The Felon's Track
by Michael Doheny
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse






Embracing the Leading Events in the Irish Struggle from the year 1843 to the close of 1848



Author of "The American Revolution."

Hurrah for the mountain side! Hurrah for the bivouac! Hurrah for the heaving tide! If rocking the Felon's Track!






Printed and Bound in Ireland by M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd. 50 Upper O'Connell Street Dublin

First Edition 1914 Second Impression 1916 Third Impression 1918 Fourth Impression 1920






In dedicating to you this narrative, I have been influenced by one consideration only. I have no title to your friendship. I cannot claim the most remote affinity with your career in arms. There is nothing connected with this sad fragment of history, either in fact or hope, to suggest any association with your name or achievements. But as my main object is to show that Ireland's failure was not owing to native recreancy or cowardice, I feel satisfied that of all living men, your position and character will best sustain the sole aim of my present labour and ambition.

In past history, Ireland holds a high place; but her laurels were won on foreign fields, and the jealous literary ambition which raised adequate monuments to these stormy times denied to her swords the distinction they vindicated for themselves in the hour of combat. The most brilliant, unscrupulous and daring historian of France degraded the niggard praise he accorded them by making it the medium of a false and contemptible sneer. "The Irish soldier," says Voltaire, "fights bravely everywhere but in his own country."

Without pausing here to vindicate that country from such ungrateful slander, it is enough to say that you were not placed in the same unhappy position as the illustrious exiles from the last Irish army—soldiers of fortune in the service of a foreign prince. You were a citizen of this free Republic, and a volunteer in its ranks; it was your country, and you and your compatriots who followed the same standard did no dishonour to those who were bravest among the brave on the best debated fields in Europe.

In the wreck of every hope, all who yet cherish the ambition of realising for Ireland an independent destiny, point to your career as an encouraging augury, if not a complete justification for not despairing of their country. It is because I am among those that I have claimed the honour of inscribing your name on the first page of this, my latest labour in her cause.

I remain, dear Sir,

Very respectfully and sincerely yours,


New York, Sept. 20, 1849.


The Irish Confederation still awaits its historian. Three of its leaders have left narratives of its brief and momentous career, but, of the three, Doheny alone participated in the Insurrection that dug the political grave of Young Ireland. In "The Felon's Track," written hot on his escape from the stricken land, he tells the story vividly and passionately. It has morals deducible for all manner of Irishmen, and one for those English statesmen who comfort themselves with the illusion that Irish Nationalism, like Jacobitism, is a platonic sentiment. The man who, roused from his bed at midnight by tapping fingers on his window and a voice whispering that insurrection was afoot, rose and rode away in the darkness to join himself to its desperate fortunes was no young man ardent for adventure. Michael Doheny, when he left his home and his career to engage in the fatal enterprise, was a sober middle-aged barrister, a man of weight and fortune into which he had built himself by the hard toil of twenty years. His social anchorages were deep-cast—and no mere sentiment provokes such a man to throw aside the hard-won harvest of his life and risk the rebel's or the felon's fate.

In the leadership of the Young Ireland party Michael Doheny was, save Smith O'Brien, the oldest man and, like O'Brien, his counsels while courageous were always restrained. There was little other likeness between the men. Doheny sprang from the poorest class of the Irish farmers. At Brookfield, near Fethard in Tipperary, where he was born in May, 1805, he followed the plough on his father's little holding, earning literally his bread in the sweat of his brow, and educating himself how he could, for his people were too poor to pay for his schooling. His indomitable perseverance and his thirst for knowledge overcame the formidable obstacles of fortune, and at thirty years of age the poor peasant boy had become a barrister of reputation for ability and fearlessness. He returned to his native county to become the most popular and trusted of its "counsellors"—the advocate who did not fear to face and beard Influence and Ascendancy in its courts. The city of Cashel had had much of its property alienated and long enjoyed by local magnates whom none were willing to offend. Doheny fought and defeated them and regained the purloined estates for the people. He was made Legal Adviser to the Borough of Cashel and when later the pestilence fell upon the place, and even the men employed to carry the sick to hospital lost courage and fled, Doheny showed the same manly example of citizenship and duty which years later forced him "on the Felon's path," by carrying in his strong arms to shelter and relief the deserted victims of the plague. Davis who marked his character, and knew that on such men a free and self-respecting Ireland must be rebuilt induced him to enter the Repeal movement of 1842, and in its councils he swayed the influence of a strong, sincere, able and incorruptible man until the Association fell into the toils of the English Whigs. Then he quitted it and formally adhered to the Young Irelanders. To them he was invaluable for his eloquence—less brilliant and polished than that of Meagher, but more effective in its appeal to the heart of the peasantry whom Doheny knew better than any of his colleagues. On a platform he triumphed, but with the pen he was often ineffective. His admiration and reverence for Davis misled him into laboriously imitating Davis's style, and the result was what it must always be when one man attempts to express his ideas not in his own way but as he thinks a greater man would express them. Much that would have been impressive and lucid as Doheny becomes unimpressive and clouded as Doheny-Davis. In a few of his verses and "The Felon's Track" Doheny the writer will survive. As a man who gave up all to help his country and served her like a gallant son, his memory must be honoured while Ireland has virtue.

