Irish History belongs to England—How she tells it!—Another Version—Ireland finally subdued five times—The Penal Laws—Irish Industry, how fostered—Agriculture—Our Forefathers’ Famines—Berkeley—Swift’s “Proposal” for a Relief Measure—Eighteen years—Ireland unprotected and unameliorated—The Volunteers—Project of the Union—Union carried—Famines in 1817 and ’22—The O’Connell Agitations—“Emancipation”—Extermination—Devon Commission—Campaign against the Celts—Slaughter—The Last Famine—British Law” helps the Famine—The Famine helps British Law—Utter Desolation—Project for Resistance at last—Clubs—Pikes—United Irishman—Lord Clarendon—Birch, Privy Counsellor to the Viceroy—Treason Felony—O’Brien and Meagher—Trial by one’s Country—British Providence works out His wise Dispensations

ENGLAND has been left in possession not only of the Soil of Ireland, with all that grows and lives thereon, to her own use. but in possession of the world’s ear also. She may pour into, it what tale she will: and all mankind will believe her.

Success confers every right in this Enlightened Age; wherein, – for the first time, it has come to be admitted and proclaimed in set terms, that Success is Right and Defeat is Wrong; If I may profess myself a disbeliever in that gospel, the Enlightened Age will only smile, and say,” The defeated always are.” Britain being in possession of the floor, any hostile comment upon her way of telling our story is an unmannerly interruption; nay, is nothing short of an Irish howl.

And if Ireland be indeed conquered finally and irredeemably, it would be useless to importune the busy public (which has good heart enough, but really no time to attend to the grievances of mendicants), with any contradiction to the British story. – A touching and sanctimonious tale it is! – barbarian Celtic nature for ever revolting in its senseless, driftless way, against the genius of British civilisation – generous efforts for the amelioration of “that portion of the United Kingdom,” met for ever by brutal turbulence, “crime and outrage,” suspicion, ingratitude – British Benevolence stretching forth its open hand to relieve those same turbulent but now starving wretches, when Heaven smote the land with Famine – the anxieties, the cares, the expenses, that an unthrifty island cost her more prosperous sister, who would not, for ail that, desert her in her extremity, but would ameliorate her to the last.

So it runs; and so it might pass unchallenged for ever, if one could believe that the last conquest of Ireland was indeed the final and crowning conquest. But that Nation has been so often dead and buried, and has so often been born again – one and the same man sometimes both assisting at the rocking of her cradle, and as chief-mourner following her hearse, that there is no trusting to this seeming death. Mountjoy gave Ireland to Elizabeth, “Nothing but carcases and ashes,” dead enough. In half a century, the carcases are armed men, the ashes flaming fire; and an Oliver Cromwell has to come over to smite and to slay again. Ireland was conquered by Cromwell, literally and universally. The cause of Ireland – Ireland as against England – was what all men would call lost: her castles rifted by the regicide’s cannon; her fields laid waste, and the inheritance of them given to strangers; her best and bravest in bloody graves, or wasting and weltering in the Western Indies; – at her sister’s feet she lay a corpse. A few years pass; she is not yet cold in her grave – and again all Europe hears the clang of aims in Ireland. Again the cause is Ireland against England, though the flags be the flags of Stuart against Orange-Nassau. Though the war-cry be “Righ Seamus Abu!” yet the war means Ireland for the Irish.

And again, a King and Deliverer of England comes over the sea to crush, kill, and trample Ireland – and again Ireland dies: on the Boyne stream her heart’s blood runs to the sea; at the “Break of Aughrim” her neck is broken; and when the Wild Geese fly from Limerick, England feels at last secure: surely this time her sister and mortal enemy is dead past all resurrection.

Not yet! Another gloomy and uneasy century drags along; the age of the Penal Laws. The English Government never yet observed any single treaty which it was convenient for them to break; and having solemnly agreed by the capitulation of Limerick not to impose penalties for Catholic worship, and having so disarmed the Catholic forces and ended the war, that Government, as a matter of course, at once imposed penal laws through their servile Anglo-Irish Parliament. Everybody has heard of the terrible Penal Laws; but not everybody knows what they were.

They took charge of every Catholic from his cradle, and attended him to his grave – Catholic children could only be educated by Protestant teachers at home; and it was highly penal to send them abroad for education.

Catholics were excluded from every profession, except the medical, and from all official stations without exception.

Catholics were forbidden to exercise trade or commerce in any corporate town.

Catholics were legally disqualified to hold leases of land for a longer tenure than thirty-one years; and also disqualified to inherit the lands of Protestant relatives.

A Catholic could not legally possess a horse of greater value than five pounds; and any true Protestant meeting a Catholic with a horse of fifty or sixty pounds in value, might lay down the legal price of five pounds, unhorse the idolator, mount in his place and ride away.

A Catholic child, turning Protestant, could sue his parents for maintenance; to be determined by the Protestant Court of Chancery.

A Catholic’s eldest son, turning Protestant, reduced his father to a tenant for life, the reversion to the convert.

A Catholic priest could not celebrate Mass, under severe penalties; but any priest who recanted was secured a stipend by law.

Here was a code for the promotion of true religion; from whence it may appear, that Catholics have not been the only persecutors in the world. Some persons may even go so far as to say that no Catholic Government ever yet conceived in its heart so fell a system of oppression. However, it may be a circumstance in favour of the Protestant code (or it may not), that whereas Catholics have really persecuted for religion, enlightened Protestants only made a pretext of religion – taking no thought what became of Catholic souls, if only they could get possession of Catholic lands and goods. Alas, we may remark, that Catholic Governments, in their persecutions, always really desired the conversion of misbelievers (albeit their method was rough) – but in Ireland if the people had universally turned Protestant, it would have defeated the whole scheme.

Edmund Burke calls this Penal Code “a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” Singular, that it originated with the “Glorious Revolution,” and was in full force during the reign of William the Deliverer, Anne, and the three first gracious Georges!

