From the first moment that the Repeal of the Habeas Corpus Act placed the liberties of all Irishmen at the disposal of Lord Clarendon, the police received secret orders to arrest all leading Confederates, both in town and country. A return was, in the beginning of the next year, 1849, made to Parliament of the number of persons, and their names, who were imprisoned under that law. There were 118 of them; including most of the very men on whom O’Brien might reasonably have relied to sustain his movement. They were all imprisoned in various gaols, without any charge, or one word of explanation; removed in batches from one prison to some other in a distant part of the island, with no other object, apparently, but to exhibit them in chains and strike a wholesome terror into all spectators.
After O’Brien’s party had dispersed at Ballingarry, he seemed no longer to value his life, and used no means to escape or conceal himself. He went openly to the railroad station in Thurles, where he was immediately pointed out to the police – pointed out, as lie himself believes, by a member of the Committee of the Confederation, a creature who appears to have some time before sold himself to the enemy1. Meagher, Leyne and O’Donoghue were soon captured also; MacManus, after having almost escaped in an American ship, was at length taken. Dillon, O’Gorman, Reilly and Doheny, all escaped out of the island, though long and closely pursued. I was, for months before, safe in my cell at Bermuda; Martin, Duffy, Williams, and O’Doherty, were all in their Newgate dungeon awaiting trial.
Nobody was left at large over all the island, capable of initiating a bold movement; and indeed the peasantry were by this time so dispirited, so feeble, and so poor, that no such movement could have been attempted’ through their means. The priests were signalizing their royalty by calming down all indignant feeling, and heartily abusing the defeated rebels: the middle classes were frightened and corrupted; – and the Conquest was consummated.
There remained for the enemy now only to confirm that conquest, and then to make a profitable use of it for England. First, the Editors must be brought to trial under the new “Treason-Felony” Act; and O’Brien and his immediate comrades, under the Common Law, for the crime of “High Treason,” having appeared in arms against the “government.” Our enemies would gladly have dispensed with these trials, and removed their captives out of the way by a more summary process. But they were not to forget that they were a “liberal” government, and had a reputation to support before the world.
Ireland was not Naples, (would to God she had been!) and political offenders could by no means be suffered to perish by long confinement, in subterranean dungeons, without trial. But, then, arose the question of juries; and the “government” knew full well that no jury in Ireland impartially empanelled according to law, and really representing the nation, would convict one of those men for any offence whatever against a foreign government.
They could not refuse a trial; but one thing they could do, which the King of Naples had never learned, – they could pack the juries. No doubt, it was painful to have to pack juries again: how could Whig reputation endure it? But they hoped this would be the last time. They knew that in the eyes of Englishmen, the extreme urgency of the occasion would justify this one last tremendous fraud; and, like Ulysses, they could be honest afterwards. When I say “in the eyes of Englishmen,” I mean the ruling classes of Englishmen, namely, the landed interests and the monied and mercantile interests; – I mean, in short, those English men whose opinions and interests are alone consulted in the government of that country.
To them it was an absolute necessity of their existence that Irish national movements should be crushed down by any means and all means – but it would be unjust to charge the mass of Englishmen with approving of the system of British Government in Ireland. Most of them know nothing about it. Those people of the industrious classes, who do interest themselves somewhat in public affairs – that is, the Chartists – were utterly powerless, and were held in the profoundest contempt by those who own them, and own their industry and their lives. In truth, of the three Peoples whom our enemies pretend to govern, they fear none but the Irish. The government, accordingly, gave the Chartists a significant hint, immediately after my “trial,” that they were to mind their own business, and leave the settlement of Irish affairs to their betters.
A large Chartist meeting was held in London, and indignant speeches were made, protesting against the packing of the “jury.” Amongst others, Mr. Ernest Jones had said, (and the detective police had taken down his words) that the People would triumph yet, – that a day would come when John Mitchel would return in triumph to his country, and Lord John Russell and Lord Clarendon would be transported in his place! He was immediately brought to trial, convicted for sedition, and expiated his rash words by two years in a dungeon.
