In this chapter I shall gladly take leave of myself; for the moment has arrived when I drop out of the history of Ireland, and disappear.
In provoking this legal contest with the enemy, my calculation was that I should obtain over them an easy, signal, and most perilous victory – provided they did not pack the jury. But, if they should pack the jury, and snatch what they call a conviction by the usual methods of British Government in Ireland, then I hoped the people were now too thoroughly roused to submit peaceably to such an outrage.
The matter of juries had always been a knotty one in Ireland, since the days of Edmund Spenser. The poet of the “Faëry Queene,” being himself an English “undertaker,” and the grantee of forfeited estates, and being, therefore, the natural enemy of all Irishmen, in his famous “View of the State of Ireland,” observes, through the mouth of Irenaus: –
“Yet is the law of itself goode; and the first institution thereof being given to all Englishmen very rightfully; but now that the Irish have stepped into the very roomes of our English, wee are now to become heedful and provident in iuryes1.”
In fact, the difficulty was, that with Irishmen on juries, the English Sovereign never could obtain a verdict, either on inquisition into forfeited estates, or on criminal trials. Spenser, of course, attributes this to a natural turn for perjury among the Irish: – “they make no conscience to perjure themselves in their verdicts, and damne their soules.” Yet Sir John Davies, Attorney-General of King James the First, in Ireland, another very hostile authority, bears testimony to the loyalty and love of law and justice which prevailed in that island: “there being no nation under the sun that did love equal and indifferent justice better than the Irish, or that would rest better satisfied with the execution thereof, although it were against themselves, so as they might have the protection and benefit of the law, when upon a just cause they did desire it2.”
These discrepancies are only to be explained by recollecting that the Irish never believed English “law” to be justice; but invariably found that “law” was atone side and justice at the other; which indeed they experience until this day. For some generations after Spenser’s time., and during the whole period of the penal-laws, the British Government solved the difficulty by simply excluding Irish Catholics from juries.
But Catholic Emancipation came; and liberal professions (especially from the Whigs) of a desire to administer law impartially. You have already had occasion to see how these professions were carried out on the trial of O’Connell. In the cases of O’Brien and Meagher, the Crown officers had admitted one Irish Repealer on each jury, and failed.
It was manifest that the Whig theory would not work; and in my case it was resolved that there must be no risk even of possible failure. Yet the Whig Ministers were extremely reluctant to part with their reputation for impartiality (which reputation, however, was false); and, accordingly, only two days before my “pretended trial,” Lord John Russell, in answer to questions in the House of Commons, declared that he had written to “his noble friend” (Lord Clarendon) that “he trusted there would not arise any charge of any kind of unfairness, as to the composition of the juries; as, for his own part, he would rather see those parties acquitted, than that there should be any such unfairness.”
Lord Clarendon, however, informed him that, for this once, he could not afford to adhere to the Whig maxims, – that a conviction must be had, per fas aut nefas. Not that the liberal and conciliatory Whigs would openly renounce their honest policy; on the contrary, they would pursue it more steadfastly than ever; but I must be out of the way first. His lordship counselled his colleagues, in this matter, as Ulysses counselled Neoptolemus, when the business was to procure the arms from Philoctetes under false pretences: –
“I know, indeed, that it is not your natural disposition
To speak falsely, or to contrive injustice;
But – it is sweet to be the winner; –
Do it this once: and afterwards we will be honest.”
During the two weeks that I awaited my trial, it became well known that the “Government” would pack my jury most carefully; and our Dublin Confederate Clubs were becoming violently excited. The boldest of them were for making an attack on Newgate prison; letting the struggle commence there and then; cutting the gas-pipes on some dark night; precipitating the clubs on Castle, barracks, and prisons; and either clearing out our metropolis of the English enemy, or perishing amidst its ruins and cinders. This was the right counsel. I thought so then; and, after many years, I deliberately think so still.
The English Government had procured an “Act of Parliament” avowedly to make it felony to say what nine-tenths of our people thought and felt; and was now about to shut out those nine-tenths of our people from the exercise of the common civic office of Jurors, to crush one man (no matter what man) under a notoriously false pretence. When I say false pretence, it is not that I deny the matter charged to me, but that I deny having ever been tried at all. The false pretence was the “trial.”
