which were to play so important a part
in the later history of Ireland) was carried out. By an Act passed
in their reign the lands occupied by the O'Moores, O'Connors and
O'Dempseys were confiscated and formed into the King's and
Queen's counties, Leix and Offaly being renamed "Philipstown" and
"Maryborough"; and a "Plantation" of English settlers was established.

And here it is well to pause for a moment and consider these
confiscations, about which so much has been written. That
confiscations have taken place in every country is a plain fact of
history. There is probably no part of Western Europe where land is
now held by the descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants. Forcible
conquest and adverse occupation is nearly always the primary root
of title. But it is part of the policy of every civilized country to
recognize what lawyers call "Statutes of limitations." When centuries
have elapsed and new rights have grown up, it is impossible to rectify
the wrongs of times long gone by. Thus we cannot suppose that any
future Government of Spain would ever recognize the title of the Moors
in Africa to the properties from which their ancestors were driven
by Philip IV; or that the Huguenots, now scattered over various
countries, could ever succeed in recovering possession of the estates
in France which were confiscated at the time of the Revocation of the
Edict of Nantes. And the only people who have a cause to complain,
even on sentimental grounds, of the wrongs of past ages, are the
lineal descendants of those who suffered ill-treatment. No Englishman
to-day can feel aggrieved because Saxons drove out Britons, or Normans

But more than that: the confiscation of the lands of rebels stands on
a different basis, and has been so regarded in every country in the
world, even New Zealand. The lands confiscated by Philip and Mary were
owned by the arch-rebel FitzGerald. Naturally fertile and capable if
properly cultivated of supporting a large population, they were at
this time a wild pathless tract of forest and bog. The ceaseless
tribal wars had prevented their being drained and cleared; the
miserable remnants of the Celtic tribes gained a precarious living by
periodical raids on the more peaceful inhabitants of the Pale. During
the whole of the reign of Edward VI fighting had gone on in Leix and
Offaly with great loss of life and at enormous expense to the English
Government. The object of the confiscation was not to drive out the
few existing tribesmen; for the land, when cleared and drained, might
well support them as well as the new settlers. Nor was it to confer
great estates on absentee proprietors, but to establish a fairly
thickly settled district which might be a source of strength rather
than a constant cause of trouble to the dwellers in the Pale. Nor
again was it to introduce feudalism; for as I have shown, the system
already in existence was feudalism without its advantages; the
substitution of fixed dues for the barbarous custom of "coigne and
livery" was an unmixed benefit to the occupiers of land. And it cannot
be denied that the first "Plantation" was a thorough success--thriving
settlements and prosperous farms took the place of forest and swamp.

If the position of Henry VIII had been one of difficulty, that of
Elizabeth was far more critical. The separation of the Church of
England from Rome was now complete. The great powers of the Continent
were united in one supreme effort to stamp out the new heresy. The
massacre of St. Bartholomew had taken place in France; Philip II had
ordered a _Te Deum_ to be sung at Madrid, and the Pope had had a medal
struck to commemorate the glorious event. The lowest computation of
those put to death for heresy in the Netherlands by Charles V was
50,000; and his successor had, at the instigation of the Holy Office,
issued a proclamation sentencing to death the whole population--men,
women and children--with the exception of a few persons specially
named. Alva boasted that he had put 18,000 Dutchmen to death on the
scaffold, and the Pope presented him with a consecrated hat and
sword, an honour which had previously been bestowed only on reigning
sovereigns. In Spain it was regarded not only as a sacred duty but a
pleasant amusement for the King and his Court to watch the
torturing of heretics. England alone--then a comparatively weak
and insignificant country--stood out against this overwhelming
combination. And in attempting to realize the position of affairs we
must remember that in the sixteenth century the Papacy was not merely
a religious system but also a tremendous political power. We may now
regard the claim of the Pope to depose princes as a harmless dream;
but at that time it was a stern reality. Thus matters came to a crisis
when the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and all who remained loyal
to her, released her subjects from their allegiance, offered plenary
indulgence and remission of sins to all who would take up arms against
her, promised a liberal supply of graces and indulgences to Irish
chieftains who would rebel, and gave Ireland to Philip of Spain.

It can hardly be denied therefore that England was engaged in a
life and death struggle. And unless Elizabeth would consent to the
annexation of Ireland by Spain and to the conquest of England by some
power that would treat the people there much as the heretics of the
Netherlands were being treated by Philip, it must be admitted that any
measures, however violent, became a political necessity--a mere act
of self-defence. But though Elizabeth had already on hand a war with
France, Spain and Scotland, her difficulties did not end there. The
North of Ireland was being invaded by Celts from Scotland, and the
principal chief, Shan O'Neill (who was described by the Spanish
Ambassador as "so good a Christian that he cuts off the head of any
man who enters his country if he be not a Catholic") was in open
rebellion with the avowed object of crushing out the English power,
exterminating the rival tribes, and making himself King of Ulster. To
so miserable a state had that part of Ireland been reduced by petty
local wars between rival chiefs that hundreds of people had died
of hunger. Can it be wondered that Elizabeth conceived the idea of
imitating her sister's policy and forming a "plantation" in the North?

Then came another formidable rebellion in Munster, headed by an
Ersefied Norman, Desmond. These rebellions were fomented by the Pope,
and in the South the rebels were aided by Spanish troops. In the
amount of the aid sent from Spain, however, the Irish rebels were
sadly disappointed. That has been one of the characteristic features
of all Irish rebellions; the foreign powers on which they have relied
have been liberal enough with promises of aid, but when the time for
performance has come they have left the unfortunate Irish to their
fate. (Thus in 1641 not only did the rebels fully expect that a
powerful Spanish force would come to their assistance, but they even
believed that 18,000 Spanish troops had actually landed at Wexford.)
That these rebellions were crushed by the forces of Queen Elizabeth
with a savage violence that is more suggestive of the government of
the Netherlands by Spain than of what should have been the action of
a Christian nation cannot be denied; but when reading the accounts
of the terrible condition to which the country was reduced one cannot
help thinking that the stories of outrages committed by the English
troops must be exaggerated. In the first place, the writers, even when
eye-witnesses, seem to have assumed that the country was peaceful and
prosperous up to that time; whereas not only had the tribal wars which
had gone on incessantly until a few years before reduced the people
almost to a condition of famine, but the rebels themselves, such
as O'Neill and Desmond, had ravaged the country anew. And if it was
obvious that the object of Elizabeth was to exterminate the whole
Irish population and the Roman Catholic religion, it seems impossible
(even allowing for the eccentricity of human nature in general and of
the Irish character in particular) to believe that a large part of the
queen's forces should have been composed of Irish Roman Catholics; or
that the inhabitants of the towns, most of whom were also Irish Roman
Catholics, should have taken her side; but such was undoubtedly
the case. Again, if nearly the whole native population had been
exterminated by slaughter and famine it would have taken at least a
century to recover. Yet--a few years after the commencement of
the English settlement we find Spenser complaining that the new
proprietors were acting as the Norman barons had done centuries
before; instead of keeping out the Irish they were making them their
tenants and thrusting out the English; and some of the proprietors
were themselves becoming "mere Irish." Then, although no doubt
a certain proportion of the Elizabethan settlers renounced their
Protestantism and embraced the Roman Catholic religion, that can
hardly have been the case with the mass of them; and yet before the
middle of the seventeenth century we find that the great majority
of the freeholders of Ireland and even of the members of the Irish
Parliament were Roman Catholics; surely they must have represented
the earlier population. And lastly, considering the wild exaggerations
that occur in the accounts of every other event of Irish history, we
cannot suppose that this period alone has escaped.

