Page images

if their failure was not chiefly owing to the peculiar position of the divided and contending people for whom it was its difficult duty to legislate.*

It is likely that the British Government was more blamed than it deserved for its conduct during the '98 rebellion. It is at least evident enough that Irish loyalists, who had suffered or apprehended violence from the rebels, were far more enraged against them than were either the British Government or public.

In England, indeed, some Irish rebe} leaders were afterwards viewed with a certain degree of admiration by men of genius and influence. The Whig statesman, Lord Holland,t actually expressed his "approbation of Lord Edward Fitzgerald's actions," and Lord Byron termed

* "The laws and liberties of England were the best inheritance to which Ireland could attain, the sovereignty of the English crown her only shield against native or foreign) tyranny. It was her calamity that these advantages were long withheld, but the blame can never fall upon the Government of this island."—Hallam's Constitutional History of England, vol. iii.

f Memoirs of the Whig Party, vol. i. p. 103.

him a noble fellow.* Lord Russell compassionately described the '98 revolt as wickedly provoked and cruelly crushed, thus intimating no slight sympathy for the avowed enemies of England ; yet to Irish loyalists the brave captive drummer-boy, killed by the rebels for refusing to beat his drum, or the heroic Highland sentinel, slain by a number of French soldiers, after killing several himself, or, indeed, many other loyal victims, would have appeared more deserving of admiration from British poets and statesmen.!

It is easy, and sounds generous, to admire as well as pity the unfortunate in rebellions and civil wars. But pity and admiration may surely

* "He combined advantages of birth, education, and personal character, which would have enabled him to reconcile, better than any other man, the jarring materials of which the conspiracy was composed. He could, too, have directed their military operations, if not with consummate skill, at least with less ignorance and rashness than characterised all their wretched efforts in the field. Lord Edward was a good officer. His temper was happily formed to engage the affections of a warm-hearted people."—Lord Holland's Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 106-8.

t Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion.

be kept entirely distinct. The conduct and fate of well-meaning enthusiasts like some of the "United Irish" leaders may well deserve the former, but cannot be said to merit the latter, except from decided partisans.

It is, perhaps, doubtful if Lords Holland, Byron, and Russell sufficiently realised the probable and almost certain result, both to England as well as to Ireland, had the '98 rebellion triumphed. A Jacobin republic would have been established, presided over by Citizen Fitzgerald, as Lord Edward delighted to call himself, by Wolfe Tone, or by the Emmets, closely allied with the infidel republic of France.

The probable fate of Irish loyalists, under such a rule, and the consequence to England herself of having such a near neighbour, were apparently forgotten by these distinguished Englishmen, whose patriotic duty should have made the glory and safety of England the chief objects of their admiration and desires.

But whatever may have been the errors of British rule in Ireland, the chief "United Irish " leaders had no personal reason to complain, for they belonged to the same race and to the same form of Christianity as their alleged tyrants.* The probable reasons for their conduct were the attractive examples of the new French and American republics, which apparently overpowered the judgment as well as the imagination of their enthusiastic admirers. Believing that the Irish people, both Catholic and Protestant, would, like themselves, be captivated by new ideas and ignore old memories, Tone and his friends sought and obtained French aid and alliance. They persuaded themselves that with such assistance Irish Catholics and Protestants, once politically united, would first throw off the British yoke, and then the influence of all clerical authority.

This hope is evident from Tone's memoirs, as well as from the proclamations of the French generals. Ireland, they all expected, would soon become a second France. But the Irish

* "The Roman Catholics had serious reasons for discontent, for statutory enactments excluded them from civil rights. With the Protestants it was different; they had much to reform, but nothing to obtain."—Maxwell's Irish Rebellion, p. 38.

Catholic peasants, despite their ignorance of modern politics, showed more correct historical knowledge than the eager enthusiasts who called and fancied themselves their leaders. When reminded by Protestant revolutionists of former British cruelties or existing oppression, they remembered their own history well enough to know that to the enmity or worldly interests of Irish Protestants most of their grievances were attributable. They had no more reason to detest the British Government or soldiery than to detest the British Protestant colonists, their hereditary foes.*

* "They [Irish Catholics] were indeed likely to obtain but a very scanty measure of justice from the English Tories, a more scanty measure still from the English Whigs; but the most acrimonious English Whigs did not feel towards them that intense antipathy compounded of hatred, fear, and scorn with which they were regarded by the Cromwellian who dwelt among them. They had less to dread from a legislation at Westminster than from a legislation at Dublin. Twice within the memory of men then living [1698] the natives had attempted to throw off the alien yoke. Twice England had come to the rescue, and had put down the Celtic population under the feet of her own progeny."—Macaulay's History, vol. v. p. 58. In a note Macaulay mentions a remark

« PreviousContinue »