The Attorney-General resolved that the trial should take place at the regular Commission Court, or City Assizes; and that the jury should not be a special, but a common one. On the striking of special juries, he had discovered that I was fully able to expose, at least, if not defeat, the secret machinations of the Crown Officer; so I was to be arraigned before a common jury of Dublin citizens, selected by the Sheriff to serve on the pending Commission.
The Juror’s Book, containing a list of all the qualified householders of Dublin, whose property entitled them to serve as jurors, had 4,570 names, of whom 3,000 were Catholics. Before my arrest, the Sheriff had designated one hundred and fifty of these jurors, and summoned them to attend on the Commission: but after my arrest, the Sheriff, knowing that important business was to be done – and being, as I have before explained, a creature of the Crown, – altered that panel of one hundred and fifty names, removed from it most of the Catholic names, and filled their places not only with Protestants, (that would not suffice,) but with Orangemen, Englishmen, tradesmen to the Lord Lieutenant, in short, with people who were well known to be ready “to do the Queen’s business,” as that sort of transaction is called in Ireland. But it was not enough to pack the panel, – the jury was next to be carefully packed out of that panel; a thing which was easy enough; because the “Crown” in Ireland exercises the power of unlimited challenge, in making up common juries.
Matters being thus prepared, on the 25th of May, I was brought up from Newgate prison, by an underground passage, into the Court House, on Green Street. Outside, the streets were occupied by troops; and but few of my friends could gain admittance as spectators.
The imagination of every reader must help me out here. Let any high-spirited Irishman try to conceive himself in any place on that day: confronting that coarse mimicry of Law and Justice; on the brink of a fate worse than a thousand deaths; stationed in a dock between two thieves, for having dared to aspire to the privilege of freedom and manhood for myself and for my children; with all the horrible sufferings and high aspirations of my country crowding on memory and imagination, and the moan of our perishing nation seeming to penetrate even there, and to load the air I breathed; beholding the cause of our ancient nationhood brought to be decided, not, as I had hoped, by the proud array of our people in the field, but by the ignominious parchments of a dastard lawyer and the packed jury of a perjured Sheriff.
Scorn almost overcame indignation, as I saw the exquisitely elaborated preparations of the enemy: and I felt that I would respect Lord Clarendon far more if he had hired one of his detectives to stab me in the dark. That would have been a crime; but surely not so vile and hideous a crime as this prostitution of the Courts and the name and forms of Justice.
The trial proceeded. The leading counsel for the defence was old Robert Holmes, the brother-in-law of Robert Emmet, the most eminent barrister in Ireland; who had always refused the honour of a silk gown, and all other honours and promotions, at the hands of a government which he believed to be the mortal enemy of his country. Of course, he challenged the array of jurors on the ground of fraud; but the Attorney-General’s brother, Stephen Monahan, clerk in the Attorney-General’s office, and also one Wheeler, clerk in the Sheriff’s office, had been carefully sent out of the city to a distant part of Ireland; and Baron Lefroy was most happy to avail himself of the defect of evidence to give his opinion that the panel was a good and honest panel.
The Crown used its privilege of peremptory challenge to the very uttermost; every Catholic, and most Protestants, who answered to their names, were ordered to “stand by.” There were thirty-nine challenges: nineteen Catholics, – all the Catholics who answered to their names, were peremptorily set aside, and twenty other gentlemen, who, though Protestants, were suspected of some national feeling, were also set aside: – that is to say, the Crown dared not go to trial Avith me before the People, Catholic or Protestant. The twelve men finally obtained by the sifting process had amongst them two or three Englishmen; the rest were faithful slaves of the Castle; and all Protestants of the most Orange dye.
Of course there was a “verdict” of Guilty; and a sentence of fourteen years’ transportation. The facts charged were easily proved; they were patent, notorious, often repeated, and ostentatiously deliberate; insomuch that jurymen who felt themselves to be subjects of the Queen of England could not do otherwise than convict. On the other hand, any Irish Nationalist must acquit. Never before had the government of the foreign enemy and the Irish people met on so plain an issue. Never before was it made so manifest that the enemy’s government maintains its supremacy over Ireland by systematically breaking the “law,” – even its own law; by turning its judicial trials into solemn farces, its ermined judges into bad actors, and its fountain of Justice into an obscene “mother of dead clogs.”