Towards the end of the queen's reign occurred the last of the
native rebellions. It too was crushed; and, by the "flight of the
earls"--Tyrone and Tyrconnell--was completed the work which had been
commenced by Henry II. And so the third chapter of Irish history was



The seventeenth century is a terrible period of European history. It
has been described as "the age of religious wars"; and those wars were
waged with a savage ferocity which it is impossible even now to read
of without a shudder.

It is a plain matter of history that from the very commencement of the
Reformation the idea of toleration never entered into the heads of
any of the authorities of the Church of Rome. France, Spain, Portugal,
Savoy and Germany all tell the same story. Except in countries such as
England where the sovereigns adopted the new opinions, the only chance
which the reforming party had of being able to exercise their religion
was by means of rebellion and all the horrors of civil war. What that
meant, the history of the rise of the Dutch Republic tells us. As Lord
Acton has said: "In the seventeenth century the murder of a heretic
was not only permitted but rewarded. It was a virtuous deed to
slaughter Protestant men and women until they were all exterminated.
Pius V held that it was sound Catholic doctrine that any man may
stab a heretic; and every man was a heretic who attacked the papal
prerogatives." And it is equally true that in those cases where the
reforming party succeeded in gaining the upper hand, they did not show
much more mercy than had been shown to them previously or was being
shown to their co-religionists in other countries at the time. Yet
it is only fair to add that when the idea of toleration did arise, it
arose amongst the reformed churches. Probably the only Roman Catholic
State in the world where toleration existed during the seventeenth
century was the little English colony of Maryland, of which Lord
Baltimore was the proprietor. And when at length the religious wars
died out it was, as far as Catholic countries were concerned, because
the lay mind had become thoroughly disgusted with the whole thing, and
men's minds were turning in other directions--not because the clerical
rulers showed the slightest desire to relax their efforts or change
their policy.

It would be well if the whole dreadful period could be buried in
oblivion. But it is necessary to mention the subject here, for the
Nationalist party are continually referring to the horrors of the
Cromwellian massacres and the penal laws; and if such matters are to
be gone into at all it is only fair, in order to make a just estimate
of them, to glance at the great European struggle of which they formed
an incident. In the century which saw Germany deluged with blood
for thirty years, and which witnessed the revocation of the Edict of
Nantes and the revival of vehement persecution in France, it was not
likely that Ireland should remain unaffected.

Soon after James I came to the throne he commenced his famous Scotch
plantation in the desolated and half-emptied province of Ulster. That
it was even a greater success than the plantation formed by Philip
and Mary everyone is of course aware; it is the descendants of those
immigrants who, though they live in a district not so highly favoured
by nature as other parts of the country, form the only really
prosperous and progressive section of the community at the present
day. The native Irish do not seem to have looked on the Scotchmen with
much disfavour, perhaps partly because there being plenty of room for
all in the desolated tract, and lands being assigned to them, they
realised that they were safer in the immediate neighbourhood of a
peaceful settlement than they would have been had they remained a prey
to unscrupulous adventurers like Shan O'Neill. A member of the legal
profession must feel shame and sorrow in recording the fact that
the chicanery of the lawyers added much to the harshness of the
politicians. That, however, is only another way of saying that
the humane policy of the nineteenth century was unknown in the
seventeenth. Had courts been established in Ireland like the native
land courts of New Zealand in which claims under customary law might
be investigated, and equitable awards made, the later history of
Ireland might have been very different. Yet one must remember that
even in the reign of Queen Victoria there was a strong party in
England and there were not a few people in New Zealand who argued
that Maori customary claims should be disregarded and the treaty
of Waitangi ignored. And in the seventeenth century such ideas were
unheard of. Lawyers searched for every technicality of English law
by which the titles of holders of land could be upset, in favour of
English claimants. Then matters became strangely complicated, as they
seem to be periodically throughout Irish history. The struggle between
Charles I and the Parliament began, and it soon became evident that
the Parliamentary party was the stronger of the two. To the Irish the
Parliamentarians meant the Puritans; and they believed, not wholly
without reason, that a determined attempt would be made not only to
seize all their lands but also to stamp out their religion. (It
must be observed that the Elizabethan anti-Roman Acts had never been
strictly carried out in Ireland, and during the reign of James I their
severity had been relaxed still further--a line of conduct which had
no parallel in any Roman Catholic country in Europe at the time.)
Thereupon in 1641 the Roman Catholics of Ulster broke into open
rebellion, and soon afterwards they applied to the kings of France and
Spain for aid; and the Pope issued a bull granting a full and plenary
indulgence and absolute remission for all their sins to all who would
do their utmost to extirpate and totally root out those workers of
iniquity who in the kingdom of Ireland had infected and were always
striving to infect the mass of Catholic purity with the pestiferous
leaven of their heretical contagion.

The stories told of the actual outbreak of the rebellion are
interesting as an illustration of the universal habit of exaggeration
about Irish affairs, to which I have already alluded. Clarendon
affirms that 40,000 English Protestants were murdered before they
suspected themselves to be in any danger; Temple states that in
the first two months of the rebellion 150,000 Protestants had been
massacred. The Jesuit, O'Mahony, writing in 1645, says "Persevere,
my countrymen, in the path you have entered on, and exterminate your
heretical opponents, their adherents and helpers. Already within four
or five years you have killed 150,000 of them, as you do not deny. I
myself believe that even a greater number of the heretics have been
cut off; would that I could say all." He had doubtless obtained
his information from the returns made by the priests engaged in the
rebellion to the military leaders, the figures of which were much the
same. Yet Lecky (who, though in certain passages of his history he
shows himself to be somewhat biassed in favour of the Irish Roman
Catholic party, is on the whole a remarkably fair and impartial
historian) argues with much force that there is no evidence of
anything like a general massacre, and brings down the number murdered
to about 8,000. Still, that there was a widespread rebellion and all
the consequent horrors of civil war, there can be no doubt. The rebels
of Ulster at one time tried to identify their cause with that of
Charles I by producing a forged commission from the king--which
annoyed the Royalists and made the Parliamentary party all the more
bitter. Charles certainly did his utmost to bring about a peace--no
doubt being anxious to obtain the assistance of his Irish subjects
in his Scotch and English wars. But his efforts were thwarted by the
Papal Nuncio, whose instructions from Rome were that the Holy See
could never by any positive Act approve of the civil allegiance of
Catholic subjects to an heretical prince; and thus the Royalist cause
became as completely lost in Ireland as it was in England. Before the
peace was finally concluded, Charles was a prisoner in the hands of
his enemies.

