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




AN effort which at one time seemed very hopeful was made by the Government for the diffusion of education in Ireland. This consisted in the establishment of the Queen's Colleges and the Queen's University in 1847. The Colleges, three in number, were founded in Belfast, Cork, and Galway. The Queen's University, to which the collegiate institutions belonged, was in Dublin. The Colleges were unsectarian in character, and were open to students of all denominations. The character and method of the education deserves praise, and many of the professors were men of the highest standing in literature or science. But the scheme did not succeed, chiefly because secular education was condemned by the Catholic Church, and a large proportion of the population held aloof from " the Godless


Colleges," as they were often termed. Re­peated legislative dealings with the Irish tithes system had done much to relieve the country from the fierce struggles between tithe-owner and tithe-payer, and the dises­tablishment and disendowment of the Anglican Church in Ireland was not far off.

At this time a political organization called the Fenian Brotherhood was started in the United States, the name Fenian being taken from the ancient history of Ireland, in which it represented a member of the national militia. The name was happily chosen for its especial purpose, because it appealed to national sympathy, and seemed to bring the Irish exile in America and in England back into association with the traditions of his people.

One of the founders of the Fenian Brother­hood was James Stephens, who had been "out" with Smith O'Brien in 1848, and his leadership of the Fenian movement was a link between the present and the past. The Fenians were organized by secret enrolment, and their declared object was to make Ireland an independent republic. Stephens came to Ireland to carry on the work there, was arrested and committed to prison, but con­trived to make his escape by a combination of cleverness and daring. The Irish Fenians in America organized an invasion of Canada in May, 1866, occupied Fort Erie, and at


first drove back the Canadian Volunteers; but the invaders were speedily driven back in their turn.

In England the Fenians got up a plan for seizing Chester Castle, where arms were believed to be stored, moving on to Holy-head, taking possession of any large steamers there, and accomplishing an invasion of Ireland. The plan was brought to the knowledge of the authorities before it was put into action, and it failed. In March, 1867, an attempt at a general rising was hazarded in Ireland, but it, too, proved a complete failure. Numbers of the Fenians were made prisoners, and many arrests took place in England as well as in Ireland. In Manchester a daring and successful attempt was made by a body of Fenians to rescue two prisoners from a prison van, and in the attempt to break the lock of the van by a pistol bullet, a policeman inside who had charge of the prisoners was killed. Three of the Fenians were tried, con­victed, and sentenced to death on the charge of murder. An earnest effort was made to save their lives, on the ground that the death of the policeman was the result merely of accident, and not of an attempt to kill, and that although the rescue was an illegal act, the men engaged in it ought not to be treated as common murderers for the one calamity which it unhappily caused. John Bright and John Stuart Mill gave all the weight of their


eloquence and their argument to obtain pardon for the condemned Fenians. Alger­non Charles Swinburne addressed a noble poetic appeal for mercy to the people of England. These efforts failed. The three convicted men were put to death, and have ever since been known among Irish nation­alists all over the world as " The Manchester Martyrs." T. D. Sullivan's " Irish National Anthem " commemorates their martyrdom.

On December 13, 1867, an attempt was made by Fenians to blow up Clerkenwell Prison, with the hope of rescuing one of their comrades. The attempt failed, and the explo­sion caused the death of some entirely innocent and unconcerned persons, and created a feeling of horror throughout the whole country. Sober - minded observers feared that excited English crowds might attempt reprisals on some of the Irish in the Metro­polis, but no such acts of vengeance were committed. The principal offender in the Clerkenwell explosion was tried, found guilty, and executed, and the attempt upon the prison was utterly condemned by Irishmen as well as by Englishmen. Among the Fenians in America there was a certain dynamite party who believed that the English people could be frightened into measures of justice for Ireland by plots for the destruction of human life in English cities. An attempt made to blow up London Bridge on Decem-


