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




TWO great events in the world's history successively brought their influence to bear on the fortunes of Ireland. These were the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. The revolt of the American Colonies against the domination of England gave Grattan a signal opportunity for carrying to success his efforts for the independence of the Irish Parliament, and the outbreak of the French Revolution brought about in Ireland the rebellion of 1798. The Irish Parliament was still under the subjection of Poynings' Law when the American Revolution began. All available English troops were needed to carry on the struggle in America. The coasts of the British Islands were threatened and even


harassed by Paul Jones and other American privateers. Ireland was left open to the incur­sions of any foreign Power hostile to England. A movement suddenly began in Ireland for the formation of a Volunteer army to secure the island against invasion. This movement had a great success, and before long there were some 60,000 men under arms in Ireland, and yet not forming any part of the Sovereign's regular army. Mr. Lecky describes the formation of this Volunteer force as " one, of those movements of enthusiasm that occur two or three times in the history of a nation." He tells us: "Beginning among the Protes­tants of the North, the movement soon spread, though in a less degree, to other parts of the island, and the war of religions and of castes that had so long divided the people vanished like a dream."

The Volunteer army was under the control of the celebrated Lord Charlemont, who had been chosen Commander-in-Chief of the force, and held that position during the whole of its existence. Charlemont was a man of great ability and highly cultivated mind. He had travelled much in his early days ; had visited the Greek Islands, Constantinople, and Egypt. In Turin he formed an acquaintance with David Hume, which ripened into the warmest friendship. In France he came to know Montesquieu; in London, Burke, Johnson, Goldsmith, Reynolds, Hogarth, and other


famous leaders of thought, letters, and art. Charlemont was a lover of justice and free­dom and a sincere patriot. Grattan and Flood each took a prominent part in the formation of the Volunteer corps, and in the direction of the Volunteer movement towards national purposes other than the mere defence of the soil. The volunteers were a patriotic body, actuated by the spirit of Flood and Grattan. They called together a great national Convention for the purpose of discussing the grievances to which Ireland was subjected, and of organizing a combined demand for the independence of the Irish Parliament. Grattan was not a member of this Convention, but was in thorough har­mony with its purposes, and identified himself with the resolutions it adopted. He saw that the time had come to make the national movement a success. He set forth the demand of the Irish people, and at such a time there was no possibility of its being denied or treated with disregard by the English Government. All the military strength the Government could bring to bear was still needed for the struggle with Washington and the American Colonists, and if the Irish national claim had been rejected the Volunteer army would have been quite ready to turn its political agitation into open rebellion. The Government had no alterna­tive but to give way. The statutes which


made the Irish Parliament an assembly only qualified to bring forward a motion of any kind with the previous consent of the Sove­reign and his Council were promptly repealed. The Peers and Commons of Ireland were enabled to initiate and discuss such measures as seemed beneficial for Ireland, and to pass them, if they could, under the same conditions as those to which the English Parliament itself had to submit. One of the greatest speeches ever delivered by Grattan was that in which he told the House of Commons that he had now to address a free representative Chamber, and invoked the spirit of Swift and the spirit of Molyneux to guide them in their future efforts for the good of the nation. The Irish Parliament as Grattan found it was very far from being a free Parliament. Not only could no Catholic be a member of either House, but no Catholic could even give a vote for the election of a member to the House of Commons. No Catholic was qualified to practise as a barrister, and there were many other religious disqualifications. Grattan set to work to remove all these so far as he could. The New Irish Parliament liberated the elective franchise from the restrictions imposed upon it, and made the Irish Catholic as free to vote as the Irish Protestant. The franchise was then so nar­rowed in its limitations for Protestants and Catholics alike that to men of our time it


would seem a mere burlesque of Parliamentary representation. The great mass of the people were entirely excluded from the right to vote, and the election of members to the House of Commons was practically the privilege of territorial magnates and the owners of titles. The right to nominate to the representation of a county or a borough was almost as much a matter of property as the soil which the landlord let out to his tenants. But the same condition of things prevailed at that time in England. The change accomplished by Grattan's Parliament had the advantage, at least, that it removed mere religious dis­qualification from the voter and put the Catholic and Protestant thus far on terms of political equality. Grattan himself was in favour of a full measure of Catholic emancipa­tion, and he strove hard to obtain such a reform as would allow a Catholic to have a seat in either House of Parliament. This, however, was too much of an advance for an assembly composed altogether of members belonging to the State Church, and there was still among the majority of Protestants an unconquerable objection to the idea of allowing anyone who confessed " Popish" doctrines to take a direct part in the making of laws.

