It was May, ’48: and in the opinion of our London enemies, the time had come to put an end to treason and sedition in Ireland by all or any means. They knew we would not commence an actual insurrection, until November; and they feared that by that time Ireland might be too strong for them. They betrayed their apprehensions in various ways. The Morning Chronicle, then a ministerial organ, to rouse the fear and rage of ignorant English readers, discoursed in this manner: –
“Let us suppose an Irish Republic established on the most democratic basis, and a government formed of the present heads of the Repeal party, Messrs. O’Brien, Meagher, and Mitchel, with, perhaps, an infusion of O’Connells and MacHales. Their avowed ‘mission’ is to break up the ‘old British empire;’ their appetites would have been whetted by Saxon blood, and their ambition flushed by success over Englishmen. An unemployed and desperate population would be on their hands; and their only chance of existence would consist in expending its energies on foreign war. Let us proceed to reflect that they would then, as now, possess in every town of Great Britain an Irish garrison, and that then, as now. they would command the sympathies and assistance of all the disaffected part of our working sensible population.
Let of any sensible man calmly ask himself what possible chances all these contingencies combined would leave for preserving peace. Well, then, say our opponents, let war come; we will reconquer Ireland. If you do, you will be exactly where you are now; but will you be able to conquer her? Recollect that if England would be the ‘natural enemy’ of an Irish Republic, France and America would be her ‘natural allies.’
We have great faith in the star of England, but under these circumstances we fear we should have to confess that Mr. Mitchel’s sinister prophecies were on the point of accomplishment, and that the last hour of the ‘old British empire’ had struck. That would, indeed, be a glorious day for Ireland! The tables would be turned with a vengeance, when an Irish army of occupation should give the law in the British metropolis.”
The whole British Press ran wild with furious imprecations against these Irish “traitors” and “rebels.” The Morning Post suggested that: –
“A bill might be passed, enabling two or more magistrates, upon satisfactory proof of treasonable language having been spoken or written by any person, to commit that person forthwith to prison and hard labour for three months. Or a summary power to flog the persons guilty of the infamy of exciting the people to attack the government.”
The British people were thoroughly aroused to their danger. Their organ, Punch, duly represented, for them, the Irish cut-throats, with every infamy of outrage that wood-engraving and types could express; and even the grave Spectator offered some receipts for settling matters with us; of which I shall give one as a sample: –
How to roast an Irish Patriot
“Pick out a young one; speakers or editors are very good. Tie the arms behind the back, or close to the sides; but not too tight, or the patriot will be prevented from moving, and the ribs will not be done. Skewer down to the pile. You will want a strong, steady fire. Dry pine makes a very good blaze. When the fire gets low, throw in a little oil or fat. When nearly done, a little gunpowder thrown in will make the patriot skip: some cooks consider this important.”
This is evidently a joke, and intended to be amusing: but such things show what was the temper of the British people. They had learned, as they believed, the real character of Irish agitators, through the articles which Lord Clarendon hired Birch to write about us; and were impatient to destroy such a gang. The Treason Felony Act had been supported eagerly in Parliament by both parties; it instantly passed through the House of Peers; and the Illustrated News had a large engraving, representing the queen signing her name to it with an air of vixenish spite, stamping her foot as she did it.
In Ireland, Lord Clarendon was getting up, through the Grand Masters of the Orangemen, loyal Addresses, and declarations against “rebels” and “traitors.” In fact, the Orange farmers and burghers of the North were fast becoming diligent students of the United Irishman; find although they and their Order had been treated with some neglect of late, both by England and by the Irish Aristocracy, they were now taken into high favour; and arms were secretly issued to some of their lodges, from Dublin Castle1.
But this needed prudence; for Protestant Repeal Associations had been formed in Dublin, in Drogheda, and even in Lurgan, a great centre of Orangeism. To counteract the progress we had made in this direction, the aristocracy and the clergy were incessant in their efforts, and the Protestants were assured that if Ireland should throw off the dominion of Queen Victoria, we would all instantly become vassals to the Woman who sitteth upon Seven Hills.
The Viceroy, at the same time, took care to frighten the moneyed citizens of Dublin and other towns by placards warning them against the atrocious designs of “Communists “and “Jacobins,” whose only object, his lordship intimated, was plunder2. Lord Clarendon seemed to deliberate for some days whether he would proclaim and disarm Dublin, under the late Arms Act; or whether he would make one last desperate plunge into the “Law.”