And it answered the purpose. The Irish people were impoverished and debased. And so the English, having forbidden them for generations to go to school, became entitled to taunt them with ignorance: and having deprived them of lands, and goods, and trade, magnanimously mock their poverty, and call them tatterdemalions.

During that eighteenth century, the Catholics disappear from history and politics. Such sallies of resistance as were made in those years against the encroachment of British power, were made by Protestants (Swift, Lucas, Molyneux), in assertion of a Protestant Nationality, and for the independence of a Protestant Parliament. Indeed, when the Protestant Dissenters of England argued for the repeal of the Corporation Act and Test Act, which prevented them from holding certain State offices, Dean Swift, the Irish patriot, wrote a sarcastic petition, as if from the Irish Catholics, praying that they might be relieved from their penal disabilities; in order to cast ridicule and discredit on the pretensions of Dissenters, by way of reductio ad absurdum – We will have the very Catholics, said he, coming in next!

We might well expect, by the close of that century, to find Ireland altogether Anglicised – the Catholics all dead or converted – the ruling classes so completely British in their feelings as well as by their extraction that England would never more need to fear the uprising of a hostile Irish Nation. Ireland was to all human appearance dead and buried this time.

And in truth so she might have lain for ever, if the English could have repressed their national greediness (or “energy”) but a little. But it was impossible. The ruling class of Ireland, albeit Protestants, were soon taught that they were not to expect to be placed on an equal footing with men “whose limbs were made in England.” Express enactments were made, to put an end to several branches of their trade, and to cramp and restrict others.1 Agriculture, too, which is the main concern of every nation, was accurately regulated in Ireland with a view to British interests. One hundred years ago, Ireland imported much corn from England; because it then suited the purpose of the other island to promote Irish sheep-farming in order to provide wool for the Yorkshire weavers. Tillage and cattle-feeding were discouraged; therefore the Irish were forbidden to export black-cattle to England. Sheep then became the more profitable stock, and the port of Barnstaple was opened to receive all their fleeces. But soon after, when England had full possession of the woollen manufacture, and that of Ireland was utterly ruined, it became apparent to the prudent British, that the best use they could make of Ireland would be to turn it into a general store-farm, for all sorts of agricultural produce.2 It is their store-farm to this day.

Those restrictive laws no longer exist. They have been repealed from time to time, merely because England wanted them no longer. The work was done; the British were in possession. To revive manufactures in Ireland, there must have been protective duties imposed on import of manufactured articles from England; but there was no free Irish Parliament to do this. Besides, the time became so enlightened that the Spirit of the Age was against such duties. In other words, the English could then afford to cry out “Free Trade!” “True principles of a political economy!” and-so-forth; taking care only to prevent any interference by law or otherwise, with the satisfactory state of things they had established. To lose a trade is easy; to recover it, in the face of wealthy rivals now in possession, impossible.

When manufactures are crushed, and a peasantry bound to the plough-tail and the cattle-shed, of course the manufactured commodities they require must come to them from abroad, and their raw agricultural produce must go in payment for them.

Further, when the condition of the peasantry is embittered by subjection to an alien and hostile class of landlords, who hold by lineage and affection to another country, and whose sole interest in their tenantry is to draw from them the very uttermost farthing, that they may spend it in that other country3 – and when that rental also, as well as the price of manufactures, must be paid in raw produce, the arrangement is as good as perfect. You can want no more to account for the starved skeletons of Ireland – and the comforts which brighten “the happy homes of England.”

So went by the eighteenth century in Ireland. One can hardly believe that the sun shone as he is wont in those days.

So dreary and miserable is the landscape. – a good Bishop Berkeley putting these dismal queries in 1734 – “Whether there be upon earth any Christian or civilised people so beggarly, wretched, and destitute as the common Irish.”- “Whether, nevertheless, there is any other people whose wants may be more easily supplied from home.”4 Or writing thus to his friend, Prior, in Dublin – “The distresses of the sick and poor are endless. The havoc of mankind in the counties of Cork, Limerick and some adjacent places, have been incredible. The nation, probably, will not recover this loss in a century. The other day I heard one from the County of Limerick say that whole villages were entirely dispeopled. About two months since, I heard Sir Richard Cox say that five hundred were dead in the parish, though in a county, I believe not very populous”; – a bitter Dean Swift, with accustomed ferocity of sarcasm, while the sæva indignatio gnawed his heart,5 making and publishing his “Modest Proposal” to relieve the fearful distress by cooking and eating the children of the poor.6

Yet, before the end of that same century – such vitality is there in the Irish race, and the Irish cause – Dublin streets beheld a wonderful spectacle – the Volunteer Army in its brilliant battalions, and an Independent Parliament legislating for the Sovereign Kingdom of Ireland! Apparently the conquest of Ireland had not yet been entirely finished.

For eighteen years, it seemed as if the steady progress of the British system in Ireland was about to be stopped or even turned back. The instinct and zeal of British “Amelioration,” indeed, was as strong as ever, but 80,000 volunteer bayonets stopped the way. British statesmen were as desirous as ever to regulate in their minutest detail all the trade and traffic of Britain’s sister island – surely for her sister’s good – but on the muzzles of the Irish artillery was engraved the legend “Free Trade or Else.”7

During those eighteen years of Irish independence then, British policy was suspended. Honest John Bull all those years was losing a yearly income which he felt to be justly his due. Our countrymen began to manufacture again; and seditiously consumed their own corn and beef. Revenue expended in public improvements at home, to the prejudice of the British services – the metropolis of Dublin beautified and enriched, to the heavy loss of industrious Londoners – Irish landlords keeping their town-houses in Ireland and spending their rents at home, instead of paying rent and wages in England! The thing was not to be borne – and through “intolerance of Irish prosperity,” preparations were made to conquer Ireland again by the Act of Union.