Then came the terrible episode of the Cromwellian war, in which
Romanist and Royalist alike went down before the Puritan force. Still,
though he would be a bold man who could attempt to excuse--much less
to justify--the barbarities that took place, it may be doubted whether
all the Cromwellian outrages put together equalled a single one of
those which the Imperial troops had committed during the war which
had been raging for thirty years in Germany--such for instance as the
sacking of Magdeburg. It is estimated, however, that about 600,000
people (of whom 500,000 were of the Irish race and 100,000 of the
English) perished by the sword, pestilence or famine in the fearful
years between 1641 and 1652--in other words, about a third part of
the population was wiped out. And the war was followed by a wholesale
confiscation--having fought for the king being considered as much an
act of treason as having rebelled against him. The confiscated lands
were allotted to soldiers, to persons who had supplied money to the
Parliamentary forces, and to other supporters of the new Government.
It is but just, however, to add that 700,000 acres of profitable land
in Connaught were allotted to dispossessed Romanists, and that they
were allowed to occupy 100,000 acres in other parts of the country; a
striking contrast to the lot of the unhappy Waldenses who were at that
time being driven from their homes and slaughtered without mercy for
no crime but heresy; or to the treatment a few years later by Louis
XIV of his Huguenot subjects whose lands were confiscated without
compensation and who were only given the choice of death or the

At the Restoration some effort was made to undo the injustice of the
Cromwellian confiscations. But the matter was one of great difficulty.
In many cases land had been allotted by Cromwell in payment for money
received; in others the grantees had sold their holdings to purchasers
who had paid in cash, regarding the original grant as indefeasible.
A reconfiscation of such lands would obviously have worked a great
injustice; and it is a common maxim of law that between two claimants
each with a good title the one in possession is to be preferred. Still
it cannot be said that the decisions of the Royal Commissioners were
always equitable according to our ideas; for instance, the award of
80,000 acres to the Duke of York (afterwards James II) of land which
had been forfeited under Cromwell because the owner had fought for his
father, would be hard to justify on any possible grounds. Still, an
Act of Settlement was passed, by which a certain amount of justice
was done; it is difficult to arrive at the figures accurately, but
it appears that after the passing of the Act nearly one-third of
the Island was vested in Roman Catholic proprietors. Archbishop King
estimated that at the time when he was writing--1689--two-thirds
of the Protestant landowners held their estates under the Act of
Settlement. And Lecky says, "Only an infinitesimal portion of the soil
belongs to the descendants of those who possessed it before Cromwell."
But Archbishop King was influenced by the fear he had felt as to what
the effect of a repeal of the Act would be; and there can hardly be
a doubt that his feelings led him to overestimate the number. With
regard to Lecky's remark, one can only take it as a strange instance
of a gross exaggeration having crept into a book which is usually
careful and accurate. It may be that the statement was not very
incorrect according to the evidence the author had before him; but if
so, that only proves that the evidence was wrong; for the proceedings
in the Land Courts which have been set up in Ireland during the last
half century have shown that the proportion of titles to estates which
date from an earlier period was far larger than people had supposed.

During the peaceful and tolerant reign of Charles II the country made
steady progress.

Under James II, however, everything was reversed. That unhappy
monarch, having ascended the throne tranquilly, with many
protestations of toleration and justice to all, succeeded in less than
two years in making it clear to the people of England that his object
was to confine liberty to those who professed his own creed and that
his idea of good government was something like that which was then
existing in France and Savoy. Driven from Great Britain, on his
arrival in Ireland he issued a proclamation declaring that his
Protestant subjects, their religion, privileges and properties were
his especial care; and he had previously directed the Lord Lieutenant
to declare in Council that he would preserve the Act of Settlement
inviolable. But the Protestants soon had reason to fear that his
promises were illusory and that the liberty which might be allowed to
them would be at best temporary. In a word, what the one party looked
forward to with hope and the other with dread was "a confederacy with
France which would make His Majesty's monarchy absolute."

In order to understand what that meant, to Irish Protestants, it is
well to glance at the condition of France at the time. Louis XIV had
begun by directing that the Edict of Nantes was to be interpreted by
the strictest letter of the law; and soon after that the condition
of the Huguenots became more unhappy than that of the Irish Roman
Catholics ever was during the penal laws. The terrible "Dragonnades"
commenced in 1682; soldiers were billeted on heretics, and unfortunate
women were insulted past endurance; Huguenots were restricted even
as to holding family prayers; children at the age of seven were
encouraged to renounce their faith, and if they did so they were
taken from their parents who, however, were obliged to pay for their
maintenance in convent schools. Protestant churches were closed, and
their endowments handed over to Roman Catholic institutions. Huguenot
children were forbidden all education except the most elementary. No
heretic was allowed to sue a Catholic for debt. All this, however, did
not satisfy the monarch or his ecclesiastical advisers. On the 18th
of October 1685, he issued his famous Revocation of the Edict of

"We by the present Edict which is perpetual and irrevocable,
revoke the Edict given at Nantes in 1583 together with every
concession to the Protestants of whatever nature they be.
We will that all temples of that religion be instantly
demolished. We prohibit our Protestant subjects to assemble
for worship in any private house. We prohibit all our lords
to exercise that religion within their fiefs under penalty of
confiscation of property and imprisonment of person. We enjoin
all ministers of the said faith to leave the kingdom within
fifteen days of the publication of this Edict, under penalty
of the galleys. We enjoin that all children who shall be
born henceforth be baptized by the Catholic curates. Persons
awaiting the enlightening grace of God may live in our kingdom
unhindered on account of their religion on condition that they
do not perform any of its exercises or assemble for prayer or
worship under penalty of body and wealth."

This Edict met with cordial approval from the Catholic party in
France. The famous Madame de Sevigne wrote: "I admire the king for the
means he has devised for ruining the Huguenots. The wars and massacres
of former days only gave vigour to the sect; but the edict just
issued, aided by the dragoons, will give them the _coup de grace_."