ber 13, 1884, and one to blow up the Houses of Parliament on January 24, 1885, both ended in utter failure. It ought to be said that the recognised Fenian leaders never lent any countenance to acts of this atrocious character. Some of them were men of high honour and pure motives. Two of the Fenians who were actually condemned to death afterwards won credit and distinction in peaceful pursuits. One of these was John Boyle O'Reilly, whose death-sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, and who was transported to Western Australia. He contrived to escape, and made his way to America. He settled in Boston, rose to great distinction as a journalist, an author, and an orator, and was made welcome in Boston's most cultured literary society at a time when Emerson, Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes were still living. The other James F. X. O'Brien, has been for many years a respected member of the House of Commons, and a devoted adherent of the Irish National party. Mr. O'Brien had the curious distinction of being the last man in these countries on whom the now abolished sentence of death with drawing and quarter­ing included was passed.

The constitutional agitation, which had been interrupted by the Fenian projects, soon again became active. It found a leader in Mr. Isaac Butt, the eloquent advocate who


had defended some of the prisoners at the Clonmel Special Commission, and had made himself prominent as a sympathizer with Ireland's claims for a national Parliament. Butt was a Protestant, and was a Conserva­tive at first, but he had become thoroughly sympathetic with Ireland's cause. Under his leadership the name Home Rule was first given to the new constitutional claim. Butt's • policy was much too slow and regular for the energy which was once again rising among Irishmen. His plan was to bring forward every Session a motion in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. The motion was introduced by him in an able and argumentative speech, was the subject of a formal debate, and, when the division was taken, was found to have only a very small minority of supporters. The question was then shelved until the next Session.

Some younger Irishmen were meanwhile coming into the House. One of these was a man qualified and destined to make for him­self an enduring name in Ireland's history. This man was Charles Stewart Parnell, who soon put himself at the head of a new and original Parliamentary movement. Parnell was an Irishman by birth and residence, but he belonged to an old English family of long descent who had been settled in Cheshire for generations before any of them obtained property in Ireland and made a home there.


One of his ancestors was Thomas Parnell, author of "The Hermit." Later, Sir John Parnell lent resolute help to Henry Grattan in the defence of the Irish independent Parlia­ment ; and, later still, Sir Henry Parnell was a conspicuous figure in the British House of Commons. Charles Stewart Parnell had studied at Cambridge, but had given no evidence of any commanding ability there, and was utterly unknown to the vast majority of the House of Commons when in April, 1875, he was elected as Home Rule repre­sentative for the county of Meath. Parnell soon showed that he had a deep interest in the land question, and he devised and intro­duced a policy which came to be known as the policy of obstruction. The idea of this policy was that, if the House of Commons could not be prevailed upon to devote time and interest to the demands of Ireland, the Irish National representatives must make it clear that it would not be allowed to attend to any other business. Obstruction had, indeed, been put in practice again and again by English statesmen for the purpose of talking out some measure obnoxious to them, but it had never before been employed as the systematic policy of a Parliamentary party. The Parnellites debated every question as it came up with unwearying pertinacity, and as the rules of the House were not then framed with a view to the prevention of obstruction,


they kept the Commons sitting night after night by mere continuity of speech-making. Butt was a thoroughly Parliamentary poli­tician, and set himself altogether against Parnell's plans; but Parnell proved too strong for him, and soon had the whole strength of Irish Nationalism at home and abroad under his command. Butt died in May, 1879, and after a short interval Parnell was elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary party. Parnell was a close and keen debater, with a genius for the work he had to do. No man since O'Connell's time had had anything like the same command over the Irish people, and Parnell had a clearer and more practical Par­liamentary policy than that of O'Connell's later days. Parnell especially wanted to force the Irish question on the attention of Parliament and of the public, and this he was well able to accomplish. The House of Commons, at the instance of successive Administrations, introduced new rules for the prevention or restriction of obstruction, but the discussions on each new proposal gave fresh opportunities to the obstructive policy. New coercive measures were introduced for Ireland, and legal prosecutions led to the imprisonment of Parnell himself and many of his leading supporters, but the power of Parnell could not be broken. Enlightened English statesmen were beginning to ask themselves whether there must not be some-


thing calling for consideration in a cause which could thus inspire the great majority of the Irish people.