The Irish Confederation, on whose council Doheny sat, was noble in conception, true in policy and able and honest in its membership. Never in the leadership of the modern Nationalist movement has there been the peer in genius and character of the men who founded and inspired that brilliant and short-lived organisation. In its career it went nearer to bridging the differences of class and creed in Ireland than any previous organisation since the Volunteers at Dungannon proclaimed themselves Irishmen and hailed their oppressed Catholic countrymen fellow-citizens. But the Confederation was not yet six months old when it was called on to face a situation in Ireland as terrible as that which confronted Irishmen when Eoghan Ruadh O'Neill lay dead and Cromwell marched at the head of his iron legions to the conquest of a distracted country. The failure of the potato-crop which menaced Ireland with serious loss at the birth of the Confederation in January, 1847, threatened the destruction of the people by the middle of 1847. The Relief measures provided by the English Whig Government set up a system under which places, large and small, were provided for some thousands of persons of political influence. Their tenure of employment depending upon the ministry, they used that influence to the end of sustaining the ministry, while the unfortunate small farmers who had hitherto kept on the right side of the line between poverty and pauperism were forced to the wrong side. Of all the measures passed under the guise of relieving "the famine-stricken Irish" the most infamous was that measure which provided that no farmer should be accorded relief if, the produce of his farm having gone to discharge his rents, rates and taxes, he hungered and yet strove to hold his farm. Before he was permitted to receive any help from the public funds he was required to surrender his land and become a pauper. Thus under pretext of relieving famine, pauperism was propagated.

Be it remembered that all this time there was no famine in Ireland. The potato-crop, indeed, had failed as it had failed in Great Britain, France, Germany and other countries at the same period, but the corn crop was fat and abundant. Each year of the so-called famine, food to maintain double the whole population was raised from the Irish soil. It was exported to England to feed the English people. Nobody starved in Germany. The German governments ordered the ports to be closed to the export of food until the danger had passed. The Irish Confederation demanded the same measure. "Close the Irish ports," it called to the British Government, "and no man can die of hunger in Ireland." The British Government, instead, flung the ports wide open. The great principle of Free Trade required that the Irish should export their food freely. Relief ships from foreign countries laden with the food subscribed by charitable people to succour the starving Irish met occasionally ships sailing out of the Irish ports laden with food reaped by the starving Irish. On the quays of Galway the unhappy people wailed as they saw their harvests borne away from them, and were admonished by the butt-ends of British muskets, the British Government meantime passing Relief measures which provided employment for hordes of English officials and Irish understrappers, and pauper-relief for those who surrendered their manhood and their property—the cost of this relief, like the cost of the passage of the Act of Union, being debited to Ireland—a generous loan in fact.

No doubt a union of the whole Irish people would have rendered all this impossible. The Irish Confederation worked hard to bring about this essential union. Directly and indirectly it achieved for a moment a semblance of national unity. The Irish Council, composed largely of the resident landlords—who mostly endeavoured to alleviate the distress—came into being, reasoned with the Government and, when the Government ignored reason, fell to pieces. George Henry Moore, a young sporting landlord and a Tory (afterwards, as a result, to become a Nationalist leader), conceived the design of getting all the Irish members of the British Parliament to act together against the existing British Government or any British Government which did not deal honestly and effectively with the crisis. With the Marquis of Sligo, a nobleman who did his duty to his tenantry during the Famine, Moore travelled around Ireland and secured between sixty and seventy Irish members of Parliament and forty-five Irish peers to subscribe to his independence programme. They met in Dublin, resolved boldly, departed for London cheered by the nation, and crumbled there at the Premier's frown. When the Tory Lord George Bentinck proposed that instead of pauperising the Irish by a vote of four or five millions for relief there should be a vote of sixteen millions for railway construction, the Premier, Lord John Russell, threatened the Irish members with his displeasure if they supported Bentinck, and the majority of them thereupon opposed the proposal of reproductive work for the people in lieu of pauper relief.

