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CHAP. VII.

Affairs of Ireland. Conspiracy for extirpating Heretics and dissolving, the Union. Charges made against the Irish Government. Reasons assigned for bringing forward the Catholic Question, and the Discussion of the State of Ireland at an early Period of the Session of Parliament. Result of the Par

liamentary Proceedings on the State

the Subject of Irish Tithes.

It is a circumstance no less singular than unfortunate, that Ireland, with the great capacity which she unquestionably has for improvements of every kind, and the ample means which she possesses of adding to the power and prosperity of the empire, should hitherto, on almost every occasion, when the energies of the country were to be called forth, have proved an obstacle in many respects to their vigorous developement. With a luxuriant and fertile soil, considerable wealth and a numerous population, at once adventurous and brave, instead of contributing much to the general strength in the greatest exigencies of the empire, she has too often presented the most serious obstructions to the proceedings of government. The truth is, that Ireland has never yet been without much deep and alarming discontent; that her citizens have been incessantly ur. ging claims upon the government, which have given rise to much intemperate discussion, and that so far from considering her alliance with England as an advantage, many of the most daring and active of her people have been busily employed in devising means by .. a separation might be accomplished. It is the misfortune of the

of Ireland. Mr Parnell's Motion on

Irish nation, that while the more ambi

tious and intriguing of the middle

ranks are perpetually engaged in for menting discord, the lower orders, who are without wealth or education, become an easy prey to all classes of adventurers; their ignorance and credulity are easily imposed on, and their ardent spirits and ill-regulated minds are seduced without difficulty into adventures the most hazardous, and even into projects the most atrocious. It may seem strange, that, situated in the immediate neighbourhood of a great and enlightened country, enjoying all the advantages of an easy and intimate intercourse with it, and possessing, as Ireland now does, all the benefits of a political union with a people far advanced in wealth and knowledge, she should still exhibit so many deplorable symptoms of a barbarism, which, under her present system, seems to be nearly incurable. Great faults have no doubt been committed by the people, and great crimes by the demagogues, who

are always at work to agitate the

public mind; but the very success of such attempts, and the disposition shewn by the people to second them, afford a strong presumption that there is something in the political state

of Ireland which demands a remedy. The manifold errors of the government of Ireland, committed in past times, have left in the present age evils so difficult to be corrected, that those who are most ardent in the cause of improvement, have been often deterred by the difficulty of the task, and scared away by that violence and malignity which centuries of misgovernment have produced among the Irish people. It is no very easy task to enlightenandameliorate a people to whom discord and violence have become so familiar; to remove the barriers which an ancient tyranny had established in its own support, and of which it has almost ensured the perpetuation by degrading the habits and character of its victims. It is manifest that a very violent change could not, in such circumstances, be justified by the principles of a wise policy, and it is no less clear, that great difficulties must occur to obstruct the progress even of those who should attempt a more gradual and therefore a more reasonable improvement on the state of this unhappy country. To add to the other misfortunes of Ireland, a great proportion of her people profess a religion which is not the religion of the state; a religion, which, for its ancient crimes and enormities, has become odious to all the professors of the reformed faith ; which has an undoubted tendency to keep down in ignorance and servility those who profess its tenets, and thus to counteract all plans of political amelioration. It cannot be wonderful that, in a country thus situated, frequent symptoms of disaffection to government, numerous and atrocious crimes, and a general spirit of distrust and discord, should prevail; and although the period, of which a short account is now to be given, was not marked by any occurrences of great constitutional importance, yet was it scarcely less re

markable than some of those which preceded it for the display of that intemperate spirit which has been the parent of so many miseries to Ireland.

