Page images
PDF
EPUB

had for ages characterised the Irish government; and, when the difficulties they encountered are considered, it is almost astonishing that the success of their exertions should ever have entitled them to the historian's notice. In. the first place, they had to surmount the prejudices and suspicions of different sects, which length of time and tradition had almost interwoven with their respective creeds. This they hoped to accomplish, and they succeeded to a great degree, by bringing catholics and protestants together into societies and familiar intercourse, that mutual knowledge might remove mutual distrust; but the hatred of the lowest arders of catholics and dissenters, was, in many places, still violent.and inveterate; so that, notwithstanding the utmost efforts of the United Irishmen, it was, sometimes subsequently fanned into actual hostilities. .. .

In addition to this original difficulty, they were counteracted by the members of the church establishment, who with very few exceptions, were alarmed at the new combination of parties,. and endeavoured to dissolve it i with a zeal proportioned to their fears. Besides, even those presbyterian men of property, who. had obtained reputation by co-operating with Lord Charlemoni, and the whig interest, cried out against and opposed the visionary wildness of obscure men, who were outStripping them in the career of politics, and rendering insignificant the exertions by which they hoped to have signalised their names. Thus abandoned by the rich and the respected, and not yet supported by the poor and despised parts of the community, the societies of United Irishmen were left exposed to the attacks of government and its adherents from every quarter. Tha insignificance of . their individual members was derided, the sincerity of their principles and professions was denied, and they were charged with harbouring concealed designs of republicanism and separation from England. Thia assertion was subsequently made against them by high authority, and a letter quoted in proof from Tone (the original planner of these socie,»• *. i ties) ties) to one of his friends, in which he declared himself a decided enemy to British connexion. Whether that enmity be deserving of censure or panegyric, it was unquestionably felt by him and by many others; but no design of interfering with the connexion, was entertained by the bodies at large; nor can it be justly ascribed to them, at that time, whatever changes may have been since produced by the progress of principles, which have •wept away all veneration for antient establishments, merely 34 such, and substituted in its stead new feelings and opinions.

While these things were going on, the catholics were likewise soliciting, by their accustomed organ, a relaxation of the penal code. About twenty years before, a committee for conducting their affairs had been instituted with the knowledge and tacit sanction of government: It consisted of lords and gentlemen of rank and fortune, who sat in their own right, and of delegates from towns and cities. As their business was little more than presenting addresses of congratulation and loyalty to every newly arrived viceroy, and endeavouring, by humbly suing to his secretary, with occasional petitions to parliament, to procure some mitigation of the popery laws, the constitution of the committee was found fully adequate to all its purposes. Auguring favorably from the progressive liberality of the times, this body, in the latter end of 1790, prepared a petition to parliament, presuming to ask for nothing specific; but merely praying, that the case of the catholics might be taken into consideration.— Major Hobart, the Lord Lieutenant's secretary, was waited on with this petition, to implore the countenance and protection of government; but, liberal as were the times, government deemed this a season for resisting innovation of every kind, and its protection was refused. The committee were however inclined to persevere; but such was the Irish parliament, that they could not prevail on any one member of that body to bring in their petition!

Anothet

Another circumstance, too, strongly marked the determination of government respecting them. In the summer of 1790, .Lord Westmoreland, then Lord Lieutenant, visited the south of Ireland. On his arrival at Cork, it was intimated to the catholics there, that an expression of their loyalty would be acceptable. Accordingly an address of that nature was prepared, which, however, concluded with a hope, that their loyalty would entitle them to some relaxation of the present code.— Before its being formally presented, it was submitted to his excellency, and was returned to them, to strike out the clause which expressed the hope. With a feeling rather natural to men not perfectly broken down by oppression, they refused to Strike it out, and declined presenting any address at all.

In the beginning of 1791, the catholic committee were again disposed to urge their suit. They deputed twelve of their body to go to the castle with a list of those laws, and entreat the protection of government to remove any part of them it thought fit; but more forcibly to mark disapprobation, delegates, who tvere soliciting on behalf of three millions of people, were dismissed without the civility of an answer!

The patience of the committee was not yet exhausted.— They had been repulsed by the Irish Government; but, perhaps, without the concurrence of its English superiors. Mr. Keogh was, therefore, delegated to London, to make a similar application at the fountain head. After three months solicitation, he was informed that no opposition would occur from England to the Irish catholics being admitted to the profession of the law, to their serving on grand juries, to their being county magistrates and high sheriffs; and, that their admission to the elective franchise should be taken under consideration.

But, in the mean time, the Irish administration appears to

have tare attempted defeating the catholic application, by working on some members of the committee, and to have hoped, at least, to draw from it some pledge that' it would never connect itself with the United Irishmen. For this purpose, some of the country gentlemen who sat in right of their rank, and who were always the most prominent persons in every humble application at court, directed by its obvious wishes, perhaps by it« •ecret suggestions, endeavoured to induce the committee to adopt the resolution of seeking no removal of the existing disabilities, but in such manner and extent as to the wisdom, libejrality and benevolence of the legislature should seem expedient. TJiis was .resisted by others, as a real abandonment of their. object, and, on a division in the general committee, in December 1791, this last opinion prevailed by a majority of ninety to seventeen. This success, and the account of the exertion that produced it, were received with enthusiasm in' the North.—Coming from that part of the catholics which was thought the least likely to resist administration, it was considered as shaking off hereditary aristocracy, and as a convincing proof that the body at large was sincerely determined to coalesce with the protestant reformers. It j therefore, gave a deep root to the Union there, in Dublin, and elsewhere.

These proceedings deserve also to be particularly noticed, as having given birth to the first general discussion of politics by the Irish Catholics in their distinct capacity. The landed gentlemen, who had so long assumed to be the head of that body, could not be easily brought to feel their weakness, or surrender their situation. After having gained a reinforcement by very diligent exertion, of fifty-one other names, Lords Fingal, Gormanston and Kenmare, with the rest of the sixty-eight* published to the world the resolutions that had been negatived in the committee. It has been alledged in their excuse for thi» obsequious exertion, that it was procured by the promise of a more extepsjye relief than was solicited by the committee. Eer

haps haps they also presumed to hope, that the display of so much strength and importance would silence or confound their not much more numerous opponents. It however produced counter resolutions from the Catholics of almost all the counties and principal towns in the kingdom, approving of the conduct of the committee, and censuring that of the sixty-eight. In the course of the meetings, where these counter resolutions were passed, the condition of the catholics was the subject of universal discussion; and thus the |ense of their rights, and indignation at their wrongs, were exceedingly encreased.

On the other hand, the friends of what has since been called the Protestant Ascendancy had taken considerable alarm, and declared themselves against the Catholic claims and measures with the utmost violence and passion. As they were almost entirely members of the established , church, in possession or expectation of all the exclusive benefits derived from their religion, and in general the uniform supporters of administration, they were either actually members of parliament, or at least more peculiarly connected with that body. This, therefore, will account for the proceedings of the session which commenced on the 19th of January, 1792.

On the first night of its meeting, Sir Hercules Lan

17921 ,•

,J grishe (a confidential servant of government, but an

early and decided enemy to the popery laws) gave notice in the House of Commons, of his intention to introduce a bill for the relief of the Catholics; which was accordingly brought in on the 4th of February. It opened to them the bar, up to the rank of king's counsel; permitted their intermarriage with protectants, provided it were celebrated by a protestant clergyman; but continued the disfranchisement of a protestant husband, marrying a popish wife; and subjected a catholic clergyman, celebrating such intermarriage, to the penalty of death; at the same time, declaring the marriage itself null and void. It furs' tber

« PreviousContinue »