« PreviousContinue »
THE heads of the United Society, not relying wholly on its own strength, had applied to the French government for assistance, and in April seventeen hundred and ninety-six, received a promise to be assisted by an invasion of French troops, in order to subvert the power of Britain, and to procure a political separation of the sister island from her.
The vigilance of the government enabled it to penetrate this plan of internal hostility and external alliance; and the most effectual measures to circumvent it were taken into consideration. As the existing laws were inadequate to put a stop to the evil, new and extraordinary powers were vested in the executive part of the administration. By suspending the Habeas Corpus Act in particular, or in other words by suspending the privileges en tailed upon the subject by the constitution, the revolutionists were many of them considerably deranged and intimidated; the civil magistrate being by that means empowered to seize on the persons of suspicious individuals, without assigning any reason why, and to retain them in custody without being obliged to bring them to trial, during an indefinite period. But the most effectual blow levelled at the revolutionists was, the passing of a law termed the Insurrection Act, in the spring of seventeen hundred and ninety-six : it was most immediately intended to arrest the progress of the defenders, who infested the counties of Roscommon, Leitrim, Longford, Meath, and Kilkenny, robbing the peaceable inhabitants during the night of their arms, and frequently of their money and most valuable effects. The lord
lieutenant in council was by means of it authorized to proclaim, on the requisition of seven of its magistrates assembled at a sessions of the peace, any particular county or district in a state of insurrection, which thereby empowered the magistrates to seize, imprison, and send a board his majesty's fleet, any persons who might be found at unlawful assemblies, or acting in any manner whatsoever that might disturb the tranquility of the realm.
In consequence of this law, many districts in the north were proclaimed, and numbers of the poorer disaffected inhabitants conveyed on board the king's ships. A great many in respectable situations of life, being privately informed against as members of the conspiracy, were arrested and committed to prison, where several lay for a considerable time, without being brought to trial. This unhappily gave too many opportunities for the exercise of private revenge.
A trial of strength seemed now to have taken place between the Society of United Irish and the government. Any vigorous measure enforced on the one side was immediately opposed by the one which should serve as an antidote to the other. The lower classes of the association began now to furnish themselves with arms, by assembling, like the defenders, and plundering the houses of all those whom they imagined to be disaffected to their cause. Great parties (amounting sometimes to several thousands) assembled on the most trivial occasions and pretexts, in order to acquire a facility of repairing to places of rendezvous, to encourage their own party, and to discourage their adversaries. Bribery and menaces were employed to retard the execution of the laws. Magistrates who exerted themselves to seize the members of the conspiracy were persecuted without mercy, and sometimes even assassinated. The same measures were adopted against witnesses who appeared against them in court, and jurors who found them guilty.
Notwithstanding a proclamation issued on the sixth of November, seventeen hundred and ninety-six, by the lord lieutenant, strictly commanding all magistrates and loyal subjects to use their best endeavours for the prevention and punishment of all treasonable proceedings, and notwithstanding the military had been previously ordered to assist the civil officers in the
execution of this duty; yet the United Irish in Ulster. would have obtained a general insurrection in the north, had the troops embarked at Brest for the invasion of Ireland effected their debarkation at Bantry bay, on the coast of which they arrived in the end of December. But this armament, stated to have contained fifteen thousand men, was dispersed by a storm, and the attempt rendered abortive. The association in Ulster, also was for the present completely checked by the prompt proceedings of the king's troops; who collected vast quantities of rebel arms, and by the prudent offer of pardon to all who would surrender within a given time. The inferior societies in general discontinued their meeting. Ulster ceased to be completely represented in the provincial committee, and order was so restored throughout the province, that the execution of the law, by the end of August, was in general restored to the civil power, the longer interference of the military being found unnecessary,
WHILE the society of United Irishmen received so severe, a check in the northern counties, it was extending with hasty strides its improved system of organization in those of the south; in order thoroughly to understand the nature of which, it will be necessary to review also its complete civil structure.
This organization of men, associated for the ostensible purpose of procuring a constitutional reform of government, was effected by the following very surprising scheme :-It consisted of an immense number of societies, “ linked closely together, ss and ascending in gradation, like the component parts of a 6 pyramid or cone, to a common apex or point of union.” The inferior societies at first consisted of thirty-six, but were afterwards reduced to twelve members; as nearly as possible of the same neighbourhood. Whenever they exceeded that number, the superabundant members were dismissed, with orders to make fresh proselytes, and to form thereby a new society. Each society chose a secretary and treasurer, and five secretaries formed what was called a lower baronial committee, which had the immediate direction and superintendance of the five societies who contributed to its institution. From each lower baronial committee thus constituted, one member out of the five was delegated to an upper baronial committee, which in like manner assumed and exercised the superintendance and direction of all the lower baronial committees in the several counties. The next superior committees were, in populous towns, distinguished by the name of district committees, and in counties, by the name of
county committees, and were composed of members delegated by the upper baronials. Each upper baronial committee delegated one of its members to the district or county committee, and these district or county committees had the superintendance and direcs tion of all the upper baronials who contributed to their institution.
Having thus organized the several counties and populous towns, a subordinate directory was erected in each of the four provinces, composed of two or three members, according to the extent and population of the district which they represented, who were delegated to a provincial committee, and had the immediate direction and superintendance of the several county and district committees in each of the four provinces ; and a general executive directory, composed of five persons only, was elected by the provincial directories, to whom the supreme and uncontrolled command of the whole of this complex machine was committed. The election of these five directors was conducted in a very singular manner. They were balloted from the members of the provincial committees, the secretaries of which alone knew the persons on whom the election devolved, and notified the appointment to no one except to the directors them. selves. The manner of communicating the orders issued by this hidden directing power, was peculiarly calculated to baffle all attempts at discovery, being conveyed by not very easily discoverable chains of communication through the whole organized body. One member alone of the executive communicated to the secretary of each provincial committee the mandates of himself and his colleagues; by each secretary the order was transmitted severally to the secretaries of the district and county committees; by the latter to those of the upper baronial committees; from the upper baronial to those of the lower baronial committees; and by them they were communicated to the twelve. members of their respective inferior or simple societies.
The military organization of this artfully-constituted union, was engrafted on that of the civil. The secretary of each subordinate society was appointed its noncommissioned officer, serjeant or corporal, having a military command over twelve Inen ; the delegate of five simple societies to a lower baronial committee was, for the most part, captain of these five, that is, of a company of sixty men; the delegate of ten lower baronial