The resistance offered by the Irish Parlia­ment to Grattan's further reforms had much to do with the promotion of the new troubles


which were to come upon Ireland. Grattan's own popularity was for a time somewhat shaken by the course he took after the Irish Parliament had thus been made comparatively free. He was willing to accept the terms on which the English Government had granted independence to the Irish Parliament as satis­factory and as offered with sincere intentions. Flood thought that not enough had been done by legislation to make Ireland feel secure that the English Sovereign and his advisers would never attempt to evade the terms of the constitutional agreement. Grattan, who was a thoroughly constitutional statesman, believed that the work of the Volunteers had been fully accomplished, and that they ought to be disbanded and allowed to return to civilian life. Flood maintained that the Volunteers should be kept in force as a sort of national standing array to deter the English Government from any new encroachment on the liberties of Ireland. This difference of opinion seems the more remarkable when we remember that Grattan was the champion of religious emancipation and that Flood was still one of those who would have maintained some system of exclusion against his Catholic fellow subjects. Grattan's policy prevailed. The Volunteers disbanded and dispersed, not without many indignant protests and gloomy prophesyings from Flood and those who felt with him. A large proportion of the Irish


people were dissatisfied with the disbanding of the Volunteers, and Grattan's failure to carry a complete measure of Catholic emancipation caused many Catholics to lose faith in the new independent Irish Parliament.

Meanwhile the success of the American War of Independence had aroused intense sympathy throughout Ireland and a pas­sionate aspiration _ for complete national freedom. The effect of the American revolu­tion had done much to encourage the revolu­tion in France. The downfall of the French monarchy aroused among Irishmen a strong belief that a new force was coming up in Europe which might help Ireland, too, in the attainment of political freedom. A new organization had been formed in Ireland, called the Society of United Irishmen. The original purpose of the United Irishmen was merely to form a number of clubs all over the country to promote a political union among Irishmen of all religious persuasions, and to obtain by constitutional means a fair and full representation of all religions and classes in the Irish Parliament. The leaders were all, or nearly all, Protestants. The first president of the society, Hamilton Rowan, was a dis­tinguished Irish Protestant. Theobald Wolfe Tone, a brilliant young Protestant, who after­wards made a name in war as well as in politics, acted for a time as secretary. But there were influences at work which soon


led or drove the United Irishmen out of their appointed course of constitutional agitation. One of these influences was the obstinate resistance offered by George III. to any pro­posal for the political emancipation of the Roman Catholics. Among King George's own Ministers were men enlightened enough to know that emancipation ought to come and must come. William Pitt was him­self a convinced friend of emancipation; but whenever he offered any advice in that spirit to the King he was always met with such fierce and bitter refusals that at last he made up his mind to let the King have his way.

In 1794 a new Irish Viceroy came to Dublin. This was Earl Fitzwilliam, a man of en­lightened views, who recognised the justice of emancipation, and gave his encouragement bravely to the efforts of the Irish leaders. The immediate result was that after he had held office for scarcely three months he was by command of King George suddenly re­called and another man appointed in his place. This act was a death - blow to the constitutional agitation of Grattan, and in­spired the United Irishmen with new hopes and a new policy. The events of the time convinced these men that mere constitutional agitation could do nothing under the rule of George III., and that to the France of the Revolution they must look for Ireland's free-


dom. The Irish had for many generations regarded France as the friend of Ireland.

The French were proclaiming themselves the champions of oppressed nationalities, and were under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had proved that France could make her power felt throughout the world. Some of the most influential of the United Irishmen were familiar with French society and French statesmen. Lord Edward Fitz­gerald had been dismissed from the English army for the part he took in some of the celebrations by which Paris displayed the exuberance of its republican enthusiasm. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was a younger son of the Duke of Leinster, and at an early age received a commission in the English army. He found himself compelled to serve against the American Colonists, with whose struggle for independence he thoroughly sympathized. He became an enthusiast in the national cause of Ireland, and, like most of his political companions, turned hopeful eyes towards France. He was for many years a member of the Irish Parliament, and supported the policy of Grattan. But he became convinced that nothing was to be expected from the Government of George III., and he joined the United Irishmen when they had ceased to put faith in a constitutional movement and were organizing rebellion. He went to France to obtain armed assistance, and returned to


Ireland to take part in the work which he expected there.