First, the Volunteers were to be disbanded and disarmed. Without that, no progress in civilisation could be made; nor could the British Providence carry out his wise designs. The disbanding was accomplished by pretending to grant fully (for the time) all that Ireland demanded. The too credulous people were taught that it would look suspicious if they kept up such an armament; and in an evil hour the Volunteers once more committed the defence of their island to her sister country.

Next, to frighten the gentry of Ireland into an Union, an insurrection had to be provoked. The expedients by which this was effected are known well enough; but the rebellion of ’98, when it did burst out, had nearly proved too strong for its fomenters: and it needed General Lake with twenty thousand disciplined men, and complete batteries of field-artillery, to suppress it in the county of Wexford alone.

The noble owners of nomination boroughs were bribed, at £15,000 per borough, to sell them to the English Government.

The Catholic Bishops were bribed by promises of Emancipation (which the English delayed to fulfil for thirty years), to deliver over their flocks into the hands of the British.

The country was in abject terror; the Press was crushed by prosecutions; public meetings were dispersed by dragoons. The Irish Parliament was crowded (through the prudent bargaining of the noble owners of nomination boroughs) with English officers – in short, the year 1800 saw the Act of Union. At one blow, England had her revenge. Ireland, and all Irish produce and industry, were placed totally in her power; and Ireland having but one member in six to what, they called the Imperial Parliament, security was taken that the arrangement should never be disturbed.

This time, once more, Ireland was fully conquered – never nation yet took so much conquering and remained unsubdued. For twenty years after the Union the country was as absolutely prostrated in means and in spirit as she seems to be now; and as a matter of course she had her cruel famine every year. Without a famine in Ireland, England could not live as she had a right to expect; and the exact complement of a comfortable family dinner in England, is a coroner’s inquest in Ireland: verdict, Starvation. In 1817 the famine was more desperate than usual, and in the best counties of Ireland, people fed on weeds. In 1822 it was more horrible still. Sir John Newport of Waterford, in his place in the House of Commons,8 described one parish in which fifteen persons had already died of hunger; twenty-eight more were past all hope of recovery, and one hundred and twenty (still in the same parish) ill of farriine-fever – and told of another parish where the priest had gone round and administered extreme unction to every man, woman, and child of his parishioners, all in articulo mortis by mere starvation.9

All these years the Agricultural produce of Ireland was increasing more and more, and the English were devouring it. Indeed, so rapidly did this food-export (the only Irish commerce) grow and swell, that in 1826, to conceal the amount of it, the English Parliament placed it, “on the footing of a coasting-trade” – that is to say, no accounts were to be kept of it.10

During the same period, every Parliament was sure to enact at least one Arms Bill; intending to deprive all mere Celts of necessary weapons for defence, and to kill in them the spirit of men.

Two distinct movements were all this while stirring the people; one open and noisy – the Catholic Relief Agitation, the other secret and silent – the Ribbon and White-boy movement. The first proposed to itself the admission of professional and genteel Catholics to Parliament and to the honours of the professions, all under London Law – the other, originating in an utter horror and defiance of London Law, contemplated nothing less than social, ultimately political revolution. For fear of the last, Great Britain with a very ill grace yielded to the first. Unfortunately for Ireland, Catholic Emancipation was carried in 1829. “Respectable Catholics” were contented, and became West Britons from that day.

At the head of that open and legal agitation, was a man of giant proportions in body and in mind; with no profound learning, indeed, even in his own profession of the law, but with a vast and varied knowledge of human nature, in all its strength, and especially in all its weakness; with a voice like thunder and earthquake, yet musical and soft at will, as the song of birds; with a genius and fancy, tempestuous, playful, cloudy, fiery, mournful, merry, lofty and mean by turns, as the mood was on him – a humour broad, bacchant, riant, genial and jovial – with profound and spontaneous natural feeling, and superhuman and superhuman passions, yet withal, a boundless fund of masterly affectation and consummate histrionism – hating and loving heartily, outrageous in his merriment, and passionate in his lamentation, he had the power to make other men hate or love, laugh or weep, at his good pleasure – insomuch that Daniel O’Connell, by virtue of being more intensely Irish, carrying to a more extravagant pitch all Irish strength and passion and weakness, than other Irishmen, led and swayed his people by a kind of divine, or else diabolic right.

He led them, as I believe, all wrong for forty years. He was a lawyer; and never could come to the point of denying and defying all British Law. He was a Catholic, sincere and devout; and would not see that the Church had ever been the enemy of Irish Freedom. He was an aristocrat, by position and by taste; and the name of a Republic was odious to him. Moreover, his success as a Catholic Agitator ruined both him and his country. By mere agitation, by harmless exhibition of numerical force, by imposing demonstrations (which are fatal nonsense), and by eternally half-unsheathing a visionary sword, which friends and foes alike knew to be a phantom – he had, as he believed, coerced the British Government to pass a Relief Bill, and admit Catholics to Parliament and some offices.

It is true that Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington said they brought in this measure, to avert civil war; but no British statesman ever officially tells the truth, or assigns to any act its real motive. Their real motive was, to buy into the British interests, the landed and educated Catholics; that so the great multitudinous Celtic enemy might be left more absolutely at their mercy.

For, beginning on the very day of Catholic Emancipation, there was a more systematic and determined plan of havoc upon the homes of the poor. First, the “forty-shilling freehold” was abolished. This low franchise for counties had induced landlords to subdivide farms, and to rear up population for the hustings. The franchise at an end, there was no political use for the people; and all encouragements and facilities were furnished by the British Government to get rid of them. Then began the “amelioration” (for benevolence guided all) of clearing off “surplus population,” and consolidating the farms. It needed too much of the produce of the island to feed such a mob of Celts; and improved systems of tillage would give more com and cattle to English markets, more money to Irish landlords.

The code of cheap and easy Ejectment was improved and extended. All these statutes were unknown to the common law of England, and have been invented for the sole sake of the Irish Celt.