The Whig Government, in short, felt that if they satisfied the men of rank and money in England, they did the whole duty of Whigs: and the men of rank and money were eagerly crying out to have the last embers of that long national struggle stamped out.
O’Brien, Meagher, MacManus, and O’Donohoe were to have their trial before a special commission in Clonmel, the capital of Tipperary. On the details of these trials I need not dwell; because they were on the same pattern with other scenes of this same kind which I have narrated. The officials of the Crown showed a stern; dogged determination to disregard every remonstrance, to refuse every application, and to do the work intrusted to them in the most coarse, insolent, and thoroughgoing style. For example, Mr. Whiteside, O’Brien’s counsel, reminded the court “that, in England persons charged with high treason are allowed a copy of the Jurors’ panel, and a list of the witnesses to be examined on. the part of the Crown. Take one extract from the report of the “trial”: –
“The learned counsel put it to the Court whether Mr. O’Brien, under trial in a country said to be under the same government and laws as England, should not have the same privilege which he would enjoy as a matter of right, if he happened to be tried on the other side of the Channel.
The Court decided that the prisoner was not entitled to the privilege.”
When the clerk read the names of the jury-panel, Mr. O’Brien of course challenged the array, on the ground of fraud; and, of course, the Court ruled against him.
“Mr. Whiteside stated that it made little difference whether his client would be tried by a jury selected from a panel thus constituted, or taken and shot through the head on the high-road. No less than one hundred Catholics had been struck off the panel, and so few left on, that Mr. O’Brien’s right to challenge was now little better than a farce. This objection was also overruled; Chief Justice Blackburne having decided that the panel was properly made out.”
O’Brien, whose mind was made up to meet any fate, stood in the dock during this nine days’ trial, with a haughty calmness. What thoughts passed through that proud heart, as the odious game proceeded, no human eye will ever read: but of one thing I am sure, – his grief, shame, and indignation were not for himself, but for the down-trodden country, where such a scene could be enacted in the open day and against the will of nine-tenths of its inhabitants.
There was a verdict of guilty: and O’Brien slightly bowed to the Jury. He was reconducted to his prison, where he met Meagher, who eagerly sought to read the result in his face. But nothing is to be read there: it wears the same steady, cheerful smile as ever, – so cheerful that Meagher hopes for a moment that he brings good news. O’Brien presses his hand, merely saying, “Guilty, Meagher – guilty! as we all are, of not having sold our country.” The next morning he stands before the Judge; is asked if he has anything to say why sentence should not pass; replies that he has nothing to say, save that his conscience is clear; that he has done only what was the duty of every Irishman; “and now,” he adds, “proceed with your sentence.”
Chief Justice Blackburne puts on his black cap, which becomes, him well. I give the precise words of the sentence: –
“That sentence is, that you, William Smith O’Brien, be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and be thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and be there hanged by the neck until you are dead; and that afterwards your head shall be severed from your body, and your body divided into four quarters, to be disposed of as her Majesty shall think fit. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”
O’Brien hears it unmoved as a statue: again inclines his head in a stately bow; politely takes leave of his counsel and returns to his prison.
Again, and again, and again, the same process was performed in all its parts. MacManus was next tried, then O’Donohoe, then Meagher: their juries were all carefully packed; they were all sentenced to be hanged; and they all met the announcement of their fate as men ought. For more than a month these trials went on, from day to day; and it was the 23rd of October when the last sentence was pronounced. A strong garrison of cavalry, infantry, and artillery occupied the town, and enclosed the scene with a hedge of steel. Outside, the people muttered deep curses, and chafed with impotent rage. A few daring spirits, headed by O’Mahony, once contemplated an attack and rescue; but the people had been too grievously frightened by the priests (on account of their miserable pauper souls), and too effectually starved by the government, to be equal to so dashing an exploit: and so that solemn and elaborate insult was once more put upon our name and nation; and the four men who had sought to save their people from so abject a condition lay undisturbed in Clonmel gaol, sentenced to death. Considering which humiliating picture, one might be tempted to repeat the bitter words of Don Juan D’Aguila – “Surely Christ never died for this people!”