The greatest English statesman then living gave his whole mind to the subject, and became a convert to the principle of Home Rule for Ireland. This statesman was William Ewart Gladstone. Gladstone had before this become convinced of the necessity for making some change in the land tenure system of Ireland, and for the abolition of the Irish State Church. When at the head of the Government in 1868 he set himself to accomplish these objects. During that Administration he disestablished and dis­endowed the Irish State Church, and carried a measure recognising the right of the Irish tenant to compensation for improvements effected by him in the soil which he had cultivated if he were to be deprived of his farm. This measure, although imperfect as a complete settlement of the land question, was the first step in the legislation attempted since by Conservative and Liberal Govern­ments for securing to the Irish tenant a fair chance of making a living by his industry. Gladstone was applying himself to the ques­tion of Home Rule when the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke took place in Phoenix Park, Dublin, on May 6, 1882, and sent a shock of horror all through the civilized world. These crimes were the


work of one of the small subterranean gangs of desperadoes who had then chosen to associate themselves with the National cause of Ireland. Lord Frederick Cavendish had just been appointed secretary to the Lord Lieutenant by Mr. Gladstone with the hope of intro­ducing a more conciliatory form of adminis­tration into Ireland and getting rid of the old coercion system. Mr. Burke was one of the permanent officials of Dublin Castle, and was believed to have got hold of the secret plans concocted by these desperadoes, and to have discovered the identity of their authors. There can be little doubt that the object of the conspirators was to kill Mr. Burke, and that Lord Frederick was done to death only because he gallantly endeavoured to defend his companion, with whom he was walking when the attack was made. The murders in the Phoenix Park were publicly condemned by all the leading Irish Nationalists every­where, and were deplored all the more because they naturally created a widespread feeling against the Irish National cause.

Gladstone remained firm to his faith in the better system of government needed for Ireland. His Administration was driven out of office in 1885 for a short time, but he soon came into power again after a General Election in 1886. He then introduced his first measure of Home Rule. The two leading principles of this measure were that Ireland should


have a National Parliament, and that she should have no representation in the Parlia­ment at Westminster. Grattan's Parliament was to be restored to Ireland without the absurd old-world qualifications as to property and religious creed. Gladstone's scheme of Home Rule was frustrated by a secession from the Liberal party. John Bright was opposed to the measure, and Mr. Chamberlain withdrew from the Government rather than give it his countenance, although he had up to that time been regarded by Parnell and all the Irish Nationalist members as a strong supporter of Home Rule. The second reading of the Bill brought a division on June 7, 1886, and the measure was rejected by a majority of thirty, 343 votes being given against the second reading, and only 313 in its favour. Gladstone appealed to the country, and the result was that the Radicals and Home Rulers were defeated, and the Conservatives came into office. Gladstone was not dis­couraged. It was well known that when he came into power again he would introduce another Home Rule measure with improved conditions, and everybody felt quite certain that should his life be spared he must before long be at the head of a Government once again.

In the meantime, Ireland suffered a memor­able and melancholy loss. Her greatest political leader died at Brighton on October 6,


1891. The close of Parnell's career was darkened by a miserable scandal. He and his principal followers had come triumphantly out of the ordeal which they had claimed, in justice to themselves, when The Times newspaper made against them its charges-of inciting to the commission of crimes and pay­ing men to commit crimes, and the less serious charge of promoting a dangerous agitation- founded on letters attributed to Parnell. The Special Commission of Judges appointed by the Government for the investigation of these charges found that the letters alleged to have been written by Parnell were forgeries. The forger, Pigott, fled to Spain, and committed suicide in Madrid to avoid arrest and extradi­tion. Parnell and his colleagues were ac­quitted by the Special Commission of all the serious charges brought against them.