By an Act of the 25th year of George the Third (1815), in all cases of holdings where the rent was under £20 a year – that is, in the whole class of small tillage farms – power had been given to the County Judge at sessions, to make a decree for Ejectment at the cost of a few shillings. Two years afterwards, another Act was passed, which stated that in the proceedings under the former statute, “doubts had arisen” as to the admissibility, in certain cases, of the affidavit. of the landlord or lessor, or his agent, for ascertaining the amount due, and then proceeded to enact that such affidavits should be held sufficient. Under these two Acts, many an estate was cleared, many a farmer uprooted from his foothold in the soil, and swept out upon the highways: but yet not fast enough; so that by another Act of the first year of King George IV, it was declared that provisions of the cheap Ejectment Act “had been found highly beneficial, and it was expedient that the same should be extended”: and, thereupon, it was enacted by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice, and-so-forth, that the power of summary Ejectment at Quarter Sessions should apply to all holdings at less than £50 rent; and, by the same statute, the cost of procuring these Ejectments was still further reduced. In the reigns of George IV and Victoria, other Acts for the same purpose were made. So that when the Famine and the Poor-laws came, the expense of clearing a whole countryside, was very trifling indeed. To receive some of the exterminated, Poor-houses were erected all over the island, which had the effect of stifling compunction in the ejectors. The Poor-houses were soon filled.

Yet all these years, from 1829 to 1846, with all the thinning and clearing, Celts kept increasing and multiplying. The more they multiplied, the more they starved; for the export of their food to England was also increasing yearly; then, with the greater demand for farms, rents rose and wages fell; and when at last the first shadow of the famine fell upon the island, nine-tenths of the people were living on the meanest and cheapest food, and upon a minimum of that.

But all these same years, loud and triumphant Agitations were going forward – the “Precursor” Agitation; the Repeal Agitation – and the cheers of imposing demonstrations rent the air. Our poor people were continually assured that they were the finest peasantry in the world – “Alone among the nations.” They were told that their grass was greener, their women fairer, their mountains higher, their valleys lower, than those of other lands – that their “moral force” (alas!) had conquered before, and would again – that next year would be the Repeal year: in fine, that Ireland would be the first flower of the earth and first gem of the sea.

Not that the Irish are a stupid race, or naturally absurd, but the magician bewitched them to their destruction.

All these years, too, a kind of political war of posts was waged between O’Connell and British Ministers. Things called “good measures” were obtained; especially good men, friends and dependents of O’Connell’s (for he was generous as the day) got offices. “Ameliorations” were now and then proposed – and if they were humbugs too manifest, O’Connell in his Hall, turned them inside out amidst laughter inextinguishable; and said “Na bac leis” and “Thank you for nothing, says the gallipot.” Collateral issues all. Under all this, the heart and soul of Ireland – whatever of intellect and manliness was left in Ireland, beat and burned for independence – and England was skilfully laying her plans for the final conquest of her enemy.

For not one instant did the warfare cease upon farming Celts. In 1843, “Government” issued a notable commission; that is, appointed a few landlords, with Lord Devon at their head, to go through Ireland, collect evidence, and report on the best means (not of destroying the Irish enemy – official documents do not now use so harsh language, but) of ameliorating the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland. On this commission, O’Connell observed that it was “a jury of butchers trying a sheep for his life,” and said many other good things both merry and bitter, as was his wont; but the Devon Commission travelled and reported; and its Report has been the Gospel of Irish landlords and British Statesmen ever since.   

Three sentences of their performance will show the drift of it. Speaking of “Tenant Right” (a kind of unwritten law whereby tenants in the North were secure from ejectment from their farms while they paid their rent, a custom many ages old, and analogous to the customs of farmers all over Europe), these Commissioners reported “that they foresaw some dangers to the just rights of property from the unlimited allowance of this tenant-right.” On the propriety of consolidating farms (that is, destroying many small farmers to set up one large one), the Commissioners say, “When it is seen in the evidence, and in the return of the size of farms, how minute these holdings are, it cannot be denied that such a step is absolutely necessary.”

But the most remarkable sentence occurs in Lord Devon’s “Digest of the Evidence,” page 399:

“We find that there are at present 326,084 occupiers of land (more than one-third of the total number returned in Ireland), whose holdings vary from seven acres to less than one acre; and are, therefore, inadequate to support the families residing upon them. In the same table. No. 95, page 564, the calculation is put forward, showing that the consolidation of these small holdings up to eight acres, would require the removal of about 192,368 families.”

That is, the killing of a million of persons. Little did the Commissioners hope then, that in four years, British policy, with the famine to aid, would succeed in killing fully two millions, and forcing nearly another million to flee the country.

In 1846 came the Famine, and the “Relief Acts” advancing money from the Treasury, to be repaid by local assessment; and of course there was an aggravated and intolerable Poor-rate to meet this claim. Of which Relief Acts, only one fact needs to be recorded here – that the Public Works done under them were strictly ordered to be of an unproductive sort – that is, such as would create no fund to repay their own expenses. Accordingly, many hundreds of thousands of feeble and starving men were kept digging holes, and breaking up roads – doing not only no service, but much harm. Well, then, to meet these Parliamentary advances there was nothing but rates: and, therefore, there was the higher premium to landlords on the extermination, that is the slaughter, of their tenantry. If the clearing business had been active before, now there was a rage and passion for it; and as if the Cheap Ejectment Acts were not a speedy enough machinery, there was a new Poor-law enacted, containing amongst other clauses, the “Quarter Acre clause,” which provided that if a farmer, having sold all his produce to pay the rent duties, rates and taxes, should be reduced, as many thousands of them were, to apply for public out-door relief, he should not get it until he had first delivered up all his land to the landlord. Under that law it is the able-bodied idler only who is to be fed – if he attempt to till but one rood of ground, he dies. This simple method of ejectment was called “passing paupers through the workhouse” – a man went in, a pauper came out.

Under these various Poor-laws and Relief Acts, there were at least 10,000 government offices, small and great; looking and canvassing for these were 100,000 men; a great army in the interest of England.