Theobald Wolfe Tone betook himself to France for the same purpose, and he appears to have succeeded in making a distinct im­pression on the minds of Carnot, the " organizer of victory," and of Napoleon Bonaparte. Wolfe Tone was a man ' of remarkable and varied abilities. He had been brought up to the law, had studied in one of the London Inns of Court, and was called to the Bar, but never did much in legal practice. His whole turn of mind was for travel, adventure, and a military life. He appears to have been endowed by Nature with the spirit of a soldier. Tone succeeded in persuading Napoleon that it would be a great advantage to France in her struggle with England to send a fleet and an army under a competent commander to assist the rebellion in Ireland. A fleet was sent over with a military force under the command of General Hoche, who had already won many victories for the Republic. But the winds proved fatal to the French expedition when it tried to effect a landing in Bantry Bay.

Wolfe Tone, who had before this obtained a commission in the French army, was on board one of the vessels, and has himself described the intense agony of his emotions as he stood on the deck of his vessel and might almost have flung a biscuit ashore, and yet


could not land owing to the stress of weather. The expedition proved a total failure, and Wolfe Tone was captured along with a number of French, officers. Thus, and thus only, he succeeded in making his landing in Ireland. The French officers were treated as prisoners of war, but Wolfe Tone made no effort to conceal his identity, and was put on his trial as a rebel. He was tried by court-martial in Dublin, and defended himself in a speech of remarkable eloquence and power. His defence was not a defence in the legal and technical sense of the word, for he ac­knowledged in his opening sentences that he was an enemy to the Government of King George, and had come over from France to fight for the Independence of Ireland. He declared that he had always understood what the consequences of failure must be to him, that he was prepared to abide by the result, and that he fully understood the difference which history makes between the rebel who succeeds and the rebel who fails. " Washington succeeded and Kosciusko failed," he said; and he insisted that for him as for Kosciusko failure brought no dishonour with it. The only appeal he made to his captors was that as he had been a soldier and wore the uniform of France he might be allowed to die a soldier's death-that he might be shot and not hanged. Tone was found guilty, and the Lord Lieutenant of


Ireland did not see his way to interfere with the ordinary course of the law by granting his request.

A curious question of law arose out of Tone's trial. John Philpot Curran, the great Irish advocate and orator, made a motion in the Court of King's Bench to the effect that Tone had been illegally tried by a court-martial ; that as he was not in the English army, and as the Civil Courts of Law were then all sitting in Ireland and free to do their work, the interference of martial law was absolutely illegal. Curran's motion was made before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kil-warden, a man of the highest legal position, and absolutely devoted to a just interpretation of the law. Lord Kilwarden ruled in favour of Curran's motion, and ordered that Tone should be removed from the custody of the military tribunal and put on trial before the ordinary criminal court. While the conten­tion between the civil and military authorities was still going on, the life of Wolfe Tone came to an end. Tone could not make up his mind to endure the disgrace of execution on the gallows as if he were a thief or a murderer. He found means to open a vein in his arm, and before a surgeon could be called in he had lost so much blood that he was beyond the help of surgical skill. The legal question had not yet been settled, and the sentence of the court-martial could not, there-


fore, be executed on the dying man. Tone lingered for a few days and then died. Edward Fitzgerald was already dead. He had been captured in Dublin, where he was seeking a refuge after the failure of some of the risings on Irish soil, and he fought hard for his life, wounding some of his captors and receiving a bullet wound, from which he died a few days after in the prison to which he had been carried.

The rebellion meanwhile had almost come to an end. One or two expeditions from France effected a landing, but could not change the fortunes of the struggle. The Irish plans had been wanting in central organization, and the spy system skilfully maintained by the Government officials always kept the commanders of the royal troops well informed as to the intentions of the insurgents. The rebellion became, in fact, a number of isolated risings rather than the well-ordered effort of one organization. The insurgents were successful in many actions, but the forces against them were too great for any chance of their success, and the story of '98 came to an end. We need not enter here into the painful questions raised as to the severities and even cruelties practised by the royal troops in the suppression of the rebellion. The King's forces were largely made up of hireling regiments from German principalities and of the loyal yeomanry from


Ulster and other parts of Ireland, who were invariably Orangemen filled with hatred for the Catholics and for the national movement which championed their claims to religious emancipation. Under these conditions, cruelties were practised towards the defeated insurgents which would not have been com­mitted if the victorious troops had been Englishmen called upon to discharge a military duty, Lord Cornwallis himself has left on record many expressions of the detesta­tion with which he regarded the conduct of some of the civilians as well as soldiers who took a leading part in the suppression of the insurrection and the punishment of the insurgents.