It was in these circumstances Mitchel put forward his policy in the Confederation of arming the people and bidding them hold their harvests. The Confederation rejected the policy, still hoping to effect a national union. Through such a union alone, it declared, could national independence be achieved. Doheny strongly opposed Mitchel on this ground. Mitchel's reply was simple. He had been and was ready to follow the aristocrats of Ireland if they would lead. They would not lead, and meanwhile the people perished. Therefore he would urge the people to save themselves. The policy of the Confederation in normal times would have been nationally sound. The circumstances had become abnormal, and Mitchel's policy was suited to the abnormal circumstances. His conviction that the British Government was deliberately using the potato-crop failure for the purpose of reducing the Irish population—which then was equal to more than half the population of England and a menace to that country, as one of its statesmen incautiously admitted—was a conviction not shared by the bulk of his colleagues. They shrank from it as men will shrink from a conclusion that horrifies the human nature in them. Mitchel went outside the Confederation to preach his policy, and he might have preached it without result had not the French Revolution turned men's minds to the contemplation of arms and armed opinion. The arrest, indictment and conviction of Mitchel, Doheny has described graphically. The reasons that prevailed against attempting Mitchel's rescue, Doheny cogently states. There is no reason to doubt that an attempt to rescue Mitchel would have been a failure in its object. But there are occasions when it is wiser to attempt the impossible than to acquiesce. The unchallenged removal of Mitchel in chains from Ireland had a moral effect on the country that was worth 20,000 additional troops to the Government.

Thereafter, the Confederation vacillated in its policy and finally permitted itself, in its desire for Unity as the potent weapon, to be extinguished in favour of an Irish League which was to combine O'Connellites and Young Irelanders. The Irish League met once, and died. The Confederation had been hoodwinked. Doheny who opposed the amalgamation, retired to Cashel, severing his connection with the former Confederation. He was, therefore, free in honour to have taken no part in the insurrection, since it was begun by men from whom he had withdrawn. But when the voice in the night whispered through his window that his former colleagues had crossed the Rubicon, Doheny, like the man he was, rose and rode forth to make the fatal passage and stand or fall with them.

From this point, Doheny's narrative may be supplemented and corrected by information that was not at the time he wrote available to him. Meagher, Leyne, M'Gee, O'Mahony and MacManus, have left in newspaper articles and in MS. accounts of what happened in the light of which Doheny's narrative must be read.

On Thursday, July 20th, 1848, the British Government issued a proclamation ordering the people of Ireland to surrender their arms. Thomas Francis Meagher, who was at the time in Waterford, issued a counter-proclamation to the people of that city bidding them to hold them fast. He then hurried to Dublin to consult with his colleagues and he arrived in the metropolis the next day. There had been a strong division of opinion in the Confederate clubs as to how the Government proclamation should be treated, the general feeling of the rank-and-file inclining to open resistance. The leaders counselled a waiting policy until the harvest had been gathered, the arms to be concealed meanwhile. This counsel prevailed against the remonstrance of one of the Dublin leaders that if heaven rained down loaded rifles they would wait for angels to pull the triggers. If the insurrection could have been postponed until the harvest the counsel would have been sound. The Young Ireland leaders forgot, however, that the Government had one powerful weapon in reserve with which it might force their hands—the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. On July 21st Meagher and his comrades and the Dublin leaders discussed and arranged the outline of a contingent insurrectionary plan for the autumn. O'Brien left for Wexford and O'Gorman for Limerick to organise those counties. The next morning the news reached those who remained in Dublin that the Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended, and that a warrant was on its way to Ireland for the arrest of Smith O'Brien. The choice left was to fight, to become fugitives, or to surrender. Dillon, M'Gee, Reilly, P.J. Smyth and Meagher decided hurriedly on the first course. They rejected the proposal to begin the fight in Dublin, as they believed it would be hopeless with the resources at their disposal to contend against a disciplined garrison of 11,000 men in a city a large proportion of whose population was hostile. Kilkenny was regarded as a stronghold of the Confederation, and Dillon suggested it should be the objective. Dillon and Meagher quitted Dublin to seek O'Brien; Reilly and Smyth started for Tipperary, and M'Gee for Scotland where it was hoped the Glasgow Irish could be induced to rise, seize some of the Clyde steamers and effect a landing in Sligo or Mayo which might rouse Connacht and western Ulster to the assistance of the South.