At the end of six years, I can set down these things calmly; but to see them might have driven a wise man mad. There is no need to recount how the Assistant Barristers and Sheriffs, aided by the Police, tore down the roof-trees and ploughed up the hearths of village after village – how the Quarter Acre clause laid waste the parishes, how the farmers and their wives and little ones in wild dismay, trooped along the highways – how in some hamlets by the seaside, most of the inhabitants being already dead, an adventurous traveller would come upon some family eating a famished ass – how maniac mothers stowed away their dead children to be devoured at midnight – how Mr. Darcy of Clifden, describes a humane gentleman going to a village near that place with some crackers, and standing at the door of a house; “and when he threw the crackers to the children (for he was afraid to enter), the mother attempted to take them from them” – how husband and wife fought like wolves for the last morsel of food in the house; how families, when all was eaten and no hope left, took their last look at the Sun, built up their cottage doors, that none might see them die nor hear their groans, and were found weeks afterwards, skeletons on their own hearth; how the “law” was vindicated all this while; how the Arms Bills were diligently put in force, and many examples were made; how starving wretches were transported for stealing vegetables by night11; how overworked coroners declared they would hold no more inquests; how Americans sent corn, and the very Turks, yea, negro slaves, sent money for alms; which the British Government was not ashamed to administer to the “sister country”; and how, in every one of these years, ’46, ’47, and ’48, Ireland was exporting to England, food to the value of fifteen million pounds sterling, and had on her own soil at each harvest, good and ample provision for double her own population, notwithstanding the potato blight.12

To this condition had forty years of “moral and peaceful agitation” brought Ireland. The high aspirations after a national Senate and a national flag had sunk to a mere craving for food. And for food Ireland craved in vain. She was to be taught that the Nation which parts with her nationhood, or suffers it to be wrested or swindled from her, thereby loses all. O’Connell died heart-broken in 1847 – heart-broken not by a mean vexation at seeing the power departing from him; the man was too great for that; but by the sight of his People sinking every day into death under their inevitable, inexorable doom. His physicians ordered him to a warmer climate: in vain: amidst the reverent acclamations of Paris, through the sunny valleys of France, as he journeyed southward, that Banshee wail followed him and found him, and rung in his dying ear. At Genoa he died: ordering that the heart should be taken out of his dead body, and sent, not to Ireland, but to Rome; a disposition which proves how miserably broken and debilitated was that once potent nature.

Politics, by this time, was a chaos in Ireland. “Conciliation Hall” was sending forth weekly an abject howl for food! food! The “Irish Confederation” (of which the present writer was a member) had no much clearer view through the gloom; though it had more energy and honesty. Two or three vain efforts were made by its leaders to put a good man into the representation (Meagher at Waterford), or to keep a bad man out (Monahan at Galway) – both efforts in vain. The representation and the franchise were too cunningly calculated for British interests.

Every week was deepening the desolation and despair throughout the country; until at last the French Revolution of February, ’48, burst upon Europe. Ireland, it is true, did not then possess the physical resources or the high spirit which had “threatened the integrity of the Empire“ in ’43; but even as she was, depopulated, starved, cowed and corrupted, it seemed better that she should attempt resistance, however heavy the odds against success, than lie prostrate and moaning as she was. Better that men should perish by the bayonets of the enemy than by their laws.

Clubs were formed expressly for arming; rifles were eagerly purchased; and the blacksmiths’ forges poured forth pikeheads. Sedition, treason, were openly preached and enforced; and the United Irishman was established specifically as an Organ of Revolution. The Viceroy, Lord Clarendon, became alarmed: he concentrated eight thousand troops in Dublin; he covered the land with detectives; and informers were the chief frequenters of the Castle. Walls were covered with placards (printed by Thom, the Government Printer), warning peaceable citizens that “Communists” intended to rob their houses, and murder their families; detectives went to unsuspecting blacksmiths and mysteriously ordered pikes for the “revolution” – then brought the pikes to the Castle; and thereupon Lord Clarendon had additional reasons to call for more regiments from England, to mount cannon upon the Bank; to garrison the College; to parade his artillery through the streets. But this was not enough: his Lordship wanted an organ at the press; for it happened that, about that time, all the decent journals of the country were pouring contempt upon him and his government, except the Dublin Evening Post, which was bribed with public money. It was necessary to secure another organ. The cause of “Law and Order” – the interests of civilisation – the wise designs of a British Providence required more support. There was then in Dublin a paper of the most infamous character; a paper that subsisted upon hush-money (the only one of the sort ever printed in Ireland); a paper that was never quoted, whose name was never named by any Journal in the city. Its editor, an illiterate being of the name of Birch, had been prosecuted more than once, convicted at least once, and imprisoned six months, for procuring money from timid citizens by threats of publishing disgusting stories of their private life. To this man my Lord Clarendon applied, that he might aid him with his counsel and with his pen. With him he consulted at the Viceregal Lodge upon the critical posture of affairs, and upon the best mode of carrying out the designs of Providence for Ireland. In order the more effectually to do this pious work, it was needful that the avowed enemies of that British Providence (of whom the present writer had the honour to be one) should be covered with obloquy, and pointed out to the execration of mankind as abominable; but seeing that reputable persons never saw the Viceroy’s new organ, it became necessary to circulate it gratuitously by means of public money.13

Under the advice of this Birch, who told the Viceroy that it was time for vigour, his Lordship called for a new Law of Treason. Immediately (April 19th) a Bill was brought in by Sir George Grey, and made into an Act by large majorities, providing that any one who should levy war against the Queen, or endeavour to deprive her of her title, or by open and advised speaking, printing, or publishing, incite others to the same, should be “deemed guilty of felony” and transported.

This act was passed with a special view to crush the United Irishman, and to destroy its Editor. If the offence had been left a misdemeanour as theretofore, the “government” knew that the United Irishman could not be put down, because there would have been no forfeiture in case of conviction; and they were all well aware that competent men would not be wanting to give a voice to treason, even though editor after editor should be chained up.

