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




THE close of the reign of Anne, the last English Sovereign of the House of Stuart, and the opening of the Hanoverian Sovereignty, brought little or no change to Ireland. The country was visited by suc­cessive famines; but in this grim fact alone there was not much to distinguish the story of Ireland under the early Georges from its story under former Sovereigns. Perhaps the most important event in her political history was the history of Dean Swift's famous work, " The Drapier's Letters." Seldom has so great a sensation been created by an expanded political pamphlet as that produced by the publication of these letters. Swift had been living in Ireland for some time, and amid all his literary occupations and


romantic episodes he had always kept his attention alive to the social condition of the country of his birth. Through all his loves and hatreds, controversies and eccentricities, sudden changes of opinion and impatience of conventional rules, he was always sincere in his wish to obtain fair dealing for the people of Ireland, In 1720 he started a proposal " for the universal use of Irish manufacture in clothes and the furniture of houses," a system which he invited all true Irishmen in Ireland to put into practice. The idea has since been taken up again and again in Ireland, and has now and then given birth to a popular movement, although It has never become an article of faith or of universal practice among Irish men and women. The issue of this proposal brought on Swift's publisher at the time the distinction of a Government prosecution.

Swift was not an Irishman in the real meaning of the word. He was born in Ireland, but would not have lived there if the choice had been open to him. If he did pass a great part of his life there It was only because his duties compelled him to. Even while in Ireland his friends were always found among the English and Protestant residents, and he had very little sympathy with what Irishmen regarded as their national and political cause. But at the same time Swift had an instinctive revolt against injustice and


an instinctive sympathy with those whom he believed to be suffering from oppression. He became aroused to indignation by the action of the Government in granting a patent to a person named William Wood for the coinage of halfpence and farthings to be used as currency by the Irish people. There had been for some time a great complaint in Ireland because of the want of an adequate supply of copper coinage for the use of those who employed the labour of the poor. The Government had at last been prevailed upon to invite tenders from the owners of mines for the supply of the necessary material. William Wood was the owner of iron and copper mines, and also a worker in these metals. He obtained a patent from the Government for the coining of halfpence and farthings to the value of £108,000. This aroused great indignation in Ireland, not merely among the governed, but even among the governing classes. The Irish Lord Chan­cellor and the two Houses of Parliament in Ireland set themselves against the patent, first because it was unlawfully granted, and next because it was contended that the coins were to be less in weight than those which had currency in England. For once the classes who were sent to rule Ireland and the classes they ruled were in absolute accord in their resentment of what they believed to be a national grievance.


Whether the patent was properly granted or whether the new coinage was calculated to debase the currency of the country and to damage its trade are questions now of no greater importance than whether William Wood himself was a man of the highest reputation and a desirable acquaintance for highly-placed statesmen. Our interest is entirely in the fact that the agitation against the patent was suddenly brought to a height by a letter published in Dublin addressed " To the Shopkeepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common People of Ireland concerning the brass halfpence coined by one William Wood," and signed " M. B. Drapier." This was the first of the famous series known as the Drapier's Letters, which created in Ireland a combined agitation among all classes such as had never been known before. The author assumed for the time the character of an honest trader aroused to irrepressible wrath by the base attempt of a Government favourite to damage the trade of Ireland and make dis­honest money for himself by the issue of base coin. Swift converted the whole dispute into a great national question for Ireland. He positively excelled himself in the vivacity and vigour of his satire, in the variety of humorous illustrations by which he enlivened his pages, and the manner in which he held up to ridicule the pleadings of those who strove to justify the patent. The very exaggeration in


which Swift revelled when describing the probable effects of Wood's halfpence upon Irish trade is a sort of literary art, and is well worthy of the great author who told of Gulliver's Travels. Swift was filled with a generous detestation for the system under which Ireland was governed, and made use of this grievance about Wood's copper coinage as an oppor­tunity for expressing his feelings on the whole subject. The sensation created by the Drapier's Letters brought the Irish Viceroy to a recognition of the fact that the agitation was too serious and too reasonable to be got rid of by arrests and imprisonments. The Viceroy, Lord Carteret, was new to his work; he only arrived in Ireland at a time when the agitation was reaching its height. He began his official career, according to the principles of rule just then, by issuing a proclamation against the Drapier's Letters, offering a large reward for the discovery of the author and ordering the arrest of the printer. When the printer was put on his trial the Grand Jury unanimously threw out the Bill sent up against him. Lord Carteret had wisdom enough to see that the time had come for concession rather than repression, and he strongly urged his views on the Government in England. His advice prevailed in the end. Wood's patent was withdrawn, and a pension was given to him to console him for his loss. The author-


ship of the Drapier's Letters became known, and the Irish people made an idol of Swift. The whole episode has a lasting interest for literature, but it has also a political interest of the highest importance, because it embodies the first national and at the same time purely argumentative protest of the Irish people against the system of arbitrary government from the centre of English rule.

