“Oh, Union, how social – oh, Union, how rare! –
In which all religions may equally share;
Which unites in one cause both the rich and the poor –
Makes the fate of our tyrants decided and sure.” – Old Song.
The few objections which are urged against Irish independence look like a legion, from the different array in which they are again and again brought to the fight.
These objections may be brought into four divisions:
1st. That Ireland is not strong enough to be a nation.
2nd. That Irishmen are not wise nor good enough to govern themselves; and, therefore, that our political quarrels, or an attempt at Roman Catholic ascendancy, would produce civil war and a re-conquest.
3rd. That we have no means of getting a national government.
4th. And the most rarely urged is, that nationality would not benefit us.
Some of these objections have enough of plausibility in them to deserve long and quiet investigation; others, especially the last, are the result, sometimes of base feelings, but oftener of ignorance, and require refutation only.
In future letters I shall treat these matters. In the present I have a less agreeable task; it is to admit that Irishmen have not, at any period, save from 1779 to 1795, shown a hearty desire for union amongst themselves. Feuds of various kinds were ruining us; yet with the above exception, the different parties never rose superior to clan and sect. It will, for an obvious reason, be well to run over some of the facts. The disasters of past disunion may instruct us to avoid it in future. If not, we are a lost people.
In our early struggles with the Dane and English, clanship kept us asunder. The men of Dublin made peace, and left assertion so false and perilous, as that union was not essential to prosperous and permanent nationality, having been made, I have gone somewhat out of my road to impress it on you and your readers. Public opinion is at present right on this subject – all honest men should exert themselves to keep it so. Alas for the day when it shall be corrupted!
Of the Irish population of eight millions, in 1834 one million and a half were Protestants, and the proportions have not changed since. Their religious differences never kept them seriously asunder in Ireland, and are now less likely to do so than ever.
This Protestant population consists of a fair share of every class. It contains a peasantry, sturdy and intelligent from a century and a half of comparative prosperity in a suffering land – an artisan and mercantile class, the most wealthy and enterprising we have – and lastly, by far the largest portion of the landed and professional aristocracy. Such a peasantry, backed by such resources, and headed (as in a serious struggle it would be) by such an aristocracy, seems as powerful a garrison as ever ruined a country. The statistics and history of Ireland, and of all countries, and indeed common observation, prove that such a power, if driven to aid the stranger, would ensure his victory.
However as an Irishman I regret the part taken by the Protestants in the seventeenth century, and once or twice since, I am well pleased at their present strength, not as a sectarian, but as an Irishman. If they were few and weak, it might not be easy to reply to their fear of Roman Catholic ascendancy. Now they are and will be right well able to take care of themselves. There are numbers, wealth, valour and leaders among them, if united, as they would be, high and low, heart and hand, in case of oppression, to guard their rights. Moreover, Protestant Scotland and England would give them aid in case of even a threat of oppression, not only from religious sympathy, but from a hope on England’s part of regaining her supremacy. In fact, the difficulty all heads of parties would have, would be to take away even a pretence for such interference.
I have thus long dwelt on the strength of the Protestants and on the history of Irish dissension, not only because I wished to check the thought that they could be safely quarrelled with, but to show that, even supposing there were no toleration in the Roman Catholic clergy, nor any resolve in the Roman Catholic laymen not to allow intolerance, were their clergy inclined to it, still the Protestants would, in an independent government, be safe from the danger by their strength, and from attack by the knowledge of it.
There seems but one way in which Protestants could be endangered, and that is by the Roman Catholics succeeding in establishing a national government without their approval, through the great English parties. Cut off from England, and weakened and divided by an unprosperous strife, Roman Catholic justice would remain their chief security. My Protestant friends who grew pale in 1829 will perhaps rate this danger too high, and others, including myself, as much too low.
I shall, in my next letter, begin to treat, in their order, the reasons alluded to in the opening of this, for and against the attempt to regain our independence.