The Irish Protestants saw with alarm that amongst the soldiers who
came from France to aid King James were some who had taken an active
part in the dragonnades organized by Louis XIV in order to carry out
his edict. Then one Act was passed by the Dublin Parliament repealing
the Act of Settlement; and by another 2,461 persons were declared
guilty of high treason unless they appeared before the Dublin
authorities on a certain day and proved they were not guilty. What
steps King James was prepared to take in order to subdue the rebels of
Derry who held out against him can be gathered from the proclamation
which he directed Conrade de Rosen, his Mareschal General, to issue.
He warned the rebels that if they did not surrender immediately, all
the members of their faction, whether protected or not, in the whole
neighbourhood, would be brought close to the walls of the city and
there starved to death; that he would ravish the countryside, and see
that no man, woman or child escaped; and that if the city still held
out he would give no quarter and spare neither age nor sex, in case it
was taken by force.

Even if there had been no Derry to relieve and no Protestants in
other parts of the country, the conquest of Ireland was a political
necessity to King William. England was at this time in much the same
position that it had been in the days of Elizabeth, substituting the
name France for Spain. The continental powers were again united in a
supreme effort to stamp out Protestantism, and England once more
stood almost alone. In Spain and Portugal, heresy was of course still
punishable with death; the Pope had celebrated the Revocation of the
Edict of Nantes with a triumphal _Te Deum_; a terrible persecution was
raging not only throughout the Protestant districts of France but also
on the Rhine, in Hungary, Savoy and the Alpine Valleys; if Ireland
had remained a separate kingdom ruled by the ally and admirer of Louis
XIV, the next step would certainly have been an invasion of England
by the joint forces of France and Ireland. All that we in modern
times include in the term "religious liberty" hung on the issue of the
battle that was fought and won on the banks of the Boyne.



The flight of James II brings us to the era of the "penal laws." To
one who lives in the twentieth century and is embued with the spirit
of modern thought, the whole subject is more than painful--it is
detestable. But to pass it over in silence is impossible; and in order
to get a clear view of the position it is necessary to examine
what the penal laws were, what they were not, and what were the
circumstances of the time during which they were in force.

The penal laws were a series of enactments carefully planned so as to
harass the Roman Catholics at every moment of their lives, in the hope
of inducing them to abandon their religion. The unhappy people were
prohibited from becoming or voting for members of Parliament; they
were excluded from corporations, the army, the navy and the legal
profession. They were forbidden to bear arms, or even to possess a
horse worth more than L5. Education was denied to them, as they could
not send their sons to the university and were forbidden either to
have schools of their own in Ireland or to send their children abroad.
They were not allowed to possess freehold estates in land, and even as
to leaseholds they were seriously restricted. On the death of a Roman
Catholic his estate was divided amongst his children equally, unless
the eldest son became a Protestant, in which case he inherited the
whole. And as no Roman Catholic was allowed to act as a guardian, a
man never knew that if he should die his children might not be brought
up in a faith that he detested. The performance of Roman Catholic
worship was barely tolerated, as no bishops or other dignitaries were
allowed to remain in Ireland, and the only priests authorized to
say mass were those who were "registered" and had taken the oath of
abjuration--that is, an oath declaring that the Pretender had no right
to the throne.

Such in brief were those terrible statutes. But without attempting
to excuse them, there are various matters which must be taken into
account if we are to judge them fairly. In the first place, the
political aspect of the question should not be forgotten. The
Protestant minority might justly fear that if the Roman Catholic party
were as powerful as their numbers would naturally cause them to be,
they would aid in bringing about a French invasion for the restoration
of the Stuarts and the re-establishment of the system which had been
in evidence under James II. An army was actually formed in France, and
on more than one occasion was in readiness to start. The Stuarts were
regarded by the Pope as the rightful sovereigns. The Roman Catholic
prelates whose entry into Ireland was forbidden were appointed by
the Pretender and were his political agents; it was that fact, and no
doctrinal reason, that caused their expulsion. It is necessary to make
this quite clear, as there has been as much exaggeration on this point
as on most other subjects connected with Irish history. The words of
the "oath of abjuration" were as follows:

"I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I do believe in my
conscience that the person pretended to be Prince of Wales
during the life of the late King James and since his decease
taking upon himself the style and title of King of England by
the name of James III hath not any right or title whatever to
the crown of this realm."

A modern Roman Catholic writer has thus described the oath:--

"By the Oath of Abjuration the priest was ordered to swear
that the sacrifice of the mass and the invocation of the
Blessed Virgin and the saints were damnable and idolatrous. In
other words, the priest was ordered to apostatize, or fly for
his life."

And even if Roman Catholics took the oath of allegiance, the old
difficulty arose as to the papal right to depose princes and to order
their subjects to rebel. So late as 1768, when a declaration was drawn
up which it was hoped the leaders of the Roman Catholic party would
sign, so that the penal laws might be finally done away with, the
Papal Nuncio vetoed the proposal because the declaration contained a
reprobation of the doctrines that faith need not be kept with heretics
and that if the Pope banned a sovereign his subjects might depose and
slay him. It is but fair to add, however, that a large number of Roman
Catholics did sign the declaration; and the penal laws (which had been
relaxed from time to time when it was seen that the Irish took no
part in the Stuart rebellions of 1715 and 1745) were soon afterwards
practically abolished.

Then it must be borne in mind that the Irish penal laws, although
to some extent modelled on the legislation of Louis XIV against the
Huguenots, were absolutely insignificant compared with those which
were in force at the time in every Roman Catholic country in Europe.
Galling though the Irish laws were, they never went so far as to
make the mere holding of heretical opinions criminal. Thus no one in
Ireland was ever put to death for believing in transubstantiation;
whereas in one diocese of Portugal 20,000 people were sent to the
stake for denying it. As every one who has visited the Madrid picture
gallery will recollect, it was still the custom in the eighteenth
century for the King of Spain to preside in state at the burning of
heretics; and it was not until that century was drawing to a close
that it was for the first time enacted in Portugal that sentence of
death for heresy when passed by the ecclesiastical court should not be
carried into effect unless the order was countersigned by the king. In
France, for two or three heretics to meet for worship anywhere (their
churches had of course all been pulled down) was a crime punishable
with death; and any Huguenot caught whilst attempting to escape from
the country was sent to the galleys--a fate worse than mere death,
for it meant death by slow torture. And every child was forcibly
taken from its heretic parents at the age of five, and educated in a

But more than that: Roman Catholics who fled from the tyranny of the
penal laws at home had no scruple, when they reached the Continent, in
taking part in persecutions far more terrible than anything they had
seen in Ireland. During the dragonnades in Languedoc, Louis XIV's
Irish brigade joined eagerly in the butchery of old men, women
and children and the burning of whole villages. The same heroes
distinguished themselves by destroying everything they could find in
remote Alpine valleys so that the unfortunate Waldenses might die of
starvation. And the Irish troops under Lord Mountcashel aided in the
burning of 1,000 villages in the Palatinate of the Rhine, in which
all the inhabitants--men, women and children--were slain by the sword,
burnt to death, or left to perish from hunger. These persecutions were
practically brought to an end by the French Revolution and the rise
of modern ideas; but the ecclesiastical authorities, though they
have lost their power, have shown no sign of having changed their
principles. Even in the middle of the nineteenth century King Victor
Emmanuel was excommunicated by Pope Pius IX for allowing his Vaudois
subjects to build a church for themselves at Turin.

