Ireland and Her Story by Justin McCarthy - 1903

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Index




A NEW life was growing up in Ireland-a life of literature and patriotic move­ment. Ireland had had no literature pecu­liarly her own since the native language had ceased to be the tongue of the majority among her people. There had been Irish literary men at all times, but they wrote in English and in the mode of that English literature to which they belonged. O'Con­nell's movement brought for the first time a genuine Irish literature, inspired by the feelings, the traditions, and the very atmo­sphere of the country, although written in English. The Nation newspaper was started in October, 1842. Its founders were Charles Gavan Duffy, John Blake Dillon, and Thomas


Davis. Charles Gavan Duffy, who died quite recently, took a leading part in Irish political movements, and was tried more than once on a charge of sedition, though in each case the trial ended in a disagreement of the jury. He sat in the House of Commons for a short time. He emigrated to Australia, entered the Parliament of Victoria, and held high office there, becoming Prime Minister in one administration, and afterwards Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. In his later years he returned to Europe, where he lived for the most part on the Riviera, but he several times revisited England and his native country.

John Blake Dillon was a barrister of large practice in Dublin. After the break up of the political movement with which he was connected he found a refuge in the United States, where he followed the profession of the law with great success. In later years he returned to Ireland, became a member of the House of Commons, and won a distinct reputation there. He died in his native country. The career of Thomas Davis was very short. He died when he had only passed his twenty-ninth year, but he left a name which will always be remembered in his own country and wherever ballad poetry is appreciated. The three men were all very young when they founded the Nation, and they all had high literary gifts, which won the


admiration even of their political enemies. The Nation was the expression in prose and verse of the country's yearnings for political emancipation, and for the revival of a native literature. It found readers in every home where Irishmen had national sentiments. The paper was for a long time thoroughly constitutional in its tone, but those who managed it and supported it soon chafed against O'Connell's creed, that no political cause would justify bloodshed. A number of young men began to rise into eminence who refused to accept this doctrine, and the effect of their writings and speeches was to damage severely the influence of O'Connell over the people of Ireland.

O'Connell's power probably reached its zenith when he was put upon his trial in 1843, along with Duffy and other leading Irishmen, on a charge of conspiracy and sedition. The charge was mainly founded on public speeches made by O'Connell and others. In February, 1844, after a long legal process, he was convicted and sentenced to fine and imprisonment. The manner, how­ever, in which the Crown prosecutors of Dublin had arranged for a jury certain to convict the accused, the process familiarly known as "jury packing," was made the occasion of an appeal which came before the House of Lords in the following September, and the judgment of the Criminal Court was


reversed by a majority of the Law Lords. On this occasion Lord Denman declared that the course taken by the Crown prosecutors in forming the jury was one calculated to make the criminal law of the country " a mockery, a delusion, and a snare."

After this great triumph for O'Connell the remainder of the " Liberator's " career is but a story of physical decay and of death. The Young Ireland party had broken away from his dominion and set up an agitation of their own. Two men had arisen among them of quite remarkable powers. One of these was John Mitchel, and the other was Thomas Francis Meagher. Mitchel was an uncom­promising Nationalist, who went in not merely for constitutional agitation, but for Ireland's independence, her complete sever­ance from the British Empire. Meagher was one of the most brilliant orators Ireland had ever produced. Irishmen have often had great orators among them, but Meagher was counted among the most gifted of his race even in the days of O'Connell and Sheil. His style of oratory was fervid, glowing, passionate, rich with dazzling imagery and poetic allusions drawn from many literatures. Criticism might find fault with its style, but there was no question of its influence upon the listeners.

Another leader of the Young Ireland party was William Smith O'Brien, whose family


claimed direct descent from one of the Irish kings, and had for its head a Marquis in the British peerage. Duffy and Dillon for a time kept the Nation to its position as the organ of constitutional agitation, on the ground that there appeared no chance for any other kind of agitation ; but they would not submit them­selves or their journal to the pacific pledges O'Connell endeavoured to exact. In 1846 there was an almost total failure of the potato crop throughout the greater part of Ireland, and the result was a famine, especially in the south and west, in the winter of that year and many months of the next. The whole civilized world was roused to pity and sym­pathy, and from the farthest regions of the earth the help of the charitable came in. That help was sadly wanted, for the measures taken by the Government at home in the first instance proved pitiably inadequate. Red tape was allowed to interfere with prompti­tude in official action, and the peasantry were dying by hundreds while the authorities were considering how the distribution of relief could best be reconciled with the rules of political economy.

One great, although indirect, result of the Irish famine was the triumph of the principle of Free Trade in British financial policy. But this was yet to come; and meanwhile the famine was doing its grim work in Ireland. Men, women, and children were starving in


towns and villages and on hillsides, and the bewildered parochial authorities were not able to provide coffins enough for the burial of hunger's victims. O'Connell's health utterly broke down under this new national calamity. His last speech in the House of Commons was delivered on February 8, 1847. It was an appeal to Parliament and the Government to deal promptly and liberally with Ireland's need. He spoke in weak, broken, and some­times almost inaudible tones, contrasting strangely with the well-remembered thrill of that voice which had so often held the House spellbound. O'Connell's physicians ordered him to seek rest in some warmer climate, and he set out for Rome, where it was believed that he wished his life should end. He did not reach his goal, for he broke down com­pletely at Genoa, and died there on May 15, 1847. O'Connell, dying, bequeathed his heart to Rome, and it rests there in the Church of St. Agatha. His body was removed to Dublin, and lies in Glasnevin Cemetery. Even those who are disposed to criticise him most severely will not deny that Daniel O'Connell's resting-place in Glasnevin is the grave of a great man who truly loved his country.

