The enterprise to which the conductors of the United Irishman had committed themselves and their fortunes, may well be deemed hazardous and even desperate. No one could more fully appreciate its perils than they who undertook it. To rouse to armed resistance a poor and carefully disarmed people, whose country was occupied at every point by a numerous army, and whose “upper classes” were generally altogether devoted to British rule, – not for love of British rule, indeed, but for fear of their own countrymen, – and to attempt this in open day, and in defiance of the well-understood principle and practice of Irish law-courts, all in the full power and possession of the enemy, – was an undertaking which perhaps could end only in one way. But what then? Ireland was our country. The Irish race was our flesh and blood. The alternative was, either to see a foreign enemy scourge our people from the face of their own land, by famine and pestilence, “law,” political economy, and red tape, or to set our backs to the wall and fight to the death.
As to our slender chances of success, they consisted mainly in this: The leading members of the Whig Administration, then in power, had uniformly, and with apparent sincerity, protested against the practice of packing juries in Ireland: and we were well aware that it would be with extreme reluctance they would prosecute the United Irishman, seeing they could hope for nothing but defeat if they gave a fair trial. Then if, through irresolution, or regard for “consistency,” – it would be too strong to say conscience, – they should forbear to prosecute for even a few months, until another harvest should be ripe and gathered, we made no doubt that we could in that time have the people as ripe as the harvest.
We knew, indeed, that they were Whigs, “Liberals,” and therefore treacherous as the wind, and false as the Father of Lies; but counted somewhat on their cowardice. We had yet to learn that every Englishman, even a Whig, could be brave in such a cause.
Here, I am not solicitous to avoid the appearance of egotism; and seeing the ignominious defeat of all our efforts, it is no great boast, Heaven knows, to have had “the carriage of the cause” in those days. But the mere fact is, that the English Government was fully conscious that the enemy they had now to deal with was the United Irishman, and the spirit and purpose which it excited and represented. This became more manifest when news burst in upon us of the February revolution in Paris, and the flight of King Louis Philippe; for between the French people and the Irish there has always been an electric telegraph, whose signals never fail; and British Statesmen had not forgotten that it was the first great French Revolution which cost them the Irish war of ’98. The February revolution, also, at once obliterated the feuds of the Irish Confederation. Nobody would now be listened to there, who proposed any other mode of redress for Irish grievances than the sword.
Keilly and myself, without ceremony, walked back into its meetings; and a resolution was passed with enthusiastic acclamation, that the Confederate clubs should become armed and officered, so that each man should know his right-hand and his left-hand comrade, and the man whose word he should obey. All the second-rate cities, as well as Dublin, and all the country towns, were now full of clubs, which assumed military and revolutionary names, – the “Sarsfield Club,” the “Emmet Club,” and so forth; and the business of arming proceeded with commendable activity. Such young men as could afford it, provided themselves with rifles and bayonets; those who had not the means for this got pike-heads made; and there was much request for ash poles. What was still more alarming to the enemy, the soldiers in several garrisons were giving unmistakable symptoms of sharing in the general excitement; not Irish soldiers alone, but English and Scottish, who had Chartist ideas. A large part of the circulation of the United Irishman, in spite of all the exertions of the officers, was in military barracks.
What was the “Government” to do? It was very plain that the island would not long hold both the “Government” and me. Which, then, was to go? It is easy now to say that could hardly be doubted; but it was not easy then. New regiments were poured into Ireland, of course; and Dublin held an army of 10,000 men infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers. The barrack accommodations being insufficient, many large buildings were taken as temporary barracks; the deserted palaces of the Irish aristocracy, as Aldborough House, on the north-east; the deserted halls of manufactures and trade, in “The Liberty;” and the Linen Hall, were occupied by detachments. The Bank of Ireland, – our old Parliament House, – had cannon mounted over the entablatures of its stately Ionic colonnades; and the vast and splendid Custom House, not being now needed for trade (our imports being all from the “sister country,” and our exports all to the same), was quite commodious as a barrack and arsenal.
The quiet quadrangles of Trinity College were the scene of daily parades; and the loyal board of that institution gave up the wing which commands Westmoreland-street, College-street, and Dame-street, to be occupied by troops. Superb squadrons of hussars, of lancers, and of dragoons rode continually through and around the city; infantry practiced platoon firing in the squares; heavy guns, strongly guarded, were for ever rolling along the pavements; and parties of horse artillery showed all mankind how quickly and dexterously they could wheel and aim, and load and fire at the crossings of the streets. These military demonstrations, and the courts of “Law,” constituted the open and avowed powers and agencies of the enemy.
But there was a secret and subterranean machinery. The editor of the World was now on full pay, and on terms of close intimacy at the Castle and Viceregal Lodge – that is, private and back-door intimacy; for such a creature could by no means be admitted to decent society. His paper was gratuitously furnished to all hotels and public-houses by means of secret-service money. Dublin swarmed with detectives; they went at night to get their instructions at the Castle, from Colonel Brown, head of the police department; and it was one of their regular duties to gain admittance’ to the Clubs of the Confederation, where it afterwards appeared that they had been the most daring counsellors of treason and riot.
A man named Kirwan went to a blacksmith in the city, and gave him an order for some pikes, intimating mysteriously that they were wanted for the “revolution.” The smith made the pikes, and Kirwan immediately brought them to the Castle. He was a paid detective and informer; but on. this occasion, the detective was detected, through the vigilance of Mr. Arkins, who had him up before a bench of magistrates.
A note-book was found in his possession full of memoranda connected with his pursuit, amongst which I saw several jottings concerning myself. In fact, for several months, I found myself haunted by detectives in various disguises, and never went into my own house, or out of it, without being watched. We have all heard much of the espionage of France or Austria. Neither of them is furnished with a police so omnipresent, so inevitable, – above all so treacherous, – as Ireland.