When Parnell appeared in the House of Commons after the report of the Judges, he was received with a welcome from the whole Liberal party, including the occupants of the front Opposition bench and even some brave and independent men among the Tory ranks, such as had probably never been given to a private member before. This was in 1890. Soon after came the trial in the Divorce Court, and its result brought a political calamity along with it. Gladstone and the leading Liberals who stood by him believed that it would be impossible to carry a Home Rule


measure if Parnell should retain the leader­ship of the Irish party. A division took place in that party. A large majority called upon Parnell to resign, while the minority insisted that he must be maintained in the position of leader at all hazards. As no agreement could be effected, the majority seceded and formed a separate party under a new leader. Parnell and his followers set out on a campaign in Ireland for the maintenance of his power over the people, and there were many fiercely "contested elections. Under the excitement and excessive fatigue, Parnell's health, which had been much impaired by overwork for some years, utterly broke down, and he came to his early death.

So melancholy a close to a great political career is not often recorded in history. Even the scandal in which Parnell came to be in­volved did not convict him of any absolutely unpardonable moral delinquency, and he made every reparation in his power. The one fault and the one mistake of Parnell were soon forgotten by Ireland as she bent over his grave.

The auspices under which Gladstone intro­duced his new Home Rule measure on February 13, 1893, were especially dis­heartening. The second measure was in some of its provisions a distinct improve­ment on the first. Its principle was not that of an absolutely isolated Irish Parliament,


and the exclusion of Ireland from any repre­sentation in the British House of Commons. It proposed to give Ireland a domestic or national Parliament for the management of her own affairs, and a certain proportionate representation in the Imperial Parliament. Many influential English and Scottish Liberals who were also Home Rulers had strongly objected to the idea of severing Ireland from any representation in the English House of Commons. Ireland's representation in the Imperial Parliament was to be made up of eighty members, chosen on the existing qualifications. The new Bill was therefore regarded with greater favour in the House of Commons than its predecessor, and the Home Rule cause made a distinct step in advance. The measure passed through the Commons by a majority of 301 against 267, and was only rejected when it went up to the Lords. The principle of Home Rule for Ireland thus obtained the recognition and approval of the representative Chamber.

The remainder of Ireland's story, thus far, may be told in short space. The Home Rule party reunited in January, 1900, under the leadership of Mr. John Redmond, who had led the Parnellite party after the split, and who now found trusting followers and comrades among all sections of Irish Nationalists. The gradual development of England's colonial system has been doing much to teach Englishmen that


the abiding union of the Empire is to be found in that principle of domestic self-government which has made the Dominion of Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia loyal and prosperous. In our most recent days we have had evidence of a good time coming; for the agricultural populations of Ireland such as no previous generation has seen or even foreshadowed. This evidence is found in the Conference held between the accredited representatives of the Irish land­lords on the one side and of the Irish tenants on the other. Such Irish landlords as the Earl of Dunraven and the Earl of Mayo met in prolonged conference with John Redrnond, William O'Brien, and T. W. Russell, the latter a strong Unionist in politics, who had rendered devoted service to the Irish tenantry, and now joined with leading members of the Home Rule party in representing that cause at the Conference. The mere fact that such a Conference should have met together to discuss the Land Question was an event of the most happy augury, and one new to the story of Ireland. The Conference agreed unanimously in the adoption of a lengthened report clearly setting forth the principles of a land-tenure system which could enable land­lords and tenants to live together on the soil, while the tenant was to be helped by Govern­ment loans to obtain the ownership of the land, and thus to enjoy the secure and the


increasing fruit of his labour. Mr. George Wyndham, the Irish Chief Secretary, at once brought in a Bill creating a Commission to buy estates from landlords and sell them to tenants, thus creating a peasant proprietary, and to assist the tenants by means of a Government loan. Perhaps this volume could not close more appropriately or more aus­piciously than with the record of this event in the history of the Irish race.

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