Dillon and Meagher left Dublin on the night of the 22nd of July by the mailcoach for Enniscorthy. Neither had the slightest hope of a successful insurrection, but they felt that honour and its future survival demanded that a nation must reply to the command of a foreign power to gag its mouth and throw down its arms by drawing the sword. They found Smith O'Brien at Enniscorthy and he joined in their views. Father Parle and the people of Enniscorthy undertook to defend O'Brien by force of arms if any attempt were made to arrest him there, and agreed that if he went into Kilkenny and Tipperary and succeeded in arousing those counties Wexford would take up arms. O'Brien and his colleagues moved towards Kilkenny through Graiguenamanagh where the people received them with enthusiasm, and they arrived in what they hoped to make again the provisional capital of Ireland in the evening of the 23rd of July.

The considerations in favour of beginning the insurrection in Kilkenny were sound. It was the one Irish city of importance inaccessible to British naval power, it offered a convenient rallying-centre for the counties of Tipperary, Waterford, and Wexford upon which the Young Ireland leaders relied, the country around it was well-adapted for defensive fighting against superior forces, and it had an historic appeal to the Irish imagination. The arrival of the insurgent leaders was hailed with joy by the people, and there was no doubt of the readiness of the populace to fight. But an examination of the military resources of the place showed that the British forces consisted of 1,000 troops in a strongly-defended position, while amongst the Irish there were but 200 armed men and the gunsmiths' shops in the city could not arm a hundred more. The decision not to strike the first blow at Kilkenny in the circumstances was inevitable. It was agreed to make for Carrick-on-Suir, another Young Ireland town, seize the place and march at the head of the elated Tipperarymen on Kilkenny. On Monday, July 24th, O'Brien, Meagher and Dillon left for Carrick-on-Suir, and on the way they were received with enthusiasm at Callan, where the 8th Hussars—mainly composed of Irishmen—manifested sympathy with the insurrectionary propaganda. Near Carrick they were joined by John O'Mahony, a landed proprietor of the neighbourhood, afterwards to become famous as the founder of Fenianism. By descent, education and character a leader of men, O'Mahony had thousands of followers among the people ready to rally to any venture for Ireland at his call. "His square, broad frame," wrote Meagher, "his frank, gay, fearless look; the warm forcible headlong earnestness of his manner; the quickness and elasticity of his movements; the rapid glances of his clear full eye; the proud bearing of his head; everything about him struck us with a brilliant and exciting effect, as he threw himself from his saddle and, tossing the bridle on his arm, hastened to meet and welcome us. At a glance we recognised in him a true leader for the generous, passionate, intrepid peasantry of the South." O'Mahony strongly advised them to begin the insurrection that night in Carrick, and he left to collect the peasantry. O'Brien and his comrades proceeded to the town where the people received them with frenzied enthusiasm, calling out to be led immediately to the fray. "A torrent of human beings rushing through lanes and narrow streets"—such is Meagher's description of the scene—"surging and boiling against the white basements ... wild, half-stifled, passionate, frantic prayers of hope ... curses on the red flag: scornful delirious defiances of death.... It was the Revolution if we had accepted it." But it was not accepted. The local leaders were unworthy of the people. They persuaded O'Brien to go elsewhere. It was a cardinal and egregious mistake which he regretted within twenty-four hours. Had he brushed the quavering local leaders aside and given the word to the imploring people of Carrick the insurrection of 1848 would have become respectable. O'Mahony's followers to the number of 12,000 were on the march to Carrick when the news reached them of O'Brien's departure. Disheartened they broke up and returned to their homes.

Doheny's account of what happened after the fatal retreat from Carrick needs to be amplified in connection with the final error of O'Brien's leadership. At the Council of War on the 28th of July O'Brien rejected the proposal to seize for the use of his followers all things needful, paying for them with drafts on the future Irish Government, and he declined the other practical proposal to offer farms rent-free to all who fought for Ireland. Neither would he assent to the suggestion that he and the other leaders should go into hiding until the harvest was reaped. Willing to fight and ready to die, he would not consent to conduct a revolution on revolutionary lines. The departure of Doheny and others—save Devin Reilly, who urged the abandonment of the insurrection as hopeless—was in pursuance of their plan to await the gathering of the harvest.

O'Brien's attitude at the Council of War destroyed the last hope of the insurrection. He expected to get men to fight under his standard while he essayed no adequate provision for their support in the field, and interdicted them from interference with private property to supply them with the necessaries of the campaign. No nobler and braver man has appeared in modern Irish history than William Smith O'Brien, but at the head of an insurrectionary movement he was incompetent. There was none of his lieutenants who, in his position, could not have made the insurrection to some extent formidable.