If many real conspiracies in Ireland have been suffered to attain an alarming magnitude before attracting public notice, we have to record a curious instance which happened during this year of a very foolish plot that excited much agitation. About the beginning of the year a meeting was held of the trustees of the charity-school, belonging to the catholicchapel in Church-street. The schoolmaster neglected to attend at the usual hour; but when the trustees were about to disperse, he made his appearance in a state of intoxication, for which he was severely reprimanded, and required to state the reasons of his absence. He endeavoured to excuse himself by alleging that he had been detained by important business; but as his duty required that all his time should be devoted to the school, the trustees refused to admit his apology. He was at last prevailed on to give a more satisfactory account of himself, when he declared that he had been engaged in the business of the New Association, to one division of which he described himself as being the secretary. He then told a very whimsical story as to the nature and objects of this association. He said it had been instituted for the purpose of *g Ireland from England by force of arms; that it had another great object in view—the extirpation of heresy; that, however, the most active person connected with it, was a Mr Fisher, a protestant; and that he, the schoolmaster, had been assured by this person, and the others engaged in the conspiracy, that it had the sanction of the catholic committee: That he himself had been supplied with a blunderbuss; that many others were armed, as it was easy to procure arms from the stores of the Castle; and that an attack was shortly to be made on Dublin, as the garrison was known at that time to be very weak. The trustees, on hearing this story from their schoolmaster, adjourned till next day, and called him again before them. He was now sober, and wished to deny or retract his former statement; but being closely pressed, he admitted that he had become a member of the asso. ciation, and repeated the account which he had given on the preceding evening. . The trustees instantly dismissed him from his employment, and admonished him as to the enormity of his crime, and the folly of the project in which he had embarked. The facts were communicated to some members of the catholic committee, who resolved to make the whole transaction known to the attorney-general, in the presence of Mr Grattan, or the Knight of Kerry. Neither of these gentlemen was in Dublin at the time; but expresses were sent to bring them, as well as Lord Fingal, to town without delay. These gentlemen (Messrs Grattan and Fitzgerald) were requested to wait on the attorney-general and apprise him that a communication of importance would soon be made by some members of the catholic board; they accordingly did so. The attorney-general acted in the manner which became him. He saw at once the true character of the conspiracy and as he was desirous of avoiding all concern in an affair so ridiculous, he recommended to the gentlemen who waited on him to go before a magistrate and communicate their information. As the propriety of seeing the catholic gentlemen, however, was much pressed upon him, he fixed an early day for meeting them at Mr Wellesley Pole’s office in the castle to receive their communication. A committee of them accordingly waited on the attorneygeneral, recapitulated to him the con

fession of the schoolmaster, and deli. vered some printed papers belonging to the association. Although 'Mr Grattan yielded so far to the anxiety and alarm of the catholic board, as to come to town on purpose to make this marvellous communication, it is pro. bable that he viewed it from the be. ginning much in the same light as the attorney-general did, with whom he concurred in declaring, that the mat. ter was not pressing, and that the communication might have been deferred without inconvenience. The members of the catholic board, however, who affected great alarm lest tle ministers might profit by this conspi. racy to injure their reputation, went through the whole of these proceed. ings with the most solemn gravity, and with a zeal which did not well corro. spond with the general tenor of their conduct. Among the papers connected with this absurd association, was the fol. lowing advertisement, addressed to the Roman catholics of Ireland:“Advertisement. Roman catholics" Ireland, for Christ’s sake and for the tender mercies of God, do not to up arms in your own defence, or *s one else, on any account whatsoevo in that respect act exactly like the quakers, bear and forbear, suffer wrongs patiently for Christ's sake, and the Lord in time will relieve you ; * not foolishly be led away by shew " fair promises to leave your poor P. rents, wives, or families, breaking” hearts after you, forfeiting your j gion or duty to God, the church, your neighbour. Remember he o: lives by the sword must die by the sword; therefore, for the Lord isike enter not into combination or ro meetings of any sort that may go i e least offence to government. Bet i roughly resigned to the will of Go, and Gód will bless you and yo. This was, no doubt, intended as *

invitation to the people to do the very things from which they were thus ironically dissuaded ; it was a clumsy device to evade the operation of the law, while the imaginations and passions of the people were inflamed by a picture of the grievances under which they were said to labour; but persons who could resort to artifices so clumsy, could never be the objects of reasonable apprehension to the government. It was justly remarked, that if ever there was an association of which folly was the active principle, this was one ; and that no person could hear the account given by the secretary of the nature and objects of the conspiracy, without being convinced that its imbecillity was such, as to render any de; gree of alarm on the part of government incompatible with a due sense of dignity. In this light the attorneygeneral wisely considered the subject. The conspirators rested their hopes of success on three assumptions which were palpably false.—It was assumed by them, that the design had the sanction of the catholic committee, that it would be easy to procure arms from the stores of the Castle, and that the garrison of Dublin was at that time very weak. For the falsehood of the first of these positions, the attorneygeneral had the evidence of his senses; of the facility of procuring arms for the purposes of rebellion out of the stores of the Castle, he was a very competent judge ; and as to the weakness of the garrison of Dublin, it is difficult to imagine, how even the most stupid member of the association could have given credit to such a statement. Thus, then, while the attorney-general saw the alleged heads of the conspiracy giving him information of its existence; when he knew, also, that the arsenal from which they were to be armed was within the very precincts of the Castle, and that their ultimate hopes of success rested chiefly on the