Of course, both Mr. Holmes, and the prisoner on trial, took good care to manifest their sense of all this. Holmes informed the jury that they knew themselves to be well and truly packed; and when I was asked if I had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon me, I remarked that I had not been tried. Baron Lefroy chose to interpret this as an impeachment of the jury for perjury: but I took care to contradict the judge. I could not, in that last moment of my life, afford to suffer any misrepresentation of the true issue: so I interrupted him to declare that I did not charge the jurors with perjury; but charged the sheriff (that is, another name for the Queen,) with empanelling only those who were well known to be my mortal enemies. When the sentence was passed, and every human being in court, friends and enemies, stood aghast at its murderous severity, I addressed the judges in a few sentences, wherein I concentrated all the disdain and defiance that had been gathering in my heart for two days: –
“‘The law has now done its part, and the Queen of England, her crown and government in Ireland, are now secure, pursuant to act of parliament. I have done my part also. Three months ago I promised Lord Clarendon and his government, who hold this country for the English, that I would provoke him into his courts of justice, as places of this kind are called, and that I would force him, publicly and notoriously, to pack a jury against me to convict me, or else that I would walk a free man out of this court, and provoke him to a contest in another field.
My lords, I knew I was setting my life on that cast; but I knew that, in either event, victory should be with me; and it is with me. Neither the jury, nor the judges, nor any other man in this court presumes to imagine that it is a criminal who stands in this dock (murmurs of applause, which the police endeavoured to repress). I have shown what the law is made of in Ireland. I have shown that her Majesty’s government sustains itself in Ireland by packed juries – by partizan judges – by perjured sheriffs -‘
After an interruption from Baron Lefroy who ‘could not sit there,’ to suffer the prisoner at that bar to utter very nearly a repetition of the offence for which he had been sentenced Mitchel proceeded:
‘What I have now to add is simply this – I have acted all through this business, from the first, under a strong sense of duty. I do not repent anything I have done; and I believe that the course which I have opened is only commenced. The Roman who saw his hand burning to ashes before the tyrant, promised that throe hundred should follow out his enterprise. Can I not promise for one, for two, for three? -‘
Indicating, as he spoke, Reilly, Martin, and Meagher. ‘Promise for me’ – ‘and me’ – ‘and me, Mitchel,’ rose around him in commingled tones of earnest solemnity, passionate defiance, and fearless devotion, from his friends and followers; and, embracing the exciting scene in a glance, he cried with proud eagerness:
‘For one, for two, for three? Aye, for hundreds!’
A scene of immense excitement followed, in the midst of which, the judges fled from the bench, the prisoner was huddled off, waving his hand to his friends; two of whom, Meagher and Doheney, were arrested for giving vent to the feeling impossible to suppress at such a moment.
After they had been discharged, and when order was restored, Holmes rose to add his defiance to that of the prisoner. He said: –
‘My lords: I think I had a perfect right to use the language I did yesterday. I wish now to state that what I said yesterday, as an advocate, I adopt to-day as my own opinion. I here avow all I have said; and, perhaps, under the late Act of Parliament, her Majesty’s Attorney-General, if I have violated the law, may think it his duty to proceed against me in that way. I now say, with deliberation, that the sentiments I expressed with regard to England, and her treatment of this country, are my sentiments; and I here avow them openly. The Attorney-General is present I retract nothing. These are my well-judged sentiments – these are my opinions as to the relative position of England and Ireland, and I have, as you seem to insinuate, violated the law by stating these opinions. I now deliberately do so again. Let her Majesty’s Attorney-General do his duty to his government: I have done mine to my country.'”
Before dismissing myself from the scene forever, I will add that if anything had been, wanted to justify me, in my own eyes, for all that I had done and meditated, the earnest and impassioned advocacy of the brave old Republican of ’98 would have contented me well. It caused me to feel that my defeated life was at least one link in the unbroken chain of testimony borne by my country against foreign dominion; and with this consciousness I knew that my chains would weigh light. “In this island,” exclaimed Meagher, “the English never, never shall have rest. The work begun by the Norman never shall be completed.”