Before the era of the Drapier's Letters there had indeed been an attempt made by an eminent man to assert in argumentative and statesmanlike form the claim of Ireland to have a Parliament which could bring forward measures of its own, subject to the same constitutional authority as the Parliament of England, This man was William Molyneux, a distinguished writer on philosophic and scientific subjects, an intimate and valued friend of John Locke. He was born in Dublin in 1656, and held many successive appointments under the Government. Moly­neux sat in the Irish Parliament for the University of Dublin, and was strongly op­posed to the laws passed for the repression of Irish trade. Early in 1698 he published a work which may be called famous-"The Case of Ireland, being bound by Acts of Parliament made in England, Stated." In this he contended that England and Ireland were two separate kingdoms under the same Sovereign. The purport of this work may be


told in one of its sentences. " If the religion, lives, liberties, fortunes, and estates of the clergy, nobility, and gentry of Ireland may be disposed of without their privity or consent, what benefit have they of any laws, liberties, or privileges granted unto them by the Crown of England?" The book was not intended to plead the cause of the democracy, or to champion in especial the cause of those lower orders for whom the agitator is usually sup­posed to work, Molyneux dedicated it to the reigning Sovereign, and his pleading was mainly for the rights of the clergy, nobility, and gentry. This book created a. profound sensation ; it was condemned by the English Parliament as libellous and seditious, and was ordered to be burned by the common hangman. Molyneux died soon after its publication, at the age of forty-two.

The case set up for Ireland by Molyneux was probably the first inspiration of that constitutional movement which began to take definite shape after the publication of the Drapier's Letters. A party was formed in the Irish House of Commons with the object of advocating not separation between England and Ireland, and not even separation of Parliamentary Government-such as existed between England and Scotland - but the right of the Irish Parliament to introduce measures it believed necessary for the wel­fare of Ireland, under the same constitu-


tional control as that recognised by the Parliament of England. Swift died in 1745, the year which saw the Viceroyalty of Lord Chesterfield in Ireland. We are all apt to think of Chesterfield merely as the brilliant and unprincipled author of the celebrated letters to his son, but it is certain that in his government of Ireland he showed himself a genuine statesman and a true friend to Ireland as well as to England. Chesterfield saw that the system of government which prevailed was destined to become a wasting disease alike for those who carried it on and for those who were made to suffer directly by it. He saw that it was not in his power to obtain any important mitigation of the penal laws through the instrumentality either of the English or the Irish Parliament.

Nothing was to be done, he must have seen, by any scheme of reform in legislation. The reform was needed for the benefit of the Catholic Irish, the vast majority of the population ; and the Houses of Parliament in England and Ireland alike were closed against any who professed the Catholic faith. To become a favourite with the frequenters of Dublin Castle, Chesterfield had only to let things go on as they had been and not trouble himself and his friends by striving for the amelioration of evils he could not wholly abolish. An easy-going man might have quieted his conscience by telling himself that


any attempt to bring about a better state of things would be utterly futile. Chesterfield seems to have been converted by what he saw, when he began his Viceregal task, into a genuine statesman and reformer. The two evils then eating their cancerous way into the administration of Ireland were the penal laws and the system of government enthroned in Dublin Castle. The rule of Dublin Castle was in its best attributes the rule of class ascendancy, and in its worst the rule of official corruption. Chesterfield saw that the state of things was almost as bad for the misgoverning as for the misgoverned, and that nothing but evil could come of it. But he also saw that there was nothing whatever to be done in the way of legislative reform. He quietly made lip his mind to adopt a policy entirely his own, without consulting the Government about it. He would treat the penal code as a dead-letter. He could not abolish it, but he would never take or authorize any steps to put it into fresh action. He set himself to put a stop to" the jobbery and intrigue which had grown to be a settled policy in the official departments of Dublin Castle. He established new schools wherever he could, and applied himself steadily to the encouragement of trade and manufacture. He enforced with strict and even stern hand the existing laws against crime and outrage; but he did his very best to prevent the State-


made manufacture of crime and outrage unknown to the ordinary law.-

There had grown up in Ireland during many generations a sort of rivalry among the official classes in the discovery of new offences against the law, by means of which the whole power of the State might be brought to bear upon some particular class whose existence was supposed to be a trouble to the Government. The State employed in this way a regular system of terrorism against those who were presumed to be wanting in loyalty, so that an indiscriminate application of penalties might compel all such persons to desist, for the sake of their own safety, from professing hostility to any Government measures. Chesterfield soon made it ap­parent that no such practices could win reward or even toleration from him. The official who invented a false charge, or who assumed that a charge must be well founded because it had been made in the name of the law, would find that he had to deal with a Lord Lieutenant who insisted that the country must be governed on the principles of legality and justice.