supposed weakness of a body of troops sufficient, in point of force, to have razed the city to its foundation, there is no great wonder that he was not thrown into a panic unbecoming the dignity of his office, and unworthy of any government, not conscious of utter imbecillity. It was manifest, that no dangerous association existed ; but it was no less clear, that a few deluded wretches really indulged hopes of the most extravagant kind, and might have been tempted to commit, in a moment of infatuation, some breach of the public peace. The schoolmaster, and one or two of his associates, were therefore apprehended and underwent examinations at the Castle; and as this enquiry fully satisfied the government as to the true nature of the association, no attempt was made, as the catholics affected to fear, to profit at their expense by these foolish transactions. Charges such as these were, however, reiterated by the members of the catholic board, although they were manifestly founded on the grossest delusion, and calculated to render the government odious in the eyes of a credulous multitude. The late proceedings were described by them as symptoms of a conspiracy against the Irish people ; and the catholics and protestants in every i. of Ireland were warned, as they ad the welfare of the country at heart, and as they wished to defeat the machinations of their deadliest foes, to be on their guard against the attempts of government to seduce the lower orders into unlawful associations, for the purpose of blasting the reputation of the great advocates of Irish independence. The party which had cherished orangism was accused of generating the infernal association, as it was described, of which Mr Keegan the schoolmaster was the leader; and the more respectable classes were called on to warn the peasantry and lower orders of every description against the seduction of these ministerial agents who sought new pretences for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, the introduction of martial law, and the repetition of all the enormities of which Ireland had long been the victim. In a strain of eloquence, peculiar to themselves, they declared, “ that the infernal engine had been ingeniously contrived, and was secretly receiving the combustible materials; but that it would recoil on its inventors to their disgrace and ruin.”—These envious declaimers did not stop to explain in what manner a conspiracy against a large portion of his majesty’s subjects could be useful to the administration ; they did not recollect that the existence of discord, from what source soever it may proceed, uniformly embarrasses the government, and tends to destroy its popularity. Yet the greatest praise of an administration, particularly of an Irish administration, is, that it can govern the country so as to ensure its tranquillity; while the progress of conspiracies could be encouraged only by the most egregious and contemptible folly, of which they did not even pretend to suspect the Irish ministers. They knew, however, that by disseminating such sentiments among the mob, a chance was afforded of exciting discontent against the government; and as their lives are entirely devoted to so laudable an object, they gladly seized the opportunity which the late occurrences seemed to offer, in the full confidence that few of those to whom their declamations were addressed, would detect the sophistry and malice with which they abounded. An attempt of a different kind to disturb the peace of Ireland was attended with more serious consequences than this mock conspiracy. In some counties the most detestable outrages were, during part of the year, com

mitted, under pretence of regulating the price of land; and, but for the prompt interference of government, the vicinity of the capital itself might have been involved in bloodshed and confusion. The miscreants who were the authors of these disturbances, called themselves carders, from the instrument of torture which they used for the purpose of forcing the honest and

industrious proprietors of the soil to

relinquish their property. The time chosen for the execution of their designs, the dead of night, perfectly suited and characterised their proceedings; and although their associations had no object immediately political, yet it was easy to perceive with what facility they might have been converted to such an end. This spirit of outrage appeared, at an early period of the year, under various forms and denominations in different parts of the country ; but, by a vigorous and steady administration of justice, it was, in almost every instance, effectually put down. The associations had all one common object—the dominion of the mob over property. Sometimes the rent of land was the subject of their legislation; at others, the tithes of the protestant and the dues of the catholic clergy were regulated by their arbitrary decrees —These outrages, which so frequently occur in Ireland, must, in some measure, be ascribed to the conduct of the Irish proprietors, but chiefly to the shameful state of ignorance in which the people are allowed to remain. It is not because the lower orders in Ireland pay heavy taxes, or because they are in other respects oppressed, that at regular intervals their untamed spirits seek an outlet in acts of violence and rebellion; it is because their conduct is not watched over by their superiors; because a mistaken lenity is too often shewn in the execution of the laws; and, above all, because the example of

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