An armed steamer waited in the river on the day of my sentence; the whole garrison of Dublin was under arms, on pretence of a review in the Park; a place was secretly designated for my embarkation, below the city, where bridges over a canal, and over the entrance to the Custom House docks could be raised, to prevent any concourse of the people in that direction; and, two or three hours after the sentence, I was hurried off in a close omnibus filled with police, and carried by a circuitous route to the river, escorted by a force of cavalry and mounted police.
For two days before, the leaders of the Confederation had been earnestly engaged in restraining the natural impulse of our Clubs to attempt a rescue. Meagher and Reilly had been at first eager for this desperate enterprise. “I have but one life to give,” exclaimed Reilly to his Club, “and I give it: let others swear the same.” Meagher had declared that before the enemy should embark me in a convict-ship, Kingstown harbour would be one pool of blood. But O’Brien was absent from Dublin: some others of our Confederates sincerely believed it would be criminal to expose the citizens, not half-armed and not disciplined at all, to the hazard of so horrible a carnage: others still have been charged with opposing all movement out of personal hostility to me, or out of mere cowardice.
I have no care to scrutinize motives: and it is enough to know that the most trusted men in the Confederation finally determined to restrain the Clubs, and suffer the last act of this elaborate national insult and outrage to be transacted in quiet. They came to me, the day before the trial, in my prison, entreating me to issue an Address to the Clubs under my own hand, that they should suffer me to be carried away peacefully: I refused utterly; and perhaps too bitterly.
Keilly fumed in silent rage. Meagher, being reluctantly coerced by the majority of his comrades to check the fierce impulse of his passion, laboured like the rest, to calm the indignation of the Clubs: and it is just to give his own account of his own conduct. In a speech to the Confederation, a few days after my removal, he said: –
“In those feelings of depression and shame I deeply share; and from the mistrust with which some of you, at least, may regard the members of the late Council, I shall not hold myself exempt. If they are to blame, so am I. Between the hearts of the people and the bayonets of the government, I took my stand, with the members of the Council, and warned back the precipitate devotion which scoffed at prudence as a crime. I am here to answer for that act. If you believe it to have been the act of a dastard, treat me with no delicacy, – treat me with no respect. Vindicate your courage in the impeachment of the coward. The necessities and perils of the cause forbid the interchange of courtesies. Civilities are out of place in the whirl and tumult of the tempest.
The address of the Council to the people of Ireland – the address signed by William Smith O’Brien – bears witness to your determination. It states that thousands of Confederates had pledged themselves that John Mitchel should not leave these shores but through their blood. We were bound to make this statement – bound in justice to you – bound in honour to the country. Whatever odium may flow from that scene of victorious defiance, in which the govern: played its part without a stammer or a check, none falls on you. You would have fought, had we not seized your hands, and bound them.
Let no foul tongue, then, spit its sarcasm upon the people. They were ready for the sacrifice; and had the word been given, the stars would burn this night above a thousand crimsoned graves. The guilt is ours; – let the sarcasms fall upon our heads.
We told you in the Clubs, four days previous to the trial, the reasons that compelled us to oppose the project of a rescue. The concentration of 10,000 troops upon the city the incomplete organisation of the people – the insufficiency of food, in case of a sustained resistance – the uncertainty as to how far the country districts were prepared to support us – these were the chief reasons that forced us into an antagonism with your generosity, your devotion, your intrepidity. Night after night we visited the Clubs, to know your sentiments, your determination; – and to the course we instructed you to adopt, you gave, at length, a reluctant sanction.
Now, I do not think it would be candid in me to conceal the fact, that the day subsequent to the arrest of John Mitchel, I gave expression to sentiments having a tendency quite opposite to the advice I have mentioned. At a meeting of the ‘Grattan Club,’ I said that the Confederation ought to come to the resolution to resist by force the transportation of John Mitchel; and if the worst befel us, the ship that earned him away should sail upon a sea of blood. I said this, and I shall not now conceal it. I said this, and I shall not shrink from the reproach of having acted otherwise. Upon consideration. I became convinced they were sentiments which, if acted upon, would associate my name with the ruin of the cause. I felt it my duty, therefore to retract them; – not to disown, but to condemn them; – not to shrink from the responsibility which the avowal of them might entail, but to avert the disaster which the enforcement of them would ensure.