Lord Chesterfield did not follow the ex­ample of most of his predecessors and call for new troops, in order to put down by force every popular movement. On the contrary, he actually announced that he could do with fewer troops, and he sent some of the soldiers


quartered in Ireland to help in maintaining the action of the British Government on the European Continent. The Irish soon began to appreciate the blessings of the change. The Irish Catholic found that although no penal law against religion had been repealed, it was quite safe for him to practise his religion without dread of the informer, the prison - house, or the gibbet. When some ardent loyalists of his own class endeavoured to alarm Chesterfield by stories of threatened insurrections, he generally bewildered his informant by flashes of his characteristic and satirical humour. Chesterfield has left in his own writings some account of the principles which governed him during his Viceroyalty. " I came determined," he says, " to proscribe no set of persons whatever, and determined to be governed by none. Had the Papists made any attempt to put themselves above the law, I should have taken good care to have quelled them again. It was said that my lenity to the Papists had wrought no alteration either in their religious or their political sentiments. I did not expect that it would, but surely that was no reason for cruelty towards them." In the minds of many English statesmen of his time, the mere fact that lenity towards the Papists could not make any change in their religious or political sentiments was the best possible reason for visiting them with all the cruelty allowed by the penal laws. But


Chesterfield was a man singularly in advance of his time, although until he had obtained this signal opportunity for proving his true character he had never been known for any­thing better than a frivolous and fascinating courtier, writer, and lover of society.

Chesterfield soon came to be thoroughly understood by the majority of the people for whose protection he was exercising his new principles of government. He won the entire confidence and admiration of the Irish, and this only helped to shorten his term of rule. The advocates of the old system of penal laws began to see something dangerous to the power of the King and the State in his methods, and influence was probably brought to bear upon the Sovereign in order that a Viceroy with such dangerous views might be removed to some sphere where they could do less harm. Chesterfield was recalled from his Irish administration, and when he was leaving Dublin he was surrounded on the sea-shore by a crowd of lamenting admirers, who besought of him some promise that he would soon return to Ireland and continue to make life endurable for the people there. He was not allowed to return, and a place was found for him at home, -where even his enlightened views could not do much to dis­turb the regular order of established govern­ment. After his departure the officials of


Dublin Castle carried on its old familiar work in its old familiar way.

A new era was opening in the political life of Ireland. This was the era of constitutional agitation for reform in the system of govern­ment. The writings of Molyneux and Swift, the Viceroyalty of Chesterfield, had all done their part in creating a movement having for its object the abolition of evil laws through the agency of political argument and Parlia­mentary debate. A powerful party was formed in Ireland for the purpose of carrying on a strictly constitutional agitation for the repeal of the obnoxious laws which had con­demned the great majority of the people to a condition little better than slavery. One of the earliest and most powerful leaders of this new party, the Patriot Party, as It was called, was Charles Lucas, a medical man by profession. He was born in Dublin, and there tie obtained a lucrative practice, from which he soon turned aside to assist the national movement. Early in his political career he got into trouble with the authorities because of the freedom with which he ex­pressed his national opinions, and found it prudent to withdraw for awhile to the Continent. After his return to Ireland he resumed his course of political agitation, but was more careful in his manner of denouncing the grievances he was striving to abolish.


His great object was to obtain the constitu­tional independence of the Irish Parliament. Lucas did not strive for, and probably did not even dream of, separation between Eng­land and Ireland. He desired to bring about the repeal of Poynings' Law, which pre­vented the Irish Parliament from instituting or taking into consideration any measure without the authority of the English Parlia­ment and Council. Lucas condemned Poyn­ings' Law as absolutely unconstitutional, and contended that it reduced to a state of servitude the Irish Protestant as well as the Irish Catholic. The usual result followed the publication of his writings. A prosecu­tion was set on foot by the authorities in Dublin, and Lucas' letters were ordered to be burnt by the common hangman. The Irish House of Commons, whose indepen­dence he was endeavouring to bring about, resented his efforts "on its behalf, and sum­moned him to appear before its Bar.