In the meantime the case grew pressing. All the country was fast becoming aroused; and many thousands of pikes were in the hands of the peasantry. The soldiers of several regiments, being Irish, were well known to be very willing to fraternise with the people, upon a first success and the police, in such an event, would have been a green-coated Irish army upon the moment.

Birch and Clarendon would not even wait to get their enemy fairly into the new felony. They caused three to be arrested in the meantime (O’Brien, Meagher, and the present writer), on a charge of sedition; but on bringing the two former to trial, it was found that the juries (special juries in the Court of Queen’s Bench) had not been closely enough packed; and the prosecutions failed. In my case, though there were two indictments, one for a speech, and one for an article, and two juries had actually been struck, “Government” felt that a failure would be at least dangerous; so the Viceroy suddenly caused my arrest on a charge of “treason-felony” under his new Act, and determined to, not try, but pretend to try me, at the next Commission in Green Street – at any rate to clear Ireland of me and so get rid of one obstacle at least to the fulfilment of British policy.

Here, then, this narrative leaves the general affairs of the country and shrinks to the dimensions of a single prosecution. From the day that I entered my dungeon (the 23rd of May, 1848), I know but by hearsay how the British Government fulfilled the designs and administered the dispensations of Providence in Ireland – how the Famine was successfully exploited; how the Poor-rates doubled and trebled, and were diligently laid out in useless works; how the Orange Lodges were supplied with arms from the Castle; how the mere Celtic peasantry were carefully deprived of all weapons; how the land lords were gradually broken and impoverished by the pressure of rates, until the beneficent “Encumbered Estates Bill” had to come in and solve their difficulties – a great stroke of British policy, whereby it was hoped (now that the tenantry were cleared to the proper point) to clear out the landlords, too, and replace them with English and Scottish purchasers. In short, how the last conquest was consummated, let other pens than mine describe.

The United Irishman was at that time admitted to be making progress in stimulating the just disaffection of the people to the point of insurrection. The first and most earnest efforts, therefore, of the enemy’s Government were now to be exerted for its destruction. And now came the momentous question of the jury. The Ministry of England happened to be a Whig Ministry; and one of the artifices by which the Whigs had gained their reputation for “liberality” was hypocritically censuring the Tories for packing juries – that is, carefully selecting their own friends apparently to try, but really to destroy a political enemy. I provoked them to this prosecution with the idea that if they did not pack, and were beaten on the trial (in a case of so open and flagrant “treason”), the prestige and the real power of the British rule in Ireland would be wounded seriously, perhaps mortally – but that if they broke through all Whig maxims, and obtained their conviction by the usual villainous means of excluding five-sixths of the people from serving on juries, the atrocity would still more exasperate the furious disaffection, and ripen the Revolution. In all this I under-estimated, on the one hand, the vigour and zeal of the British Government in carrying out the designs of Providence, and on the other, the much-enduring patience and perseverance of the Irish Catholics.

The day of trial approached; and it became well known in Dublin, that Lord Clarendon was resolved. Whig or no Whig, to pack at least this one jury most jealously. The juries to try O’Brien and Meagher had been selected, indeed, with considerable care; yet on each of those juries there had been left at least one friend of the national cause – a piece of official negligence which ended in the defeat of those prosecutions; and it was, therefore, clear that it must not be repeated. Just before my pretended “trial,” however. Ministers were taken to task about the instructions which had been sent to Ireland for the conduct of the State prosecutions; and returns were moved for Lord John Russell replied, in a most virtuous speech, that nothing could be further from the intention of the Government than excluding Catholics as such, from the jury-box, using “unfairness,” or turning the administration of justice into a matter of politics.14 The report of that virtuous speech arrived in Dublin on the very day when the Crown prosecutors and Attorney General were packing the jury, to convict me, as never jury was packed before – excluding all Catholics, as such – excluding all Protestants who were not known to be my enemies – openly “using unfairness,” and using the false pretence of law and justice to crush a political enemy. There was not, of course, a single Catholic left upon this pretended jury; nor a single Protestant who was not well known to be for the Castle, and against the People.

Two or three days after my pretended trial – as I find in the papers – the same Lord John Russell, being questioned again by Mr. Keogh on the explusion of Catholics on all the three trials, declared that in the case of Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Meagher, jurors had not been set aside for political or religious opinions; but, said his Lordship, “have no explanation to offer with respect to what has taken place on the trial of Mr. Mitchel.”

In short, the cause of “civilisation” and of British Law and Order, required that I should be removed to a great distance from Ireland, and that my office and printing materials should become the property of Her Majesty. Though the noble old Robert Holmes, who advocated the prisoner’s cause that day, had had the tongue of men and of angels, he could have made no impression there. A verdict of “Guilty,” and a sentence of fourteen years’ transportation had been ordered by the Castle: and it was done.

The Clubs of Dublin, as I was credibly informed, were vehemently excited; and the great majority of them were of opinion that if an insurrection were to be made at all, it should be tried then and there – that is, in Dublin streets, and on the day of my removal. There is no reason why I should not avow that I shared in that opinion, and refused to sign a paper that was brought to me in Newgate, deprecating all attempt at rescue. I believed that if the City of Dublin permitted any Irishman to be put on board a convict-ship under such circumstances, the British Government could have little to fear from their resentment or their patriotism afterwards. Others of my Confederate comrades differed from me; restrained the Clubs; promised action in the harvest (a promise which they afterwards fulfilled to the best of their ability); bade me farewell mournfully enough; and in due course of time, some of them followed me on my circumnavigation of the globe.

Their decision was wrong; and, as I firmly believe, fatal. But that their motives were pure, and their courage unquestionable, I am bound to admit.

