This enquiry is designed to rescue eminent men and worthy acts from calumnies which were founded on the ignorance and falsehoods of the Old Whigs, who never felt secure until they had destroyed the character as well as the liberty of Ireland.
Irish oppression never could rely on mere physical force for any length of time. Our enormous military resources, and the large proportion of “fighting men,” or men who love fighting, among our people, prohibit it. It was ever necessary to divide us by circulating extravagant stories of our crimes and our disasters, in order to poison the wells of brotherly love and patriotism in our hearts, that so many of us might range ourselves under the banner of our oppressor.
Calumny lives chiefly on the past and future; it corrupts history and croaks dark prophecies. Never, from Tyrconnell’s rally down to O’Connell’s revival of the Emancipation struggle—never, from the summons of the Dungannon Convention to the Corporation Debate on Repeal, has a single bold course been proposed for Ireland, that folly, disorder, and disgrace has not been foreboded. Never has any great deed been done here that the alien Government did not, as soon as the facts became historical, endeavour to blacken the honour of the statesmen, the wisdom of the legislators, or the valour of the soldiers who achieved it.
One of the favourite texts of these apostles of misrule was the Irish Government in King James’s time. “There’s a specimen,” they said, “of what an Irish Government would be—unruly, rash, rapacious, and bloody.” But the King, Lords, and Commons of 1689, when looked at honestly, present a sight to make us proud and hopeful for Ireland. Attached as they were to their King, their first act was for Ireland. They declared that the English Parliament had not, and never had, any right to legislate for Ireland, and that none, save the King and Parliament of Ireland, could make laws to bind Ireland.
In 1698, just nine years after, while the acts of this great Senate were fresh, Molyneux published his case of Ireland, that case which Swift argued, and Lucas urged, and Flood and Grattan, at the head of 70,000 Volunteers, carried, and England ratified against her will. Thus, then, the idea of 1782 is to be found full grown in 1689. The pedigree of our freedom is a century older than we thought, and Ireland has another Parliament to be proud of.
That Parliament, too, established religious equality. It anticipated more than 1782. The voluntary system had no supporters then, and that patriot Senate did the next best thing: they left the tithes of the Protestant People to the Protestant Minister, and of the Catholic People to the Catholic Priest. Pensions not exceeding £200 a year were given to the Catholic Bishops. And no Protestant Prelates were deprived of stipend or honour—they held their incomes, and they sat in the Parliament. They enforced perfect liberty of conscience; nor is there an Act of theirs which could inform one ignorant of Irish faction to what creed the majority belonged. Thus for its moderation and charity this Parliament is an honour and an example to the country.
While on the one hand they restored the estates plundered by the Cromwellians thirty-six years before, and gave compensation to all innocent persons—while they strained every nerve to exclude the English from our trade, and to secure it to the Irish—while they introduced the Statute of Frauds, and many other sound laws, and thus showed their zeal for the peaceful and permanent welfare of the People, they were not unfit to grapple with the great military crisis. They voted large supplies; they endeavoured to make a war-navy; the leading members allowed nothing but their Parliamentary duties to interfere with their recruiting, arming, and training of troops. They were no timorous pedants, who shook and made homilies when sabres flashed and cannon roared. Our greatest soldiers, M’Carthy and Tyrconnell, and, indeed, most of the Colonels of the Irish regiments, sat in Lords or Commons;—not that the Crown brought in stipendiary soldiers, but that the Senate were fearless patriots, who were ready to fight as well as to plan for Ireland. Theirs was no qualified preference for freedom if it were lightly won—they did not prefer ‘Bondage with ease to strenuous liberty.’
Let us then add 1689 to our memory; and when a Pantheon or Valhalla is piled up to commemorate the names and guard the effigies of the great and good, the bright and burning genius, the haughty and faithful hearts, and the victorious hands of Ireland, let not the men of that time—that time of glory and misfortune—that time of which Limerick’s two sieges typify the clear and dark sides—defiance and defeat of the Saxon in one, trust in the Saxon and ruin on the other—let not the legislators or soldiers of that great epoch be forgotten.