Of course it may be said with perfect truth that two blacks do not
make one white. Still, the constant complaints about the tyranny of
the penal laws have less force when they come from the representatives
of a party who acted in the same way themselves whenever they had the

It is indeed frequently urged as a matter of aggravation that whereas
other persecutions were those of a minority by a majority, this was of
a majority by a minority. To me, so far as this makes any difference
at all, it tells the other way. As a matter of morality, I fail to
see any difference; putting all the inhabitants of an Alpine valley
to death as heretics does not seem to me one whit the less horrible
because the sovereign also ruled a large Catholic population on
the plains. On the other hand, the fact that the Roman Catholics
in Ireland formed the majority of the population prevented the
persecution from being strictly carried out. It was comparatively
easy for Louis XIV to surround a heretic district with a cordon of
soldiers, and then draw them closer together searching every house as
they went, seizing the clergy and taking them off to the galleys; but
it was impossible to track unregistered priests through the mountains
and valleys of Munster. Hence the law as to the registration of
priests soon became a dead letter.

There was indeed one great difference, between Irish and continental
persecution. On the continent it was the holiest and best men who were
the keenest persecutors. (This may seem strange to modern readers;
but anyone who has studied the lives of Bossuet and San Carlo Borromeo
will admit that it is true.) Hence the persecution was carried out
with that vigour which was necessary to make it a success. In Spain,
if a heretic under torture or the fear of it consented to recant, the
Holy Office was not satisfied with a mere formal recantation; for the
rest of his life the convert was watched day and night to see that
there was no sign of back-sliding; and even the possession of a
fragment of the New Testament was considered as sufficient evidence
of a relapse to send the wretched man to the stake. Consequently, in a
generation or two heresy became as extinct as Christianity did amongst
the Kabyles of North Africa after the Mohammedan persecution. In
Ireland, however, persecution was always against the grain with
religiously-minded Protestants. Seven bishops protested against the
first enactment of the Penal Laws; and during the period when they
were in force, the bishops repeatedly spoke and voted in favour of
each proposed mitigation of them. (With this one may contrast the
action of the French bishops who on the accession of Louis XVI in
1774 presented an address to the new king urging him to increase the
persecution of the Huguenots which had become somewhat slack during
the later years of his predecessor. By the irony of fate the same men
were a few years later pleading vainly for the mercy which they had
never shown in the days of their power.) Nor was this tolerant feeling
confined to the bishops. By the aid of the Protestant gentry, the laws
were continually being evaded. Protestants appointed by the Court as
guardians of Roman Catholic children, used to carry out the wishes of
the Roman Catholic relations; Roman Catholic proprietors frequently
handed over their estates to Protestant friends as Trustees, and,
though such Trusts were of course not enforceable at law, there were
very few instances in which they were not faithfully performed. Many
strange stories are told of the evasions of the Acts. On one occasion
whilst it was still illegal for a popish recusant to own a horse of
a greater value than L5, a man met a Roman Catholic gentleman who
was riding a handsome horse; he held out L5 in one hand, and with the
other caught hold of the bridle. The rider, naturally infuriated at
this, struck the man with his whip so heavily that he fell down dead.
When he was tried for murder, the judge decided that as the man had
laid a hand on the bridle, the rider had reason to suppose that he
intended to take it as well as the horse, which would have been
an illegal act; consequently he was justified in defending himself
against highway robbery; and therefore the charge must be dismissed.
Again, a Roman Catholic proprietor found out that an effort was likely
to be made to deprive him of his estate. He rode up to Dublin on a
Saturday; on Sunday he received the Holy Communion at a Protestant
Church; on Monday he executed a deed transferring his estate to a
Protestant friend as Trustee; on Tuesday he was received back into
the Church of Rome; and on Wednesday he rode home again, to enjoy his
estate free from further molestation.

The schools which were founded in order to convert the rising
generation were a strange contrast to the admirably conducted
institutions established in France and Spain for a similar purpose.
They were so disgracefully mismanaged that the pupils who had passed
through them looked back on everything that had been taught them there
with a lifelong disgust.

It is needless to say that laws thus carried out were a dead failure
as far as winning converts was concerned. On the other hand, they
became in one sense the more galling as the enforcement of them fell
into the hands of a low class of informers who had no object beyond
making money for themselves. Still, public feeling was so strong that
by the middle of the century the laws had almost fallen into abeyance.
Brook, writing in 1762, says: "Though these laws are still in force,
it is long since they have been in action. They hang like a sword by a
thread over the heads of these people, and Papists walk under them in
security and peace; for whoever should adventure to cut this thread
would become ignominious and detestable." And in 1778 and 1782 (that
is, when, as an Irish Roman Catholic writer has pointed out, there was
still neither toleration nor peace for Protestant populations in any
Catholic state in Europe) the Irish Protestant Parliament formally
repealed nearly all the penal laws.

Probably their most lasting effect was that relating to the tenure
of land. If free purchase and sale regardless of religion had been
allowed throughout the eighteenth century, one may conjecture that
the effect of the Cromwellian confiscations would long since have died
away. But these laws perpetuated that peculiar state of things which
has been the cause of so much unhappiness in Ireland--the landlords
generally belonged to one religion, and their tenants and dependents
to another.

It may be asked, As these odious laws all came to an end generations
ago, what is the good of recalling the sorrows of the past which had
much better be forgotten? I reply, None whatever; and very glad I
should be if the whole subject were quietly dropped. But unfortunately
that is just what the Roman Catholic party in Ireland will not do. One
of the ways in which religious animosity is being kept alive (and I
regret to say is being steadily increased) is by the teaching in
the Roman Catholic schools of exaggerated accounts of the penal laws
without referring to any of the mitigating circumstances. Even in the
present year--1913--the Lenten pastoral of one of the bishops goes
back to the same old subject. If other countries acted in a similar
manner, how could the grievances of bygone centuries ever be
forgotten? The Jews, cruelly treated though they were during the time
of the Norman kings, do not harp on the subject in England to-day. It
may be doubted whether all the religious persecutions of Europe
put together were as great a disgrace to Christendom as the slave
trade--in which, I am ashamed to say, England strove to obtain the
pre-eminence amongst European nations and which she forced upon her
colonies against their will. Yet I should regret it deeply if that
were the one passage of history selected for study in the schools and
colleges for coloured pupils in the West Indies at the present day.
When a man who has suffered wrong in former years broods over it
instead of thinking of his present blessings and his future prospects,
one may be sure that he is a man who will not succeed in life; and
what is true of individuals is true also of nations.