So much I have thought fit to narrate by way of Introduction to the diary which I kept in my cell. The general history of a nation may fitly preface the personal memoranda of a solitary captive; for it was strictly and logically a consequence of the dreary story here epitomised, that I came to be a prisoner, and to sit writing and musing so many months in a lonely cell. “The history of Ireland,” said Meagher to his unjust judges at Clonmel, “explains my crime and justifies it.” No man proudly mounts the scaffold, or coolly faces a felon’s death, or walks with his head high and defiance on his tongue into the cell of a convict-hulk, for nothing. No man, let him be as “young“ and as “vain“ as you will, can do this in the wantonness of youth or the intoxication of vanity.

My preface, then, will explain, at least to some readers, what was that motive, spirit and passion which impelled a few Irishmen to brave such risks, and incur so dreadful penalties for the sake of but one chance of rousing their oppressed and degraded countrymen to an effort of manful resistance against their cruel and cunning enemy.

It will further help to explain the contumacy and inveterately rebellious spirit evident enough in the pages of the “Journal”; and, moreover, will suggest some of those considerations which lead the present writer to differ from the vast majority of mankind, and to assert that his native country has not been, even this time, finally subdued; that this earth was not created to be civilised, ameliorated and devoured by the Anglo-Saxons; that Defeat is not necessarily Wrong; that the British Providence is not Divine; and that his dispensations are not to be submitted to as the inscrutable decrees of God.


1 In 1699 the manufacture of wool into cloth was totally destroyed in Ireland by law. Acts of the British and Irish Parliaments (the latter being wholly subject to the former) prohibited the export of woollen cloth from Ireland to any country whatsoever, except to England and Wales. The exception was delusive, because duties amounting to a prohibition prevented the Irish cloth from entering England or Wales. Before that time Ireland had a good trade in woollen drapery with foreign countries, and undersold the English. Therefore the British Parliament addressed King William, urging him to suppress the traffic. The House of Lords used this language – “Wherefore we most humbly beseech your most sacred Majesty, that your Majesty would be pleased, in the most public and effectual way that may be, to declare to all your subjects of Ireland, that the growth and increase of the woollen-manufactures there hath long been, and will be ever, looked upon with great jealousy by all your subjects of this kingdom, and if not timely remedied, may occasion very strict laws totally to prohibit it and suppress the same.” King William the Deliverer, replied that he would do his utmost to ruin his Irish subjects. – “He would do all that in him lay to discourage the woollen manufactures of Ireland.” – And he was as good as his word. Acts of Parliament were very shortly after passed, whose effect was that Irish wool had to be sent to England raw to be manufactured in Yorkshire. – And there it goes in fleece, and thence a very little of it returns in broadcloth up to this day. Add to this the Navigation Laws; and the absolute prohibition of all direct Irish trade with the Colonies – no Colonial produce being admitted into Ireland until it had first entered an English port and been unloaded there; and you will be at no loss to find out how the English became so rich a nation and the Irish so poor.

Of these laws the Dean of St. Patrick’s wrote –

“The conveniency of ports and havens which nature hath bestowed so liberally upon this kingdom, is of no more use to us than a beautiful prospect to a man shut up in a dungeon.”

2 Anderson, a standard British writer of those days, in his “History of Commerce,” explains the matter thus –

“Concerning these laws, many think them hurtful; and that it would be wiser to suffer the Irish to be employed in breeding and fattening their black-cattle for us, than to turn their lands into sheepwalks as at present; in consequence of which, in spite of all their laws, they supply foreign nations with their wool.”

By a dexterous persistence in this line of policy the evil was remedied – the Irish ceased to supply foreign nations or themselves either; and they now successfully fatten cattle and grow corn for the sister country.

3 In Swift’s days he set down the absentee-rents at half a million sterling, They are now four and a half millions sterling.

4 Bishop Berkeley’s works. – The Querist.

5 See Swift’s Epitaph.

6 After a preface, the Dean’s “Modest Proposal” proceeds –

“I shall now, therefore, humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection. I have been assured by a ’very knowing American of my acquaintance, that a young healthy child well nursed, is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee or a ragout. I do, therefore, humbly offer it to public consideration that of the 120,000 children already computed, 20,000 may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males. The remaining 100,000 may at a year old be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune throughout the kingdom,” etc. – Again, “I have reckoned, upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 lbs., and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, will increase to 28 lbs. I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

7  By “Free Trade,” Irish statesmen meant freedom not from duties but from foreign influence – meant the full power of their own Parliament to regulate their own trade by such duties, on export or on import, protective, discriminating, or prohibitory, as the interests of Ireland (not England) might require.

8 Commons Debates, June 27, 1822.

9 Cobbett in his comment on that debate, makes these reflections – “Money, it seems, is wanted in Ireland. Now people do not eat money. No, but the money will buy them something to eat. What! the food is there, then. Pray observe this, reader. Pray observe this, and let the parties get out of the concern if they can. The Food is there; but those that have it in their possession will not give it without the money. And we know that the food is there; for since this famine has been declared in Parliament, thousands of quarters of com have been imported every week from Ireland to England. “- Register, July, 1822.

10 In the first of these two dreadful famine years, 181 7, there was exported from Ireland to England, 695,600 quarters of grain alone, besides vast herds of cattle. In 1822 there was exported to England, 1,063,000 quarters of grain, besides cattle. It must be remembered that the price of this wealth did not come to Ireland, but stayed in England to pay the rent, etc. – which was one of the reasons of that phenomenon noticed by Cobbett – plenty of food: and those who raised it having no money to buy it.

11 Bantry Sessions. – Timothy Leary and Mary Leary were indicted for that they, on the 14th January, at Oakmount, did feloniously steal twenty turnips and fifty parsnips, the property of James Gillman. Found guilty. Sentence, transportation for seven years. This is but one of numerous instances.