Lord Cornwallis showed much humanity in his dealings with the conquered rebels, and acted as mercifully as the laws of the time would allow him. His own writings prove how severe was the struggle between his own generous sentiments and the enforcement of the system which he was compelled to main­tain to a certain extent. He has bequeathed to history the most frank expression of his abhorrence of the spirit and the utterances of many of those around him, who were incessant in advocacy of the most cruel measures against all who were believed to have taken part in the rebellion, and the exultation with which they welcomed every account of savage reprisals.


The Government were determined to punish the whole country for the resistance offered to the policy of King George. The fate of Grattan's Parliament was decreed. Nothing less than its extinction could satisfy the rulers, who ascribed to its existence a great part of the blame for the action of the United Irishmen, the appeal for help to the French Directory, and the whole movement of '98. The action of the Irish Parliament and its leaders had been strictly constitutional, and it was in despite of them, and not under their inspiration, that the rebellion had broken out. The destruction of the Irish Parliament was not to be accomplished by fair and legitimate means. Whatever its defects and shortcomings, it would not have been possible to carry by a majority of its votes, if left to their free exercise, the destruc­tion of the Parliament itself. It was neces­sary to obtain a majority to carry out the policy of the Government, and that majority was obtained at last by the most flagitious process of bribery and corruption. Peerages, offices, and pensions were lavishly given to gain the votes of members, and secret service money was privately employed in a system of wholesale bribery. These facts are now admitted by all historians, and, indeed, no other testimony is needed to their reality than the letters of Lord Cornwallis himself, which express his feelings of shame at the


measures he found himself compelled by the orders of the Government to sanction and to carry out in order that Ireland might be deprived of her lately created independent Parliament. The determination of King George's Government was that Ireland must be united with England under one common Parliament, and for this purpose the Act of Union had to be carried, and the Irish Parlia­ment compelled to register its own extinction. Grattan raised his voice to the last against this measure, but no eloquence could have prevailed against the arts which were em­ployed to obtain a majority of votes. Irishmen may remember with pride that even in that Parliament, elected in its best days on a suffrage not representing the great majority of the Irish people, and with disqualifications which shut out every Roman Catholic, there were still at least a hundred members who could not be won over to the side of the Government. The Act of Union was passed by a compact and well rewarded majority of sixty. The Act became an operative law on January 1, 1801, on the first day of the week, the first of the month, the first of the year, and the first of the century. Its passing was quickly followed by other futile attempts at rebellion. In 1803 Robert Emmet, a younger brother of Thomas Addis Emmet, one of the leaders of the '98 movement who had escaped to America, sacrificed his fortune


and his life in another rising in the cause of Ireland's independence. The attempt was crushed almost at its outset by military force. Robert Emmet was captured, condemned to death, and executed the morning after his conviction. The story of the brave and generous young man who threw away his life in this futile attempt has been made the subject of many poems and of more than one touching prose picture by Irish writers, and by others not Irish, and is likely to be long remembered. The tale of Emmet's love for the daughter of Curran has been told in every civilized language. The one event of the abortive rising which, apart from his own love and the disappointment of his patriotic hopes, most saddened young Emmet's closing days was the fact that Lord Kil-warden, the Irish Chief Justice, had been stopped in his carriage by a group of mad­dened insurgents in a Dublin street, one of whom, thrusting a pike into his body, gave him his death-blow. Emmet, who was lead­ing the rising in another part of the city, rushed back on hearing that the Lord Chief Justice was in danger, but arrived on the fatal spot just too late to save him. This was the Lord Kilwarden who had manfully and nobly insisted on the due course of law being followed out in the case of Wolfe Tone. Kilwarden's last words were characteristic of


him. With his latest breath he gave utter­ance to the injunction that no man should suffer for his death without full and lawful trial. The Act of Union had its noble victims on both sides of the struggle.

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