The first course would have drenched the city in blood. Our Clubmen had not gone to so much trouble and expense in supplying themselves with arms, only to give them up to the enemy. The Chartists and Irish in England, too, were in dangerous humour; and if troops had once been let loose on the people in Ireland, many a city and factory would blaze high in England. On the whole, he resolved to begin with me. If I were once removed, he thought the difficulty would be more manageable.
A speech, a letter, a short article, all published in the United Irishman, formed the corpus delicti of the crime which the enemy undertook to prosecute. Of these it is enough to present the letter; a letter which any candid reader will admit to have been at least provoking, if not illegal. It was addressed to the Protestants of the North: –
“My Friends, – Since I wrote my first letter to you, many kind and flattering addresses have been made to you by exceedingly genteel and very rich noblemen and gentlemen. Those of you, especially, who are Orangemen, seem to have somehow got into high favour with this genteel class, which must make you feel rather strange, I think; you have not been used to much recognition and encouragement, of late years, from British Viceroys, or the noble and right worshipful Grand Masters.
They rather avoided you; seemed, indeed, as many thought, somewhat ashamed of you and your old anniversaries. Once upon a time, no Irish nobleman or British Minister dared make light of the colours of Aughrim and the Boyne. But can you divine any cause for the sudden change of late? Do you understand why the Whig Lord Clarendon calls you so many names of endearment, and the Earl of Enniskillen tenderly entreats you as a father his only child? Can these men want anything from you?
Let us see what the drift of their addresses generally is. Lord Clarendon, the English governor, congratulates you on your ‘loyalty,’ and your ‘attachment to the Constitution,’ and seems to calculate, though I know not why, upon a continuance of those exalted sentiments in the North. Lord Enniskillen, the Irish nobleman, for his part, cautions you earnestly against Popery and Papists, and points out how completely you would be overborne and swamped by Catholic majorities in all public affairs.
My Lord Enniskillen does not say a word to you about what is, after all, the main concern, the tenure of your farms; not one word. It is about your Protestant interest he is uneasy. He is apprehensive, not lest you should be evicted by landlords, and sent to the poorhouse, but lest Purgatory and Seven Sacraments should be thrust down your throats. This is simply a Protestant pious fraud of his lordship’s; merely a right worshipful humbug. Lord Enniskillen, and every other commonly informed man, knows that there is now no Protestant interest at all; that there is absolutely nothing left for Protestant and Catholic to quarrel for; even the Church Establishment is not a Catholic and Protestant question, inasmuch as all Dissenters, and all plebeian churchmen, are as much concerned to put an end to that nuisance as Catholics are.
Lord Enniskillen knows, too, (or if he does not, he is the very stupidest Grand Master in Ulster,) that an ascendancy of one sect over another is from henceforth impossible: the fierce religious zeal that animated our fathers on both sides is utterly dead and gone. I do not know whether this is for our advantage or not: but, at any rate, it is gone; nobody in all Europe would now so much as understand it; and if any man talks to you now of religious sects, when the matter in hand relates to civil and political rights, to administration of government, or distribution of property, – depend on it, though he wear a coronet on his head, he means to cheat you.
In fact, religious hatred has been kept alive in Ireland longer than anywhere else in Christendom, just for the simple reason that Irish landlords and British statesmen found their own account in it; and so soon as Irish landlordism and British dominion are finally rooted out of the country, it will be heard of no longer in Ireland, any more than it is in France or Belgium now.
If you have any doubt whether Lord Enniskillen means to cheat you, I only ask you to remember: first, that he has written you a long and parental letter, upon the state of the country, and has not once alluded to your Tenant-right; and, second, that he belongs to that class of persons from whom alone can come any danger to your Tenant-right, – which is your life and property.
As for Lord Clarendon and his friendly addresses, exhorting to ‘loyalty’ and attachment to the institutions of the country, I need hardly tell you that he is a cheat. What institutions of the country are there to be attached to? That all who pay taxes should have a voice in the outlay of those taxes, is not one of our institutions; – that those who create the whole wealth of the State by their labour, should get leave to live, like Christians, on the fruits of that labour, this is not amongst the institutions of the country. Tenant-right is not an institution of the country. No; out-door relief is our main institution at present – our Magna Charta – our Bill of Eights. A high-paid church and a low-fed people are institutions; stipendiary clergymen, packed juries, a monstrous army and navy, which we pay, not to defend, but to coerce us; – these are institutions of the country. Indian meal, too, strange to say, though it grows four thousand miles off, has come to be an institution of this country. Are these the ‘venerable institutions’ you are expected to shoulder your muskets to defend?