12 Mr. Martin of Loughorne, a competent and candid inquirer, in a published letter of October, 1847, gives a variety of statistical tables, and draws the conclusion that the total produce of food in Ireland the year preceding, amounted to £41,000,000 sterling, and her export to England, £15,000,000; but his estimate is very much under the truth: for in the year 1846, according to Thom’s Almanac, there were 1,875,393 quarters of grain alone sent to England, besides countless cattle, bacon, butter, and eggs. The trade in eggs had become so vast, that Richardson, in his Treatise on Domestic Fowl (Dublin, 1847), calculates that export at nearly a million sterling. But it may give a more vivid notion of the truth, if I copy here the casual notices of this export trade which I found in the newspapers of one week:- In the Daily News of October 3rd, 1847, it is stated that in the London market “the receipts of oats chiefly consist of the new Irish crop.” In the Examiner of October 4th, you may read that there was in one day an arrival in London of 11,050 quarters of Irish oats. By the Drogheda Argus we find that in one week, ending Oct. 3rd, there were shipped from Drogheda 1,200 cows, 3,500 sheep and swine, 2,000 quarters of grain, 211 tons of meal and flour, 130 boxes of eggs, besides butter, lard, etc. Waterford, in the same week (Evening Post, Oct. 3rd), sent off 250 tons of flour, 1,100 sheep and pigs, 308 head of cattle, 5,400 barrels of wheat and oats, 7,700 firkins of butter, 2,000 flitches of bacon. From Newry, within five days, in the end of September, there sailed eleven ships for England, laden with grain, exclusive of two large steamers, which sail four times a week, laden with cattle, eggs, butter, etc.

But Drogheda, Waterford, and Newry are but three of eleven seaports, (Derry, Coleraine, Belfast, Newry, Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick), from each of which, at least two large steamers (from some of them five steamers), went twice in each week to England, laden with corn and cattle. And this without counting the minor ports, and the hundreds of sailing vessels all laden with corn and cattle. In short, during the four “famine years,” Ireland exported four quarters of grain for every quarter she imported, besides cattle; and of the grain imported, the greater part had been exported before, and came back laden with two freights and speculators’ profits to the helpless consumers.

13 All this might have remained a secret, but that Lord Clarendon’s friend, Birch, was obliged, three years afterwards, to sue his Lordship, and again Sir William Somerville, the Irish Secretary, for the balance due to him on account of Law and Order. The action against Lord Clarendon was compromised by payment of £2,000; that against Somerville was resisted and tried. Thus it came out how his Excellency had sent for Birch to his residence; and, how Birch had been closeted with him often. Plaintiff’s counsel stated the nature of his services thus:- “I may say this, that he gave his Excellency the full benefit of his counsel, of his knowledge, of his intimate acquaintance with parties, with newspapers, with factions, and with public men. I am instructed that he even went the length of stating when the Government might be vigorous, and when it would be prudent to be cautious.”

Lord Clarendon in his evidence, says it was in Feb., ’48, that he entered into communication with Birch:- “I then offered him £100, if I remember rightly, for it did not make any great impression on me at the time. He said that it would not be sufficient for his purpose, and I think it was then extended to about £350. This was in the beginning of February, 1848, if I remember correctly. Did your Excellency know that any further sums of money were paid to Mr. Birch in London? – Yes. Is your Excellency aware from what fund it came? – From a fund placed at the disposal of Sir William Somerville at my request. Out of the public funds, was it? – I could not say it came out of the public funds. I said it was a fund placed at the disposal of Sir W. Somerville, at my request.”

Secret service money, in short. Lord Clarendon’s private secretary, a Mr. Connellan, was usually the instructor of Birch. It is unfortunate that all the letters have not come to light; for on payment of the £2,000 to settle Birch’s claim, his Lordship took care, as he thought, to get up all the papers. Birch prudently kept back a few, amongst which I find this note:-

“V. R. L. (Viceregal Lodge), March, 1848. Dear Sir – The French news ought to turn to account the triumph of the moderate party, the defeat and certain ejection of Ledru Rollin, the Irish fraterniser, and the vigorous proceedings of the provisional government in making arrests. I presume that to-morrow’s (Friday) mail will bring us an account of the capture of Blanqui and Cabet, the great Communist leader, etc. The moral of this might be well applied to Mitchel and Co.”

For of course it was one main point in his lordship’s policy to make people believe that the enemies of English government were “Communists,” and that Communists were robbers. Birch was recommended also by Lord Clarendon to Lord Palmerston; and was duly paid by that nobleman for supporting his policy. Here are two little notes which were read on the Somerville trial:- “Sir – Viscount Palmerston desires me to express to you his best thanks for your obliging letter of the 9th inst., and your able articles in the World newspaper. I am, sir, your obedient servant, Spencer Ponsonby.” June 15, 1851, Mr. Ponsonby says –

“Viscount Palmerston desires to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of to-day’s date, and to request you to call upon me at this office on Monday or Tuesday, at a quarter before 5 o’clock.”

Such was one of the agencies made use of by Divine Providence for preserving British civilisation in Ireland. I never saw Lord Clarendon’s friend Birch; but am informed that he earned much of his money by weekly attacks upon me.

14  This is Lord John Russell’s virtuous speech – it was on the 23rd of May:-

“I certainly did not expect that there would arise any charge against us of partiality on the ground of exclusion of Roman Catholics. I entertain exactly the same opinions I held in 1844, that the exclusion of Roman Catholics, as such, unless they were members of the Repeal Association, or were distinguished by the violence of their conduct in those Associations – the exclusion of Roman Catholics, as such, is an extremely wrong and unjustifiable proceeding. I therefore did not expect that a charge of this nature would be made; but, however, notwithstanding that, I did write when I first received from my noble friend, the Lord Lieutenant, an intimation that it was the determination of the Government to prosecute those several persons for sedition – I wrote to him immediately, to say that I trusted there would not arise any charge of any kind of unfairness as to the composition of the juries; as for my own part, I would rather see those parties acquitted, than that there should be any such unfairness. (Cheers) I repeat, that whatever example there may be given by others, of disregarding the obligations of right, and making the part they have to perform in the administration of justice a matter of politics, and not of duty, the Government will be the last persons to allow any example of that kind to operate upon them.”