Yet whosoever has studied even the imperfect sketch which I have given of the potent and minutely elaborated system of oppression that pressed upon that nation at every point, and tied down every limb, watching over every man, woman, and child, at their uprising and downlying, so as to be enabled to foresee and to baffle even the slightest approach to combination for a national purpose2 – will assuredly forbear to taunt us, and will bless God that he was born in a land where men are free to will and to act.
The newspaper Editors were still to be “tried,” – that is, to be transported. In the months of October and November, 1848, Duffy, of the Nation, Williams and O’Doherty, of the Tribune, and Martin, of the Felon, were successively brought up for trial in the City Court-house, of Green-street. Their newspapers had been suppressed weeks before, their offices broken into, their types and presses and books seized.
O’Doherty and Martin were “convicted” by well-packed juries, containing not a single Catholic. In the cases of Duffy and Williams, the enemy ventured to leave one or two Catholics on the juries. Williams was acquitted: Duffy’s jury disagreed, and he was retained in prison till a more tractable jury could be manufactured. Again he was brought to trial, and again the jury disagreed. Still he was kept in custody, though his health was rapidly failing; and, at last, when all apprehension of trouble seemed to be over, and the more dangerous conspirators were disposed of, the “government” yielded to a memorial on his behalf, and abandoned the prosecution.
In the matter of those who were sentenced to death, the enemy after much deliberation decided on sparing their lives and commuting their punishment to transportation for life. This, I believe, was done under the false pretence of clemency; but it was in truth the most refined cruelty; it was, moreover, illegal, – there being no law to authorize such a commutation. The prisoners, therefore, objected through their counsel: they had no use for life under such circumstances; and demanded to have the extreme benefit of the law.
Ministers, however, were resolved to be merciful, – introduced an Act into Parliament, empowering the Queen to transport them, – had it passed at once, – and immediately; shipped them off to herd with felons in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. O’Doherty and Martin, having been originally sentenced to ten years’ transportation, were sent away at the same time, but in another ship; and for more than five years, in the most degrading bondage, they expiated the crime of “not having sold their country.” If they had prudently sold that commodity, there were no Irishmen in our day who could have made so profitable a bargain.
What to do now with this Ireland, thus fallen under the full and peaceful possession of her “sister island,” was the subject of serious thought in England. The famine was still slaying its tens of thousands; and the government emigration scheme was drawing away many thousands more, and shooting them out naked and destitute on the shores of the St. Lawrence: so that it was hoped the “Celts” would soon be thinned out to the proper point. The very danger so lately escaped, however, brought home to the British Government, and to the Irish landlords, the stern necessity of continued extermination. It was better, they felt, to have too few hands to till the ground, than too many for the security of law and order.
A plan was promulgated by Sir Robert Peel for a new “Plantation of Ireland” – that is for replacing the Irish with good Anglo-Saxons; and this idea was warmly advocated by no less a person than Thomas Carlyle. Vie Victis! was the word. “Ireland,” said Carlyle, “is a starved rat that crosses the path of an elephant: what is this elephant to do? – squelch it, by Heaven! Squelch it!”
From this time commenced that most virulent vilification of the Celtic Irish, in all the journals, books, and periodicals of the “sister island,” which has been so faithfully reproduced (like all other British cant) in America, and which gave such venom to the Know-Nothing agitation. Then, more than ever, English writers were diligent in pointing out and illustrating the difference of “race” between Celt and Saxon; which proved to their own satisfaction that the former were born to be ruled by the latter. A peculiar feature in this species of literature, is, that the most zealous apostles and preachers of it have been themselves Celts of the Celts: Carlyle himself, for example, a Scotchman of Dumfries-shire, and with a name that convicts him of kindred with the Celtic people of Cumbria; and still more manifestly Macaulay, who was, by the father’s side, at least, of the MacAmhlaidhs of the Highlands; but who wrote of the whole Celtic family – pandering to the ignorant pride of I the English – with a real venom and affected contempt, which one might explain upon the theory that early in his life some Celt had crossed him in love, or pulled his nose, or done both the one and the other, – but which I am inclined to account for on a more commercial principle: he wrote his books for Anglo-Saxons and for those who ignorantly believe they are Anglo-Saxons.