You have now heard all I have to say on that point; and with a conscience happy in the thought that it has concealed nothing, I shall exultingly look forward to an event – the shadow of which already encompasses us – for the vindication of my conduct, and the attestation of my truth. Call me coward, – call me renegade. I will accept these titles as the penalties which a fidelity to my convictions has imposed. It will be so for a short time only. To the end I see the path I have been ordained to walk: and upon the grave which closes in that path, I can read no coward’s epitaph.”
The enemy were themselves somewhat surprised at the ease with which they had borne me out of the heart of Dublin, at noonday, in chains; and evidently thought they would have but small trouble in crushing any attempts at insurrection afterwards. The Confederates waited until “the time” should come; and some of them, indeed, were fully resolved to make an insurrection in the harvest: yet, as might have been expected, “the time” never came. The individual desperation of Dillon, Meagher, O’Gorman Leyne, Reilly, could achieve nothing while the people were dispirited both by famine and by long submission to insolent oppression. “When will the time come?” exclaimed Martin, “the time about which your orators so boldly vaunt, amid the fierce shouts of your applause? If it come not when one of you, selected by your enemies as your champion, is sent to perish among thieves and murderers, for the crime of loving and defending his native land, – then it will never come – never.”
Two or three other incidents of my last week on Irish ground will help to fill up the picture of the time. Reilly was arrested on the charge of saying to the members of his Club, when turning into their place of meeting – “Left wheel.” It was a term of military drilling, though the Clubmen were without weapons. He was kept in a station-house all night; and bail was refused in the morning. In the course of the day he was fully committed for trial, and bail was taken. During the whole week, the large force of the city police had orders to stop all processions, to arrest citizens, on any or on no charges; and generally, to “strike terror.”
In the meantime, every day was bringing in more terrible news of the devastation of the Famine, and evictions of the tenantry. “On Friday,” says the Tipperary Vindicator, “the landlord appeared upon the ground, attended by the sheriff and a body of policemen, and commenced the process of ejectment,” etc. On that morning, and at that spot, thirty persons were dragged out of their houses, and the houses pulled down. One of the evicted tenants was a widow – “a solvent tenant comes and offers to pay the arrears due by the widow; but a desire on Mr. Scully’s part to consolidate prevented the arrangement.”
The same week a writer in the Cork Examiner, writing from Skibbereen, says: –
“Our town presents nothing but a moving mass of military and police, conveying to and from the cout-house crowds of famine culprits. I attended the court for a few hours this day. The dock was crowded with the prisoners, not one of whom, when called up for trial, was able to support himself in front of the dock. The sentence of the court was received by each prisoner with apparent satisfaction. Even transportation appeared to many to be a relaxation from their sufferings.”
“One of the jurors,” it is added, “proposed a resolution that the government were the authors of the misery, and hoped his brother jurors would mark their disapprobation of such a government.” But his brother jurors would do nothing of the kind: too many of his brother jurors, no doubt, expected some small place about the great government “relief-works:” they could not afford to “mark their disapprobation.”
On Tuesday, of the same week, – it being then well known that the Crown would pack their jury, – a meeting of the citizens of Dublin was held at the Royal Exchange to protest; and Mr. John O’Connell went so far as to move this Resolution: –
“Resolved, That we consider the right of trial by a jury as a most sacred inheritance; in the security of person, property, and character.”
The meeting then proceeded to protest against “the practice of arranging juries to obtain convictions.” During the same week the poorhouses, hospitals, gaols, and many buildings taken temporarily for the purpose, were overflowing with starving wretches; and fevered patients were occupying the same bed with famished corpses: but on every day of the same week large cargoes of grain and cattle were leaving every port for England.
The Orangemen of the North were holding meetings to avow hostility to Repealers and to “Jezebel,” and eagerly crying “To Hell with the Pope!” Thus British policy was in full and successful operation at every point, on the day when I left my country in the fetters of the enemy.
Henceforth, I know nothing of Irish affairs from personal observation; and must content myself with epitomising the rest of the dreary story from other authorities.
1 Spenser’s View, p. 34
2 Sir John Davies His. ReL