« PreviousContinue »
borough interest in Ireland, even a reform: foreign assistance would, therefore, perhaps become necessary; but foreign assistance could only be hoped for in proportion as the object to which it woulJ be applied was important to the party giving it A reform in the Irish parliament was no object to the French—a separation of Ireland from England was a mighty one indeed.— Thus they reasoned: shall we, between two objects, confine ourselves to the least valuable, even though it is equally difficult to be obtained, if we consider the relation of Ireland with the rest of Europe. v
Whatever progress the United svstem had made among the catholics throughout the kingdom, until after the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam, (notwithstanding many resolutions which had appeared from them, manifesting a growing spirit,) they were considered as not only entertaining an habitual predilection for monarchy, but also as being less attached than the presbyterians to political liberty. There were, however, certain men among them who rejoiced at the rejection of their claims, because it gave them an opportunity of pointing out that the adversaries of reform were tii"ir adversaries; and that these two objects coidd never be separated with any chance of success to either. They used the recall of that nobleman, and the rejection of his measures, to cement together in political union the catholic and presbyterian masses.
The modern societies, for their protection against informers and persecution, had introduced into their test a el luse of secrecy. They did more—they changed the engagements of their predecessors into an oath ; and mutual confidence encreased, when religion was calied in aid of mutual security.
While they were almost entirely confined to the north, but encreasing rapidly there,, the insurrection bill was passed in the beginning of the year 1796, augmenting the penalties upon administering unlawful oath3, or «clensn obligations even to death:
but but death had ceased to alarm men who began to think it was to be encountered in their country's cause. The siatute remained nn absolute dead letter, and the numbers of the body augmented beyond belief.
To the Armagh Persecution is the Union of Irishmen most exceedingly indebted. The persons and properties of the wretched catholics of that county were exposed to the merciless attacks of an Orange Faction, which was certainly in manyinstances uncontrolled by the justices of peace, and claimed to be in all supported by government. When these men found that illegal acts of magistrates were indemnified by occasional statutes, and the courts of justice shut against them hy parliament tary barriers, they began to think they had no refuge but in joining the Union. Their dispositions so to do were much encreased by finding the presbyterians, of Belfast especially, step forward to espouse their cause, and succour their distress. We will here remark once for all, what we most solemnly aver, that wherever the Orange system was introduced, particularly in catholic counties, it was uniformly observed that the numbers of United Irishmen encreased most astonishingly. The alarm which an Grange lodge excited among the catholics made them look for refuge by joining together in the United system; and as their number was always greater than that of bigotted protestants, our harvest was ten-fold. At the same time that we mention this circumstance, we must confess, and most deeply regret, that it excited a mutual acrimony and vindictive spirit, which was peculiarly opposite to the interest, and abhorrent to the feelings of the United Irishmen, and has lately manifested itself, we hear, in outrages of so much honor.
Defenderism has been supposed to be the origin of the modern societies of United Irishmen: this is undoubtedly either a mistake or a misrepresentation; we solemnly declare that there was no connexion between them and the United Irish, as far as v;e know, except what follows:
After the defenders had spread into different countie6, they manifested a rooted but unenlightened aversion, among other things, to the same grievances that were complained of by the Union. They were composed almost entirely of catholics, and those of the lowest order, who, through a fake confidence, were risking themselves, and the attainment of redress, by premature and unsystematic insurrection. In the north they were also engaged in an acrimonious and bloody struggle with an opposite faction called peep-of-day boys. The advantage of reconciling these two misguided parties, of joining them in the Union, and so turning them from any views they might have exclusively religious, and of restraining them from employing a mutually destructive exertion of force, most powerfully struck the minds of several United Irishmen. For that purpose, many of them in the northern counties went among both, but particularly the Defenders, joined with them, shewed the superiority of the Union system, and gradually, while government was endeavouring to quell them by force, melted them down into the United Irish body. This rendered their conduct infinitely more Orderly, and less suspicious to government.
It has been alledged against the United Irishmen, that they established a system of assassination. Nothing that has ever been imputed to them, that we feel more pleasure in being able to disavow. In such immense numbers as were to be found in that body, although uniformity of system may have given a wonderful uniformity of action, yet it is unfair and unjust to charge the whole body with the vices of a few of its members: individual grievances produced individual resentments, and the meeting of many Sufferers in the same way, frequently caused them to concur in the same resolutions. It appearsj indeed, by tome trials, that a baronial once took that subject into consideration, but it was manifest it was taken up by them as individuals, whose principles, as it afterwards appeared, were not repugnant to the act. A committee of assassination has been much talked
'• of— of—we have heard persons mentioned as member* of it, whom we know, from the most private and confidential conversations, to be utterly abhorrent from the crime. W&solemnly declare, we believe that such a committee never existed.—We most positively aver, it never was with the cognizance of any part of the Union. We also declare, that in no communication from those who were placed at the head of the United Irishmen, to the rest of that body, and in no official paper* was assassination ever inculcated, but frequently and fervently reprobated. It was considered by them with horror, on account of its criminality—and with personal dread, because it would render ferociou* the minds of men in whose hands their lives were placed, most particularly placed; inasmuch as between them and the rest of that body they were out of the protection of the law. In proof of this assertion, we would beg leave to refer to a sketch of a publication which we believe was^seized among the papers of one of us, at the time of his arrest, and which it was intended should appear if the puper to which it alluded had not been discontinued.—One other consideration, which we entreat may not offend, will, we hope, be decisive. If such committee had existed, and if the men at the head of the United Irishmen had thought assassination a justifiable mode of obtaining their ends, and had been capable of encouraging such atrocity, possessed as •they were of wide-spread means of acting, and powerful controul over men, who, it is now manifest, held the loss of life in utter contempt, the poinard would have been directed, not against such petty objects as an obnoxious country magistrate, or an informer.
We were none of us members of the United system until September or October, in the year 1796; at that time, it must be confessed, the reasons already alltdged, and the irritations of the preceding summer in the north, had disposed us to a separation and republic, principally because we were hopeless that a reform would ever be yieldid to any peaceable exertions of the
people. people. We cannot be accurate as to the progress either of the numbers or organization of the United Irishmen, it having been' an invariable rule to burn all the returns or other papers, after they ceased to be useful; we have no documents wherewith to refresh our memories, but we apprehend the report of the secret committee to be, in that case, sufficiently accurate, except that the numbers were always much greater than appeared by those reports; the documents on which they rely only noticed those who went regularly into societies; but great numbers, perhaps, at a rough guess, half as many were sworn to the test, who were prevented by private motives and local circumstances, from committing themselves in that way; we are, however, convinced that the numbers of the whole body could not latterly be less than 500,000.
The return from the different societies and committees up. wards, specified, among other things, arms and ammunition; they were not originally included in them, nor were they introduced until after the passing the insurrection and indemnity acts, when the people began to be more than ever carried towards resistance, and were extremely irritated by the indemnified violations of law in the north. The returns also stated, sums of money having been collected; those sums were always very small, and applied towards the support of persons imprisoned on charges connected with the Union, and in conducting of their defences; any other expences were defrayed by occasional private subscriptions.
The printed constitution mentions a national committee: none such, strictly speaking, was ever formed at first, because to its appointment two provincials at least were necessary; and before the organization in any other part of the kingdom could reach to a provincial, the immense number in Ulster required a supreme head.—Some persons were then chosen by the northern provincial, with powers to associate to themselves such others as they c c should