Lucas withdrew for safety to England, where at all events there was something like a system of constitutional law which might secure a fair trial even for a political offender. He devoted himself for some time to the practice of his profession, and obtained a distinct success. He made the acquaint­ance of some eminent Englishmen, among whom was Samuel Johnson, whose opinion will help us in forming a judgment alike of


Lucas and of his agitation. Writing about Lucas, Johnson said : " The Irish Ministers drove him from his native country by a proclamation in which they charged him with crimes which they never intended to be called to the proof, and oppressed him by methods equally irresistible by guilt and innocence. Let the man thus driven into exile for having been the friend of his country be received in every place as a confessor of liberty." Lucas had no idea of giving up_ his political career. He returned to Dublin, where the new movement • had taken such a hold among all classes that within a year he was elected by the Dublin constituency as its representative in the Irish House of Com­mons. He founded and for a while conducted the Dublin Freeman's Journal, which was established to be the organ of truly Liberal opinions, of constitutional and religious equality and freedom, and has ever since maintained the principles of its founder.

The Patriot Party soon obtained the leader­ship of Henry Flood, a brilliant orator and commanding politician. His father, a Chief Justice of the King's Bench, had taken care that he should have a liberal education at " Old Trinity," Dublin, and at Oxford. Henry Flood gave up most of his early life to the study of great poets and great orators, classic and modern, and for a while his ambition was to become a poet himself; but


he was drawn away into political pursuits, for which Nature had qualified him. He entered the Irish Parliament before he was quite twenty-seven, and, being a man of con­siderable fortune, was enabled to give up his whole life to politics. He soon made a brilliant success, came to be recognised as leader of the Opposition, and therefore Parlia­mentary leader of the Patriot Party. He led all manner of attacks upon the corrupt systems then prevailing under the Govern­ment, and gave force and direction to the movement for securing the independence of the Irish Parliament. He made many mis­takes during his leadership, and one of them proved fatal to his popularity. The mistake may well seem to have been natural and excusable, but it cost him his power over the Party he was leading. He succeeded after a long struggle in compelling the Govern­ment to remove from office an unpopular and oppressive Lord Lieutenant and put a better statesman in his place. Flood seems to have thought the new Viceroy would be thoroughly with him in his efforts to secure the inde­pendence of the Irish Parliament, and that to accept office under such a Viceroy would help to carry out the national policy. But the Irish people had seen too much of the damaging effect produced on public life by the acceptance of office under Government to allow them to acknowledge the leadership


even of Flood when once Flood had become a paid official of the Crown.

Flood could no longer lead the party after this ill-advised step, but there was then a man in the Irish House of Commons even better qualified by genius and noble character to take the direction of the Parliamentary move­ment. This man was Henry Grattan, one of the greatest orators of ancient or modern times. The praises he received from some of his great English admirers are so lavish and so strong that they might be thought extra­vagant if it were not certain that they repre­sent the general estimate then formed of him., and if we had not his own speeches to justify the estimate. Byron called him "ever-glori­ous Grattan, with all that Demosthenes wanted endued, and his rival or victor in all - he possessed." When at a much later period of his life Grattan entered the English House of Commons, and was about to take a modest place on a back bench, Charles James Fox went up to him, told him that was not the place for the Irish Demosthenes, and with friendly pressure compelled him to take a more prominent position. Grattan and Flood were for a time close allies and companions in the Irish House. Flood's ill-advised step in accepting office led to a breach not only in the political relationship, but in the private friendship of the two men, who denounced each other publicly on more than one memor-


able and melancholy occasion in the Irish House of Commons.

Grattan now became leader of the Patriot Party, and no political party ever had a leader more sincerely and nobly devoted to its cause or more splendidly gifted with eloquence for its advocacy. The task he undertook had become limited to one distinct achievement. It was as definite and clearly marked out as that of Richard Cobden when he strove for the introduction of Free Trade, or that of John Bright when he devoted his energies to the expansion of Parliamentary suffrage. Grattan made it his object to secure for Ire­land the independence of her Parliament- that is, the right of the Irish Parliament to introduce and discuss its own measures with­out asking the previous permission of the King and his Council, and of carrying them into enactments under the same constitutional checks and control as were provided for the Parliament of England. The change he desired to introduce may be made clear by explaining that Grattan wished to obtain for Ireland just such a domestic and national Parliament as that which has long been established for Canada, and more lately for the Australian Commonwealth, and has made these Colonies contented, prosperous, and loyal. Grattan actually succeeded in his object, and was able, in his own words, " to address for the first time the Parliament of a


free people." That Parliament, thus de­scribed by the man who called it into exist­ence, was as completely a part of England's constitutional system as the Parliament which now meets at Westminster. We shall have to consider the influences, the accidents, the great upheavals at home and abroad, which marred for the time the permanent success of Grattan's great achievements, and brought about yet another conquest of Ire­land.

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