The expression "Protestant ascendancy," although it never came into
use during the period with which we are dealing, has so frequently
since then been employed with reference to it, that it is necessary
to explain its meaning. Probably no word in the English language
has suffered more from being used in different senses than the word
"Protestant." In Ireland it frequently used to be, and still sometimes
is, taken as equivalent to "Anglican" or "Episcopalian"; to an
Irishman of the last century it would have appeared quite natural to
speak of "Protestants and Presbyterians," meaning thereby two distinct
bodies. This is a matter of historical importance; for so far from
the Presbyterian element being favoured during the period of the Penal
Laws, the English Toleration Act had not been extended to Ireland;
Presbyterians were by the sacramental test excluded from all municipal
offices; their worship, though never in practice interfered with,
remained technically illegal. Their share in "Protestant ascendancy"
was therefore very limited.

But if the Established Church was the one favoured body, it had to pay
dearly for its privileges. In truth, the state of the Irish Church
at this period of its history, was deplorable. All the positions of
value--bishoprics, deaneries and important parishes--were conferred
on Englishmen, who never resided in their cures, but left the duties
either to be performed by half-starved deputies or not at all. Many
of the churches were in ruins, and the glebes had fallen into decay;
a union of half-a-dozen parishes would scarcely supply a meagre
salary for one incumbent. A large proportion of the tithes had been
appropriated by laymen; how small a sum actually reached the clergy
is shown by the fact that the first-fruits (that is, the year's income
paid by incumbents on their appointment) did not amount to more than
L500 a year in all. It may be that the standard of religious life
was not lower in Ireland than it was in England when the
spiritually-minded non-Jurors had been driven out and Hanoverian
deadness was supreme; but in England there was no other Church to form
a contrast. In Ireland the apathy and worldliness of the Protestant
clergy stood out in bold relief against the heroic devotion of the
priests and friars; and at the time when the unhappy peasants, forced
to pay tithes to a Church which they detested, were ready to starve
themselves to support their own clergy and to further the cause of
their religion, the well-to-do Protestant graziers and farmers were
straining the law so as to evade the payment of tithes, and never
thought of doing anything further to support the Church to which they
were supposed to belong. (It is but fair, however, to state that
this condition of things has long since passed away; the Evangelical
revival breathed new life into the dry bones of Irish Protestantism.)

But it was not merely in religious matters that Ireland suffered
during this melancholy period. Students of modern history whose
researches usually commence with the early part of the nineteenth
century, are wont to gather from text-books the idea that the policy
of the manufacturing party in England has always been liberal,
progressive and patriotic; whereas that of the landed interest has
been retrograde and selfish. There cannot be a greater delusion.
English manufacturers have been just as self-seeking and narrow-minded
as other people--no more and no less; they have been quite as ready
to sacrifice the interests of others when they believed them to be
opposed to their own, as the much-abused landowners. At this time
every nation in Europe regarded the outlying portions of the Empire
as existing only for the benefit of the centre; in fact, the English
development of the "Colonial System" even then was more liberal than
those of Spain or Holland. The English system, if perfectly carried
out, was by no means unfair. The ground idea was that the mother
country voluntarily restricted herself in matters of trade for the
benefit of the Colonies, and the Colonies had to do the same for the
benefit of the mother country. Thus, when England refused to admit
timber from the Baltic in order to benefit the Canadian lumber trade;
and placed a prohibitive duty on sugar from Cuba so as to secure the
English market for Jamaica; it was but fair that the trade in other
articles from Canada and Jamaica should be directed to England. To
say that the whole thing was a mistake, as such restrictions really
injured both parties, is no answer, as no one at that time dreamed of
such a thing as free trade. The real answer is that it was impossible
to keep the balance true; some slight change of circumstances might
render that unfair which up to then had been perfectly equal. And
as the English merchants were on the spot and commanded votes in
Parliament, any injustice against them would be speedily rectified;
the colonists living at a distance and having no means of making their
voice heard, would be left to suffer.

In applying the colonial system to Ireland, it is true that in theory
England undertook to protect her by means of the British army and
navy, from foreign foes; but beyond that, the system was to Ireland
all loss and no gain. Every branch of Irish industry was deliberately
ruined by the English Government. By the Navigation Act of 1663, trade
between Ireland and the British Colonies was forbidden; soon after,
the importation of Irish beef, mutton, pork and butter into
England was prohibited; then, at the request of the English woollen
manufacturers, the export of woollen goods from Ireland to any country
was stopped; and finally, with a refinement of cruelty, the export of
linen articles--the one industry that had hitherto been left to
the unfortunate country--was restricted to the coarsest and poorest
varieties, for fear of offending the Dutch.

The result of all this wretched misgovernment was not merely
destitution bordering on famine, but a wholesale emigration. Whilst
the Roman Catholics were leaving the country to avoid the penal laws,
the most skilful and industrious of the artizan class,--the very
backbone of the nation--were being driven out by the prohibition of
their trades. It is said that no less than 30,000 men were thrown out
of employment by the destruction of the woollen industry alone. These
were nearly all Protestants; to encourage them would have done more to
Protestantize the country than all the penal laws and charter schools
put together; but they were ruthlessly sacrificed to the greed of the
English manufacturers. Some went to the Continent, many more to New
England and the other American colonies, where they prospered, and
they and their sons became some of Washington's best soldiers in the
War of Independence.

It was only natural that thoughtful men in Ireland should cast envious
eyes on Scotland, which had recently secured the benefit of union
with England, and consequently was able to develop her commerce
and manufactures unhindered. But though the subject of a union was
discussed, and even referred to in addresses from the Irish Parliament
to Queen Anne, no active steps were taken.

Still, in considering these commercial restrictions, as in the case of
the penal laws, we must not lose sight of the fact that the state
of circumstances we are dealing with has long passed away. It is
necessary for a historian to refer to it, even if he finds it hard to
do so in a perfectly dispassionate way; but it is waste of time and
energy for the present generation to go on brooding over woes which
had come to an end before their grandfathers were born. Yet that is
what the Nationalists of to-day are doing. Not long ago, the Old
Boys' Association of an Irish Roman Catholic College resolved, very
laudably, to found an annual prize at their alma mater. The subject
they selected was an essay on the treatment by England of Irish
industries before the year 1800! Had it been a Scotch or a German
College, the subject chosen would probably have been, The progress
in scientific knowledge during the last century, or, Improvements in
means of travel since 1820; and one must ask, which subject of study
is likely to be most profitable to young men who have to make their
way in the modern world?

