Изображения страниц

nistration; and in these matters, exclaimed Mr. Sheil, “agitation has proved itself to be omnipotent.”

The announcement of such a determination would at any previous period have produced little sensation among the occupants of seats for counties and boroughs. But the example of Clare had filled many with misgivings, who had laughed at the power

of popular combination until now. The fear of losing personal importance by the loss of seats that had frequently been won at ruinous expense, brought men to think of toleration who had never thought of it before. *

The political nerves of the most resolute began to give way.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

“In no page of history will there be discovered such an example of consolidated passion, and concentrated energy, and of systematised action, as is at this moment presented to the contemplation of every political observer by the actual state of Ireland. In other countries, large masses of the population may be found, who, under the pressure of penalty and disqualification, have been brought into adherence, and felt a community of interest in a community of wrong. The Huguenots of France, for example, were a powerful body, but still they did not exhibit a union so perfect and complete as the great seven mi ns of disfranchised subjects, who, shut out from the pale of the constitution, are drawn up beyond it.

An adversary who

* Annual Register, vol. Lxx., p. 130.

reads the words which I now speak, may exclaim, “This, at all events, is candid;' so it is, and in frankness there is much wisdom. For wherefore should we disguise tha the priesthood of Ireland have enlisted themselves in the cause of the country, and bear its standard ? Let Protestants rail at this infusion of politics into religion, or religion into politics, as they will. The fact may be deplorable, but it is not the less awful; and statesmen should not expend their time (and moments in this crisis have become of value) in declaiming against the influence of the priesthood, but in considering the magnitude of that most important and momentous fact. The clergy were first swept away by the popular passions, and afterwards became their guides. The priests (and they are citizens as well as priests) were pressed into the ranks, and then became the leaders of the people. When a priest complies with the popular will, he may direct and control it: but if he opposes it, his power Of this truth we had instances in the county of Clare. One or two of the Catholic clergy, friends and relatives of Mr. Fitzgerald, exhibited apathy in the national cause, and became the objects of execration and of contempt. It would be easy to drive them from their altars. But whatever may be the origin of the profound sympathy which is experienced and manifested by the priesthood of Ireland, the fact itself is beyond all question, and with the fact alone, and not with the religionism of the matter (if I may coin a phrase), I have to do. I speak of the fact as a leading feature in this strange condition of things. Let Government look to it. The Irish people are not only organized, but that organization in all its details is minutely perfect. Every parish in Ireland has a captain at its head

Where is all this to end ?"*

is gone.

In the course of the autumn, serious apprehensions were felt by the Government as to the consequences

* Speech in Catholic Association, 12th July, 1828.

which might ensue from the marchings of the peasantry in vast multitudes, and in disciplined array. Sometimes they bore green boughs, sometimes wands with small pieces of riband attached to them; on no occasion arms. But their imposing numbers, and their perfect sobriety and precision in obeying the commands of their local leaders, rendered such demonstrations justly formidable. The humane and gallant spirit of the Viceroy was troubled with the fearful results which it was easy to foresee must ensue, if by any rash act or word these excitable though still orderly masses should be brought into collision either with the political party to whom they were opposed, or with the local authorities. His few months' experience of Irish administration had sufficed to work a rapid change in his personal opinions on the great question which then occupied every mind in the community. The conviction was fast growing up within him, that peace or safety for Ireland there could be none until that question was definitively settled ; and he knew that no circumstance could occasion so disastrous a delay as an outbreak on the part of the unreflecting peasantry, contagious as such an ebullition, however casually arising, was certain to be. Something of these generous fears were in private

expressed to Lord Cloncurry, who at once offered to communicate with the chiefs of the popular party. Mr. O'Connell was then absent from Dublin, but his Lordship, accompanied by Mr. W. H. Curran, sought an interview with Mr. Sheil at his house in Leinster Street.* The danger of suffering these attroupements to proceed was fully discussed; and the expediency of endeavouring to prevent their repetition was entirely assented to by Mr. Sheil, who undertook, that as far as it depended on his exertions, a stop should be put to the processions in question. This interview took place about the middle of August, and on the 30th of that month, in a speech of singular power and dignity of conception, he advised the Association to warn the people of the perilous condition of things around them. He thus depicted the imminent danger in which society was placed :

“On the one hand, the Catholics had attained the perfection of national organization and popular discipline. They had almost reached the excellence of military array. But an immense population thus united, thus affiliated, thus controlled, in such a state

* In the account given of this transaction by Lord Cloncurry, in his Personal Recollections, p. 95, there are several inaccuracies of detail. His visit to the Association, in point of fact, occurred some weeks later, when he proceeded there alone, but on the occasion of the interview above-mentioned with Mr. Sheil, Mr. O'Connell was at Derynane.

of complete subordination, afforded matter of the most solemn meditation. A feeling of expectation had begun to manifest itself among the people. They put painful questions and awful interrogations. But if the state of the Catholics were deserving of attention, that of the Protestants called likewise for remark. It was in vain to hide it from themselves. The Protestants were every day becoming more alienated by their display of power. The great proprietors, and all men who had an interest in the security of the State, were anxious for the settlement of the question ; but still their pride was wounded, and they saw with some disrelish the attitude of just equality which the Catholics had assumed. ... It was clear that the division between Catholic and Protestant was widening. They were before parted, but they were now rent asunder; and while the Catholic Association rose up from the indignant passions of one great body of the community, the 'Brunswick Club' was springing out of the irritated pride and the sectarian rancour of another. The Association owed its political parentage to heavy wrongs operating on deeply-sensitive and strongly-susceptible feelings. Oppression had engendered it. The Brunswick Club had its birth in the hereditary love of power and inveterate habits of domination ; and thus two great rivals were brought into political existence and entered the lists against each other. As yet they had not engaged in the great struggle—they had not closed in the combat; but as they advanced and collected their might, it was easy to discern the terrible passions by which they were influenced, and the full determination with which they rushed to the encounter. Meanwhile the Government stood by, and the minister folded his arms as if he were a mere indifferent observer, and the terrific contest only afforded him a spectacle for the amusement of his official leisure. He sat as if two gladiators were crossing their swords for his recreation. The Cabinet seemed to be little better than a box in an amphitheatre from whence his Majesty's ministers surveyed the business of blood. This, then, was the state of things: there were three parties concerned

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »