The people of Munster are in want—will murder feed them? Is there some prolific virtue in the blood of a landlord that the fields of the South will yield a richer crop where it has flowed? As the Jews dashed their door-posts on the Passover, shall the blood of an agent shelter the cabins of Tipperary? Shame, shame, and horror! Oh! to think that these hands, hard with innocent toil, should be reddened with assassination! Oh! bitter, bitter grief, that the loving breasts of Munster should pillow heads wherein are black plots, and visions of butchery and shadows of remorse! Oh! woe unutterable, if the men who abandoned the sin of drunkenness should companion with the devil of murder; and if the men who, last year, vowed patience, order, and virtue, rashly and impiously revel in crime.
But what do we say? Where are we led by our fears? Surely, Munster is against these atrocities—they are the sins of a few—the People are pure and sound, and all will be well with Ireland! ‘Tis so, ’tis so; we pray God ’tis so: but yet the People are not without blame!
Won’t they come and talk to us about these horrid deeds? Won’t they meet us (as brothers to consider disorders in their family) and do something—do all to stop them? Don’t they confide in us? Oh! they know, well they know that our hearts love them better than life—well they know that to-morrow, if ‘twould serve, we would be ready to die by their side in battle; but we are not ready to be their accomplices in crime—we would not be unsteady on the scaffold, so we honestly died for them, but we have no share with the murderer!
Nor is it we alone, who have ever professed our willingness to take the field with the people, who loathe and denounce these crimes. Let the men of Munster read the last Act of the Repeal Association, and they will find Daniel O’Connell, William Smith O’Brien, and the entire Repeal League confederated to proclaim and trample down the assassins. Let them enter their chapels, and from every altar they will hear their beloved priests solemnly warning them that the forms of the Church are as fiery coals on the heads of the blood-stained. Let them look upon government, and they will find a potent code and vast police—a disciplined army—all just citizens, combined to quell the assassin; and then let them with their consciences approach their God, and learn that the murderer is dark before Him.
Heaven and earth raise their voices against these crimes. Will they not be hopeless?—must they not be desperately wicked?
What chance has the guilty of success?—what right to commit so deadly a sin? These murders will not give the people the land, nor leases, nor low rents. When the country was in a rude state, intimidation easy, and concealment easier, they tried the same thing. They began butchering bailiffs—they rose to shooting landlords. Did they get nearer their object? Did they overpower their oppressors, stop the law, mitigate their condition?—No, but the opposite; the successors of the slaughtered men levied the rents and enforced the ejectments of the slain. They did so with greater zeal, for vengeance strengthened their resolve. They did so with greater effect, for the law that might have interfered where the people were oppressed, and society, which would have aided the wronged people, took arms against assassins, and the death groan of the victim was the best rallying cry of oppression.
So it will be again. Already men whose tongues, and pens, and hearts were busy pleading for better tenures and juster rents are silenced. They will not clamour for rights when assassins may recruit their gangs with the words of the innocent. Already minds deep in preparing remedies for popular suffering are meditating means of popular coercion. The justice, not only of government but society, has grown cautious of redress, and is preparing to punish—a repetition of guilt will aggravate that punishment and postpone that redress.
Headstrong and vain men, your sins will not give you a landlord the less nor a persecutor the less; while ever the land is liable to the rent there will be found men willing to hazard their lives to get it, and you but arm them with fresh powers, with the sympathy of the public and the increased force of law and government, to lean yet heavier on you.
Why, too, should Munster lead in guilt? Our richest province, our purest race, our fairest scenes—oh! why should its bloodshed be as plenteous as its rains? Other people suffer much. The peaceful people of Kerry, the whole province of Connaught, many counties of Leinster are under a harsher yoke than the men of North Munster: yet they do not seek relief in butchery.
Thank God! they do not. How horrid a blot upon earth were Ireland, if its poor had no reliance but the murder of the rich; better by far that that people rose and waged open war. That were wild—that were criminal; but ‘twould be wisdom and mercy compared with these individual murders.
How horrible is the condition of a district subject to such crimes! Few are struck, but all suffer! ‘Tis as if men knew assuredly that a spirit of plague were passing through the land, but knew not whom it would wither. Think of a district where there has been peace—the People are poor, but they are innocent; some of the rich are merciless, but some are just, and many are kind and sympathising; in their low homes, in their safe chapels, in the faith of their fellows, in the hope of better days, in the effort for improvement, but above all in their conscious innocence, the most trampled of them have consolation, and there is a sort of smile even on the wretched. But let some savage spirits appear among them—let the shebeen house supply the ferocity which religion kept down, and one oppressor is marked out for vengeance, his path is spied, the bludgeon or the bullet smites, and he is borne in to his innocent and loving family a broken and stained corpse, slain in his sins.
Pursuit follows—the criminals become outlaws—they try to shelter their lives and console their consciences by making many share their guilt—another and another is struck at. Haunted by remorse, and tracked by danger, and now intimate with crime, a less and a less excuse suffices. He began by avenging his own wrong, becomes the avenger of others, then perhaps the tool of others, who use the wrongs of the country as a cloak for unjustified malice, and the suspected tyrant or the rigid, yet not unjust, man shares the fate of the glaring oppressors. What terror and suspicion—what a shadow as of death is there upon such a district! No one trusts his neighbour. The rich, excited by such events, believe the poor have conspired to slay them. They dread their very domestics, they abhor the People, rage at the country, summon each other, and all the aid that authority can give to protect and to punish; they bar their doors before sunset, their hearths are surrounded with guns and pistols—at the least rustle every heart beats and women shriek, and men with clenched teeth and embittered hearts make ready for that lone and deadly conflict—that battle without object, without honour, without hope, without quarter.
Then they cover the country with patrols—they raise up a cloud of hovering spies—no peasant, no farmer feels safe. Those who connive shudder at every passing troop, and see an informer in every stranger. Those who do not connive tremble lest they be struck as enemies of the criminal; and thus from bad to worse till no home is safe—no heart calm of the thousands.
As yet no district has attained this horrible ripeness; but to this North Munster may come, unless the People interfere and put down the offenders.
Will they suffer this hell-blight to come upon them? Will they wait till violence and suspicion are the only principles retaining power among them? Will they look on while the Repeal movement—the educating, the ennobling, the sacred effort for liberty—is superseded by the buzz of assassination and vengeance? Or will they now join O’Connell and O’Brien—the Association, the Law, and the Priesthood; and whenever they hear a breath of outrage, denounce it as they would Atheism—whenever they see an attempt at crime, interpose with brave, strong hand, and, in Mr. O’Brien’s words, “leave the guilty no chance of life but in hasty flight from the land they have stained with their crimes.”
Once again we ask the People—the guiltless, the suffering, the noble, the brave People of Munster—by their patience, by their courage, by their hopes for Ireland, by their love to God, we implore them to put down these assassins as they would and could were the weapons of the murderers aimed at their own children.