It may be asked, why did the Irish Parliament do nothing to stay this
national ruin? The answer is that the Irish Parliament possessed very
little power. The Bill of Rights of course did not apply to Ireland;
general elections were very rare, and a large number of members
were paid officers of the Government; the English Parliament had a
co-ordinate power of legislating for Ireland; and since Poyning's Act
(as explained by the declaratory Act of George I) was still in force,
no Bill could be introduced into the Irish Parliament until it had
been approved both by the Irish and the English Councils; and the
Irish Parliament might then pass it or reject it but had no power to
amend it.

And the use which the English Government made of the Irish Parliament
was as disgraceful as their treatment of Irish industries. Miserably
poor though the country was, it was burdened by the payment of
pensions of a nature so scandalous that the English Parliament even of
that period would not have tolerated them.

The conditions of land tenure also added to the miseries of the
country. It is often said that the land belonged to wealthy English
absentees, and the unfortunate occupiers, who had no security of
tenure, were ground down by the payment of exorbitant rents. This is
literally true; but, like most partial statements, misleading. Much
of the land was owned by wealthy Englishmen--which of itself was a
serious evil; but they let it in large farms at low rents on long
leases, in the hope that the occupiers would execute their own
improvements. Instead of that, however, their tenants sublet their
holdings in smaller lots to others; and these subtenants did the same
again; thus there were sometimes three or four middlemen, and the rent
paid by the actual occupier to his immediate landlord was ten times
the amount the nominal owner received. As the rate of wages
was miserably low, and the rent of a cabin and a plot of ground
scandalously high, how the wretched occupiers managed to keep body and
soul together is a mystery. Much has been written about the useless,
dissipated lives of these middlemen or "squireens"; and no doubt it is
to a great extent true, although, like everything else in Ireland, it
has been exaggerated. Travellers have told us of some landlords
who resided on their estates, did their utmost to improve them, and
forbade subletting (in spite of the unpopularity caused by their doing
so). And one of the remarkable features of later Irish history is that
whenever there was a period of acute difficulty and danger there were
always country gentlemen to be found ready to risk their lives and
fortunes or to undertake the thankless and dangerous duties of county

It is curious how close a parallel might be drawn between the way
in which Norman Ireland was Ersefied and that in which Cromwellian
Ireland was Catholicized. Many of those who became large landowners
by the Cromwellian confiscations, having no religious prejudices (some
might say, no religious or humane feelings), when the leases of
their tenants fell in, put the farms up to auction regardless of the
feelings of the occupiers. As the Roman Catholics were content with
a simpler manner of life than the Protestants, they generally offered
higher rents; the dispossessed Protestants, driven from their homes,
joined their brethren in America. Then in the South, the poorer of
Cromwell's settlers, in some cases, neglected by their own pastors,
joined the religion of the majority; in others, intermarrying with the
natives, allowed their children to be brought up in the faith of their
mothers. Hence we arrive at the curious fact that at the present day
some of the most ardent Romanists and violent Nationalists, who are
striving to have the Irish language enforced all over the country,
and pose as the representatives of ancient Irish septs, are really the
descendants of Cromwell's soldiers.

So passed the greater part of the eighteenth century; and the unhappy
country seemed as far off from progress and prosperity as ever.



When we come to the reign of George III we have arrived at a specially
interesting period of Irish history. For we are no longer dealing with
a state of society that has wholly passed away; the great events that
occurred towards the close of the eighteenth century are continually
referred to as bearing, at least by analogy, on the questions of the
present day. It is for the honest historian to examine how far that
analogy is real, and how far it is delusive.

For some time after the accession of George III, the state of Ireland
was almost as miserable as before. Trade and manufactures being nearly
crushed out, want of employment brought the people in the towns to the
brink of starvation. In the country, although the middle classes were
on the whole becoming more prosperous, the condition of the labourers
and cottiers was wretched in the extreme. It is not to be wondered at
therefore that we now hear of the commencement of two movements which
were destined later on to play so important a part in the history of
Ireland--the agitation against the payment of tithes and the rise of
secret societies. Few men at the present day could be found who would
attempt to justify the tithe system as it prevailed in the eighteenth
century. It was not merely that the starving peasantry were forced to
contribute towards the maintenance of a religion in which they did not
believe, but the whole manner of levying and collecting the tithes
was bad; and what made them still more annoying was the fact that the
clergy never thought of performing the duties for which tithes were
supposed to exist; the large majority of the rectors did not even
reside in their parishes. The principal secret societies were the
Oakboys and the Steelboys of the north, and the Whiteboys of
the south. The northern societies soon came to an end; but the
organization of the Whiteboys continued to spread, and for a time
it assumed alarming proportions. Commencing as a war against tithe
proctors, the enclosure of commons, and the substitution of grazing
land for tillage, they went on to commit outrages of various sorts,
and something like a reign of terror spread over a large tract of
country. But it may safely be said that generally speaking their
conduct was not nearly so violent as that of other secret societies of
a later date; and the evidence of any foreign influence being at
work, or of religious animosity being connected with the movement, is

It is interesting to observe that, whenever there was a violent and
abnormal outbreak of crime, the Irish Parliament did not hesitate to
pass special laws to meet the case. Such measures as the Whiteboy Act
of 1787, or the Insurrection Act and the Habeas Corpus Suppression
Act of 1796, which were readily passed whilst the Irish Parliament was
completely independent, are frequently referred to by modern agitators
as amongst the brutal Coercion Acts which the tyranny of England has
forced on an innocent people.

The harshness of the Penal Laws was steadily being relaxed. All
restrictions on worship, or the number of clergy allowed, had long
since fallen into abeyance. Roman Catholic students were admitted
into Trinity College, Dublin; and the authorities of the University
expressed their readiness to appoint a Divinity Professor of their own
faith for them if they wished it. The restrictions on property were
becoming obsolete; and political restrictions were not felt so keenly
since most of the Roman Catholics would have been ineligible for the
franchise on the ground of their poverty even if the stumbling block
of religion had been removed. And the loyal sentiments expressed by
the Roman Catholics made the best of the Protestants all the more
anxious to repeal the laws which they had never regarded with favour.
Then amongst educated people not only in Ireland but elsewhere,
religion was ceasing to be the great line of cleavage; other
matters--political, social, and commercial--were occupying men's
thoughts and forming new combinations.