But, then, ‘Protestants have always been loyal men.’ Have they? And what do they mean by ‘loyalty’? I have never found that, in the north of Ireland, this word had any meaning at all, except that we, Protestants, hated the Papists, and despised the French. This, I think, if you will examine it. is the true theory of ‘loyalty’ in Ulster. I can hardly fancy any of my countrymen so totally stupid as to really prefer high taxes to low taxes, – to be really proud of the honour of supporting ‘the Prince Albert’ and his Lady, and their children, and all the endless list of cousins and uncles that they have, in magnificent idleness, at the sole expense of half-starved labouring people.
I should like to meet the northern farmer, or labouring man, who would tell, me, in so many words, that he prefers dear government to cheap government; that he likes the House of Brunswick better than his own house; that he would rather have the affairs of the country managed by foreign noblemen and gentlemen than by himself and his neighbours; that he is content to pay, equip, and arm an enormous army, and give the command of it to those foreign noblemen, and to be disarmed himself or liable to be disarmed, as you are, my friends, at any moment. I should like to see the face of the Ulsterman who would say plainly that he deems himself unfit to have a voice in the management of his own affairs, the outlay of his own taxes, or the government of his own country. If any of you will admit this, I own he is a ‘loyal’ man, and ‘ attached to our venerable institutions; and I wish him joy of his loyalty, and a good appetite for his yellow meal.
Now, Lord Clarendon and Lord Enniskillen want you to say all this. The Irish noble and the British Statesman want the very same thing; they are both in a tale. The Grand Master knows that if you stick by your loyalty, and uphold British connection, you secure to him his coronet, his influence, and his rental – discharged of Tenant-right, and all plebeian claims. And Lord Clarendon knows, on his side, that if you uphold landlordism, and abandon Tenant-right, and bend all your energies to resisting the ‘encroachments of Popery,’ you thereby perpetuate British dominion in Ireland, and keep the ‘Empire’ going, yet a little while. Irish landlordism has made a covenant with British government, in these terms; – ‘Keep down for me my tenantry, my peasantry, my masses, in due submission, with your troops and laws; – and I will garrison the island for you, and hold it, as your liegeman and vassal forever.’
Do you not know in your very hearts, that this is true? and still you arc ‘loyal’ and attached to the institutions of the country!
I tell you, frankly, that I, for one, am not ‘loyal.’ I am not wedded to the Queen of England, nor unalterably attached to the House of Brunswick. In fact, I love my own barn better than I love that House. The time is long past when Jehovah anointed Kings. The thing has long since grown a monstrous imposture, and has been already, in some civilized countries, detected as such, and drummed out accordingly. A modern King, my friends, is no more like an ancient anointed Shepherd of the People than an Archbishop’s apron is like the Urim and Thummim. There is no divine right now but in the Sovereign People.
And, for the ‘institutions of the country,’ I loathe and despise them; we are sickening and dying of these institutions, fast; they are consuming us like a plague, degrading us to paupers in mind, body, and estate, – yes, making our very souls beggarly and cowardly. They are a failure and a fraud, these institutions; – from the topmost crown-jewel to the meanest detective’s note-book, there is no soundness in them. God and man are weary of them. Their last hour is at hand; and I thank God that I live in the days when I shall witness the utter downfall, and trample upon the grave, of the most portentous, the grandest, meanest, falsest, and cruellest tyranny that ever deformed this world.
These, you think, are strong words: but they are not one whit stronger than the feeling that prompts them – that glows this moment deep in the souls of moving and awakening millions of our fellow-countrymen of Ireland; aye, and in your souls, too, Protestants of Ulster, if you would acknowledge it to yourselves. I smile at the formal resolution about ‘loyalty to Queen Victoria,’ so eagerly passed and hurried over as a dubious kind of form at Tenant-right meetings and ‘Protestant Repeal’ meetings. I laughed outright, here, on Tuesday night last, at the suspicious warmth with which Dublin merchants, as if half-afraid of themselves, protested so anxiously that they would yield in loyalty to none.
They, democrats by nature and position, meeting there, without a nobleman to countenance them, – with the Queen’s representative scowling black upon them from his castle, are, they declare it with most nervous solemnity, loyal men. Indeed, it was easy to see that a vague feeling was upon them of the real meaning and tendency of all these meetings, of what all this must end in, and to what haven they, and you, and we, are all, in a happy hour, inevitably drifting together.
