Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Origin of the volunteer system-Its singular

character and important services-Exertions made by Mr. Grattan to accomplish a free trade for IrelandProceedings upon that subject in the English parliament-Sentiments of For upon the Irish volunteers-Determination of the Irish commons to obtain a redress of commercial grievancesSuccess--Increase of the volunteer bands-Grattan's speech in favour of the legislative independence of Ireland Issue of the first effort.

THE years 1778 and 1779 present a singular .. but glorious era to the historian of Ireland. They

furnish an instance of military patriotisin which it were perhaps vain to look for in the annals of any other country. It was during this period that the volunteer system commenced ; an institution

VOL. 11. , B

so peculiar, especially in its effects, that its origin deserves to be related with some minuteness.

About this time, and perhaps a year or so before the present period, some detached corps had been embodied in different parts of Ireland, particularly in the county of Wexford, by the public spirit of some gentlemen; but the volunteer army of Ireland is specifically indebted to a letter of Sir Richard Heron for its formation. These hosts of arined citizens, self-paid, self-commissioned, not only protected Ireland, but for many years shed a glory round her; and, while they astonished England, had, it is believed, the power of checking the ambitious projects of France in her mad career. The south of Ireland was languish"ing under the embargo by which its provision trade was almost wholly annihilated, while the north was equally suffering in its linen trade from the "pressure of the American war. This falling off, necessarily innpaired the little revenue which the country provided, and while the reduction of the former produced a general discontent, the deficiency of the latter rendered it impossible to pay for the necessary defence of the kingdom. In this state of things the town of Belfast, which had been visited eighteen years before by invasion, and had reason to apprehend a similar calamity now, when the coasts of Ireland were insulted by · American privateers, and vessels captured in sight of land, and when France was openly leagued with

Vindication of their first union. * America in her revolt from the mother country *, applied to government for protection against the coinmon enemy, who then menaced it with peculiar danger. Sir Robert Heron (secretary to the Earl of Buckinghamshire) returned a very plain and candid answer; government could afford it none.

Many idle suggestions have, at various periods, been thrown out against the illegality of the volunteer army; but surely the reply of Sir Robert Heron is an answer to all such opinions. A cer. tain portion of the people apply to government for defence in the hour of extremity; government says, we can afford you none; what then becomes the instinctive duty of the applicants? To provide for their own defence. The compact between the state and the people is dissolved so far as it applies to that peculiar case; and it would be a frantic kind of loyalty and submission if individuals, so circumstanced, should say, “ Well, we will not take arms into our own hands; since it so happens that we cannot be defended by the government, we are too dutiful to act in our own defence; we will remain still, and quietly

* Heu! nescia mens homini futuri! . Little did that ill-fated monarch know that he was forming the first causes of those disastrous events that were to end in the subversion of his throne, in the slaughter of his family, and the deluging his country with the blood of his people." Curran's speech in defence of Archibald Hamiltou Rowan,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

await the destruction that threatens us." It may be doubted whether such heroism would find many admirers or any imitators. ..

Well then, thus abaydoned to their own means of defence, their spirit soon supplied the defects and imbecillity of administration. Belfast, Antrim, and the adjacent counties, poured forth their armed citizens. The town of Armagh raised a body of men,, at the head of whom Lord : Charlemont placed himself. Every day beheld the institution expand, a noble ardour was almost every where diffused, and even where it was not felt perhaps, it was at least imitated. Several who had at first stood aloof from motives of distrust as to the object of these associations, and their constitutional character, now joined them, and so general was the enthusiasm that no landlord could meet his tenants, nor any member of parliament his constituents, who was not willing to serve and act with the gallant band of his countrymen, Government was astonished. It beheld, with unavailing regret, the effects of its own work, and saw enough to dismay thein, though their prophetic eye could not take in all the future, nor their minds anticipate all that was destined to flow from this patriotic body of men. It was beyond their power to dissolve the cohorts that associated themselves for military glory and to save their country. Contending dangers agitated administration. An army activg without any authority from the crown was a subject of

a

« PreviousContinue »