The political state of the country was peculiar. The real government
was carried on by the Lord Lieutenant and his officials; but as the
hereditary revenue did not supply funds sufficient for that purpose,
it was necessary to have recourse to Parliament. And the constitution
of that Parliament was as extraordinary as most things in Ireland.
A session was usually held every second year, but a Parliament might
last for a whole reign. The House of Commons consisted of 300 members,
of whom only 64 represented counties, and most of the rest nominally
sat for small boroughs, but really were appointed by certain
individuals. It was at one time computed that 124 members were
nominated by 53 peers, whilst 91 others were chosen by 52 commoners.
A large number of the members--a third of the whole house, it is
said--were in receipt of pensions, or held offices of profit under the
Crown. Of course there was no such thing as party government--in fact,
parties did not exist, though individuals might sometimes vote against
the wish of the government. The Lord Lieutenant, however, managed to
retain a majority by what would now be called flagrant and wholesale
bribery. Peerages, sinecures and pensions were bestowed with a lavish
hand; and every appointment, ecclesiastical or civil, was treated as
a reward for political services. But history affords many instances of
how assemblies constituted in what seems to be the most unsatisfactory
way possible, have been remarkable for the ability and patriotism they
have shown; and certainly this was the case with that unrepresentative
collection of Protestant landlords, Dublin barristers, and paid
officials, who composed the Irish Parliament. A "National" party arose
(I shall presently explain what was the meaning attached to that word
at the time) who strove to win for Ireland the laws which in England
had been enacted long before and which were regarded as the very
foundations of British liberty. Statutes were passed limiting the
duration of Parliament to eight years; establishing the _Habeas
Corpus_; and making judges irremoveable. Afterwards, most of the
Penal Laws were repealed; and at the same time the disabilities of the
Protestant Dissenters were abolished.

But meanwhile foreign affairs were tending to bring about changes yet
more sweeping. When England went to war with both France and Spain,
the condition of Ireland was well-nigh desperate. The country was
almost denuded of regular troops; steps had indeed been taken for the
establishment of a militia, and arms had actually been purchased; but
in the hopelessly insolvent condition of the Irish Exchequer, it was
impossible to do anything further. And a French invasion might arrive
at any moment. At this crisis the country gentlemen came forward. They
formed their tenants and dependants into regiments of volunteers, of
which they took command themselves, and strained their resources to
the utmost in order to bear the expense of the undertaking. And
the rank and file--farmers and labourers--seemed fired by the same
enthusiasm. The movement spread rapidly over the country, but it
possessed more vitality in Ulster than elsewhere. It soon became
evident that Ulster volunteers may form a body not to be disregarded.

The troubles of England, however, were not limited to the Continent.
The American War broke out. We, who view the question impartially
through the long vista of years, can see that there was much to be
said for the English claim. The mother country had been brought to the
verge of bankruptcy by a long and exhausting war waged with France for
the protection of the American colonies; surely it was only fair that
those colonies, who had taken but a very small part in the war, should
at least bear a fraction of the cost. But the cry of "No taxation
without representation" was raised; the Americans rebelled; and
England was placed in the humiliating position of being defeated by
her own colonists. During that period Ireland remained thoroughly
loyal; the efforts of Franklin and his party to enlist Ireland
on their side were as complete a failure as those of the French
emissaries had been shortly before. But it was inevitable that the
success of the American revolution should have a strong effect on
Irish affairs. Amongst the northern Presbyterians there had always
been a feeling somewhat akin to Republicanism; and (as we have seen)
many of their relations were fighting in Washington's army. Then
in Ireland there was something much worse than taxation without
representation: the English Parliament, in which Ireland had no part,
claimed to legislate for Ireland and was actually at that moment
keeping the country in a state of semi-starvation by imposing severe
restrictions on commerce. Irish politicians read the offers of
conciliation made by the English Government to the revolted colonies,
in which not only was the power of taxation given up and freedom of
internal legislation established, but all power of the Parliament of
Great Britain over America was renounced; and began to ask whether
England could withhold from loyal Irishmen the boons which she offered
to rebellious Americans. The claims were urged in Parliament and
at meetings of the volunteers and other public bodies; the English
Government for some time refused to grant any concession; but at
length, fearing an Irish Revolution, gave way on every point. They
granted, in fact, as an Irish statesman expressed it, "everything
short of separation." First (in spite of the opposition of the English
manufacturing classes) all restrictions on trade were swept away;
then, in 1782, the Declaratory Act of George I, by virtue of which the
English Parliament had claimed the right to legislate for Ireland, was
repealed, and with it went the right of the English House of Lords to
act as a court of final appeal for Ireland; the restrictions imposed
by Poyning's Act on the legislative powers of the Irish Parliament
were abolished; and the Irish Executive was made practically dependent
on the Irish Parliament by the Mutiny Act, which had previously been
perpetual, being limited to two years.

Thus Ireland became a nation in a sense she had never been before. The
only tie to any power beyond sea was that the King of England was also
King of Ireland; Ireland could legislate for itself, and enter into
commercial treaties with foreign powers; but, on the other hand, it
had to pay its own debts and provide its own army and navy.

As Grattan was not merely the most prominent politician of the period,
but also the leader of the now triumphant "National" party, we may
fairly take the views expressed by him as representative of those of
the party that followed him. A study of his speeches and letters will
show how utterly different were the ideas and aims of the National
party of 1782 from those of the Nationalists of to-day. In the first
place, Grattan was intensely loyal; that is to say, it never occurred
to him that Ireland could ever wish to be independent in the sense of
not being subject to the King of England, or could seek to be united
to any other power. Secondly, he was intensely aristocratic. His idea
was that Government should and would always be in the hands of the
propertied and educated classes; that Parliament should consist of
country gentlemen and professional men from the towns, elected on a
narrow franchise. (It must be remembered that the country gentlemen
had recently given evidence of their patriotic zeal by the
inauguration of the Volunteer movement; and the ability and eloquence
of the Irish Bar at that period is proverbial). Thirdly, he regarded
Protestant ascendancy as a fundamental necessity. It is true that
other politicians at the time saw that they were faced with a serious
difficulty: the very principles to which they had appealed and by
virtue of which they had obtained their legislative independence
made it illogical that three-fourths of the community should be
unrepresented; whereas if votes were given to the Roman Catholic
majority it was inevitable that they would soon become eligible for
seats in the Legislature; and if so, the Protestant minority must be
swamped, and the country ruled by a very different class and according
to very different ideas from those which prevailed in the Parliament
of which Grattan was a member. And would a Roman Catholic Parliament
and nation care to remain subject to a King of England whose title
depended on his being a Protestant? Grattan, however, swept all such
considerations aside with an easy carelessness. He believed that under
the influences of perfect toleration large numbers of Roman Catholics
would conform; and the remainder, quite satisfied with their position,
would never dream of attacking the Church or any other existing

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