My friends, the People’s Sovereignty, the land and sea and air of Ireland for the People of Ireland: this is the gospel that the heavens and the earth are preaching, and that all hearts are secretly burning to embrace. Give up forever that old interpretation you put upon the word ‘Repeal.’ Repeal is no priest-movement; it is no sectarian movement; it is no money swindle, nor ‘Eighty-two’ delusion, nor puffery, nor O’Connellism, nor Mullaghmast ‘green- cap’ stage-play, nor loud-sounding inanity of any sort, got up for any man’s profit or praise. It is the mighty, passionate struggle of a nation hastening to be born into new national life; in which unspeakable throes all the parts, and powers, and elements of our Irish existence, – our Confederations, our Protestant Repeal Associations, our Tenant-right Societies, our Clubs, Cliques, and Committees, – amidst confusions enough and the saddest jostling and jumbling, – are all inevitably tending to one and the same illustrious goal, – not a local legislature – not a return to ‘our ancient Constitution,’ not a golden link or a patchwork Parliament, or a College Green chapel-of-ease to Saint Stephen’s – but an Irish Republic, one and indivisible.
And how are we to meet that day? In arms, my countrymen, in arms. Thus, and not otherwise, have ever nations of men sprung to liberty and power. But why do I reason thus with you, – with you, the Irish of Ulster, who never have denied the noble creed and sacraments of manhood? You have not been schooled for forty years in the fatal cant of moral force; you have not been utterly debauched and emasculated by the clap-trap platitudes of public meetings, and the empty glare of ‘imposing demonstrations.’ You have not yet learned the litany of slaves, and the whine of beaten hounds, and the way to die a coward’s death. No; let once the great idea of our country’s destiny seize on you, my kinsmen, and the way will be plain before you as a pike-staff twelve feet long.
Yet there is one lesson you must learn: – fraternal respect for your countrymen of the South, and that sympathy with them, and faith in them, without which there can be no vital nationality in Ireland. You little know the history and sore trials and humiliations of this ancient Irish race; ground and trampled first for long ages in the very earth, and then taught – expressly taught – in solemn harangues, and even in sermons, that it was their duty to die, and see their children die before their faces, rather than resist their tyrants as men ought. You can hardly believe that creatures with the gait and aspect of men could have been brought to this. And you cannot wonder that they should have been slow, slow, in struggling upward out of such darkness and desolation. But I tell you, the light has at length come to them: the flowery Spring of this year is the dawning of their day; and before the cornfields of Ireland are white for the reaper, our eyes shall see the sun flashing gloriously, if the Heavens be kind to us, on a hundred thousand pikes.
I will speak plainly. There are now growing on the soil of Ireland a wealth of grain, and roots, and cattle, far more than enough to sustain in life and in comfort all the inhabitants of the island. That wealth must not leave us another year, – not until every grain of it is fought for in every stage, from the binding of the sheaf to the loading of the ship. And the effort necessary to that simple act of self-preservation will at one and the same blow prostrate British dominion and landlordism together. ‘Tis but the one act of volition; – if we resolve but to live, we make our country a free and Sovereign State.
Will you not gird up your loins for this great national struggle, and stand with your countrymen for Life and Land? Will you, the sons of a warlike race, the inheritors of conquering memories’, with the arms of freemen in all your homes, and relics of the gallant Republicans of ‘Ninety-eight forever before your eyes, – will you stand folding your hands in helpless ‘loyalty,’ and while every nation in Christendom is seizing on its birthright with armed hand, will you take patiently your rations of yellow meal, and your inevitable portion of eternal contempt?
If this be your determination, Protestants of Ulster, then make haste, sign addresses of loyalty and confidence in Lord Clarendon, and protest with that other Lord your unalterable attachment to our ‘venerable institutions.’
All of this was open and outrageous “treason,” of course; admitting that Queen Victoria was then the Queen of Ireland, and not a foreign tyrant. Yet, nine-tenths of the citizens of Dublin would have, on their oath, found the writer not guilty; and the liberal Whig Government were bound, by all their professions, not to pack juries. But they were still more strongly bound to crush the Press, and break the types, and fetter the hand which sent forth weekly addresses of this sort, to be read and laid to heart by at least a hundred thousand men.
How they solved this difficulty is to be told.
1 This was quite unknown to the Public at the time: one case of it only (so far as I know) over came to light. It was a shipment of 500 stand of arms to the Belfast Orangemen.
2 I attribute these placards to Lord Clarendon without scruple. They were printed by the Government printer, and paid for out of our taxes. But it is quite possible that the Viceroy, if charged with these things, would deny them, because they were done through a third party perhaps Birch, in like manner he denied all knowledge of the shipment of muskets to the Belfast Orangemen: they were sent however, from his Castle, and through a subordinate official of his household.