The Irish national movement soon broke its constitutional bounds. John Mitchel gave up his connection with the Nation and started a weekly journal of his own, the United Irishman,


in which he advocated a movement for the absolute independence of Ireland. The Revo­lution which overthrew Louis Philippe broke out, and France became, for the second time, a Republic. Several of the Young Irelanders undertook a mission to France for the purpose of obtaining from the Republican Govern­ment help in Ireland's effort for independence. John Mitchel was put on his trial in Dublin because of articles which had appeared in his paper. He was charged with treason-felony, a new offence created by special legislation. Up to that time spoken or written sedition, when no act of rebellion or attack on the life of the Sovereign had been committed, could only be visited with a comparatively light punishment; but the new statute made such sedition felonious and liable to very severe penalties. Mitchel was found guilty, and made no attempt whatever to evade the action of the law. He was defended by Robert Holmes, a great Irish advocate, brother - in - law of Robert Emmet, whose speech on behalf of his client proclaimed his full sympathy with the sentiments for which Mitchel stood on his trial. After the verdict of guilty had been pronounced Mitchel made a short speech from the dock, declaring his absolute adhesion to the principles for which he was arraigned. He was sentenced to trans­portation for fourteen years, and carried off at once to Bermuda and afterwards to Australia.

THE RISING OF 1848 165

In the summer of 1848 the rebellion broke out under the leadership of William Smith O'Brien, and proved a complete failure. No other result could reasonably have been expected. Many of the Young Irelanders were totally opposed to so precipitate an attempt, but Smith O'Brien was determined to go on, and those who had worked with him were unwilling to hold back. No systematic provision had been made of weapons or stores, and even in that part of the country where the rising took place the majority of the people did not know that their leaders had come from Dublin to open a campaign of rebellion. The whole struggle began and ended in an encounter with the police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary, and not even a regiment of soldiers had to be called into action. Smith O'Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, and others were arrested almost immediately. John Blake Dillon escaped first to France and then to America. He had entirely opposed the premature and un­prepared attempt, but as his leader would go on Dillon stood beside him at Ballingarry, where his tall form might have seemed to invite a policeman's bullet. A special Corn-mission was held during the autumn in the assize town of Clonmel, Tipperary, where Smith O'Brien, Meagher, and two of their fellow - prisoners were charged with High Treason. They were found guilty, and con-


demned to death with all the accompany­ing horrors then legal. The sentence was commuted to one of transportation for life. The prisoners were sent to the convict settle­ments in Australia. In 1852 Meagher escaped from the colony and went to the United States, where he fought bravely for the North during the great Civil War. He lost his life by accident: he fell off a steamer in the Missouri and was drowned in July, 1867, in his forty-fourth year.

Smith O'Brien was conditionally released in February, 1854, the stipulation being that he must not return to any part of the United Kingdom. In 1856 he received a free pardon, and was allowed to go back to his native country. In 1864 he died at Bangor, North Wales, and his remains were removed to a churchyard in the county of Limerick, where his tomb may now be seen. John Mitchel settled in the United States, and conducted a paper in Richmond during the Civil War. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the South, and, to the great regret of most of his admirers, he proclaimed himself a supporter of slavery. After the Civil War he lived in New York, and there published a newspaper called the Irish Citizen. In January, 1875, he paid a visit to Ireland, and was received with much enthusiasm. A vacancy shortly after­wards occurred in the Parliamentary repre­sentation of the county of Tipperary, and


Mitchel in his absence-he had gone back to America-was elected without opposition. He returned to Ireland immediately, but was in such declining health that when he at­tended a meeting in Cork his speech had to be read for him by John Dillon, then a very young man, son of his old political asso­ciate John Blake Dillon, and now a leading member of the Irish party in the House of Commons. An objection was raised to Mitchel taking his seat on the ground that he was a convicted felon who had not worked out his sentence. A long debate took place, the result being that a large majority of votes declared the election void, and ordered the issue of a new writ. A second election took place, and Mitchel was re-elected by a majority of three to one over a Conservative. Mitchel died a few days after the election, at the age of fifty-nine. He was not a practical politician, and he held some opinions which many of his warmest admirers could not accept; but there can be no question of his sincerity, and he was one of the most powerful and brilliant prose writers of his time. The essence of politics, according to Macaulay, is compromise, and compromise was a quality which never belonged to Mitchel's nature.

After the failure of the rebellion of 1848 the Irish national cause, so far as Parlia­mentary life was concerned, became a con­tinuous struggle for the amelioration of the


Irish land tenure system and for a nearer approach to religious equality. The effects of the famine were long felt, and emigration to America grew more and more. Those who emigrated were for the most part the young, strong, and enterprising, and those left behind were the least capable of effecting the industrial and social regeneration of Ireland. The population of the country declined steadily year after year, and has been declining to the present day. A new Ireland sprang up in America, where the Irish emigrants found profitable work on the expanses of land and in the great cities and towns. Irishmen of capacity began to take influential positions and to hold high offices in the most prosperous and progressive States. The population of Ireland now is probably hardly more than a quarter of what it was in O'Connell's earlier days, and emigration goes steadily on. Ire­land still sent her representatives to the House of Commons, but they found work enough to do there in the effort to obtain legislation for the benefit or the rescue of the Irish tenant, and for many years little was heard about the legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland. Nothing more was heard of Repeal, and the watchword "Home Rule" had not yet been adopted. But the literature of Young Ireland had made its mark and was maintaining its influence.


It had revived in new form the old-time literary characteristics of the Irish people. Its ballads were sung and its stories were told among the young men and women of city and country all over the island.

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