The bitterness and spite exhibited against the Irish Celt in all British literature, especially since ’48, has, however, a parallel. It is precisely the same kind of animosity, and founded on the same reasons, as that which appears against the Scottish nation in all English books of the last century – that is, while Scotland remained disaffected against English rule, and discontented with the Scottish Union. Nothing so much pleased the magnanimous British at that time, as ridicule and denunciation of the Scotch. The Lord Macaulay himself informs us that “when the English condescended to think of him (the Highlander) at all – and it was seldom that they did so, they considered him as a filthy, abject savage, a slave, a Papist, a cut-throat, and a thief.” And further, he says: –
“This contemptuous loathing lasted till the year 1745 (that is, until the last outrising of the Highlanders against the English) and was then for a moment succeeded by intense fear and rage. England, thoroughly alarmed, put forth her whole strength. The Highlanders were subjugated rapidly, completely, and forever. During a short time, the English nation, still heated by the recent conflict, breathed nothing but vengeance. The slaughter on the field of battle, and on the scaffold, was not sufficient to slake the public thirst for blood. The sight of the tartan inflamed the populace of London with hatred, which showed itself by unmanly outrages to defenceless captives.”
This writer, however, takes care to justify, and so far as in him lies, to perpetuate, this horror and hatred of the Celt. He enlarges upon the filth of the dwellings and the persons of the Gael, in a manner which would have delighted Doctor Johnson himself; and, with a singular sort of filial piety, likens his own fathers to the Esquimaux and the Samoyedes.
Now, those volumes of Macaulay were written since ’48. They are in all their matter and scope, not a history, but a political pamphlet; and the zealous and diligent depreciation of Celts, both in his accounts of Scottish and Irish transactions, has a manifest bearing upon our Last Conquest. It is intended not only to soothe and flutter the English with the belief that they are the “superior race,” but also to turn aside and make ridiculous the sympathy of all civilised mankind, if peradventure mankind should be so misguided as to throw away its sympathies upon so abject a race as these starved-out Celts. But, in truth, the calculated care and diligence of the British literary class in defaming all Celts, has had of late years a far more urgent motive than it ever had in the case of the Scottish people, for they are painfully aware that myriads upon myriads of the exterminated Irish, having found refuge here in America, have filled this continent with cursing and bitterness against the English name; and a strong political necessity is upon them to make Americans hate us, and, if possible, despise us, as heartily as they do themselves.
As for us, expatriated and exterminated Irish, we have every day occasion to feel that our enemy pursues us into all lands with unrelenting vengeance; and, though we take the wings of the morning, we can never escape it – never until Ireland shall become, as Scotland is, a contented province of the British Empire, thoroughly subdued, civilized, emasculated, and “ameliorated” to the very heart’s core.
To return from this slight digression, the plan of Sir Robert Peel for a new “Plantation” in Ireland was anxiously revolved in the councils of our enemy. It begun to be believed that the peasant class being now almost sufficiently thinned out – and the claim of tenants to some sort of right or title to the land they tilled, having been successfully resisted and defeated: – that the structure of society in Ireland having been well and firmly planted upon a basis of able-bodied pauperism (which the English, however, called “independent labour”), the time was come to effect a transfer of the real estate of the island from Irish to English hands. This grand idea afterwards elaborated itself into the famous “Incumbered Estates Act.”
1 His name is John Donnellan Balfe. His reward was a colonial appointment under the government, in the very distant colony of Van Diemen’s Land, where the evil odour of his crime could not annoy the more reputable servants of the government by too close association.
2 So far back as 1602, Attorney-General Davies thus described that espionage, which is one principal arm of British power – “Notice is taken of every person that is able to do either good or hurt. It is known not only how they live and what they do, but it is foreseen what they purpose or intend to do.”