That it could have been successful, few will believe. Mitchel and Meagher agreed that 1848 would not have been the year of Liberation. But the former held very justly that the insurrection if it grew to respectable dimensions might have forced terms from England. The attitude of France at the time was a factor in the situation. The pro-Irish minister, Ledru-Rollin, had been checked by the pro-English minister, Lamartine, but General Cavaignac and Louis Napoleon were, for divergent reasons, inclined to help Ireland against England, and assurances had been given that if an Irish insurrection gained considerable initial successes the French Government would exert influence on England. A successful blow at Carrick and a subsequent seizure of Kilkenny and proclamation of Irish independence from that city was possible, and if realised would have probably led to the counties of Waterford and Tipperary rising en masse. How far the insurrection would have spread outside those counties is problematical, but in the year 1848 they were counties which presented difficulties to regular troops and advantages to insurgent forces. According to M'Gee, Sligo was willing to rise if the South made a good beginning and the Bishop of Derry, Dr. Maginn, sent a message to Gavan Duty that he was willing to join in the insurrection at the head of his priests once the harvest was reaped. Doheny's criticism of the action of some of the Tipperary priests is justified. But of others it is to be remembered that they were not in sympathy with Young Ireland, that they were not bound to support an insurrection undertaken irrespective of them, and that they could not be expected to take the initiative. There were at least two priests in Tipperary prepared to lead their parishioners to the insurgent standard if O'Brien struck at any point a successful blow. O'Brien's indecision was the real cause why the insurrection died in its birth.

If courage and devotion could have saved Ireland in 1848, O'Brien and his comrades would have saved the land. No braver gentlemen could any nation produce. They asked their countrymen to take no risks they did not take themselves in the forefront. But courage and devotion alone can never make an insurrection into a revolution. 1848 was a failure—in one sense—because there was no second Mitchel in Ireland when the first Mitchel was hurried off on a British gunboat.

But 1848 was not a failure in the true sense of failure. For years the Irish people had submitted to any and every imposition of foreign tyranny, taught to believe that forcible resistance to outrage on their national liberties was in itself immoral. The sneer of the satirist that the Irish were:—

"A nation of abortive men Who shoot the tongue and wield the pen,"

seemed to have grown a reality. Young Ireland evoked the fighting tradition of the nation once again. Without 1848 the spirit that freed the Irish Catholic from being tributary to another Church and regained the land for the farmers would have slept for a century—perhaps for ever.

Driven from his country, Doheny with the companion of his fugitive wanderings, James Stephens, and the chivalrous O'Mahony, founded the Fenian brotherhood in the United States. Once more before his sudden death in April, 1862, he saw Ireland—on the occasion of the MacManus Funeral.

Let me, said a wise man, always be surrounded by men of sanguine temperament. Defeat and exile could not dim the faith of Doheny in his country. The fugitive who had wrecked his fortunes in Ireland's cause and witnessed a failure which English statesmen believed ended for ever the dream of Irish independent nationhood, set his foot in exile only to begin anew to plan Ireland Independent. So long as the sanguine heart that carried Michael Doheny undaunted along the Felon's Track beats in the breast of his country the Irish Nation will be indestructible.


This Edition is reprinted from the Original Edition published in New York by W.H. Holbrooke, Fulton Street, in October, 1849. The portraits of the Young Ireland leaders are mainly from the daguerreotypes by Professor Gluckmann, and the illustrations of Tipperary in 1848 are reproduced from the "Illustrated London News" of that year.
















MICHAEL DOHENY frontispiece




















THURLES ON MARKET DAY (August, 1848) 240








There are few facts detailed in the following pages that need explanation here. If my motive in writing them were personal gratification, or simply a desire to preserve a memorial of scenes in which I took an anxious part, I might labour to make the narration more interesting to my readers, without any care for future consequences.

But through every disaster I preserved unbroken faith in the purpose and courage of my country. I believed, and still believe that her true heart is faithful to liberty and hopeful for the future; and this conviction involved me in a struggle with the apparently opposite tendency of the facts I was bound to narrate. Had I to write for a new generation, upon whom these facts could have made no false impressions, my task would be easy. I am persuaded that a simple statement of all that occurred would satisfy any candid mind that no disgrace attached to Ireland in her recent discomfiture. But I must needs confess that it is a task of extreme difficulty to reconcile her fall with the pre-conceived notions or present prejudices of those who read her story through the false medium of the press; nor do I hope for more than partial success from the details I have been able to give of the circumstances of which she was the victim and the dupe.

It is impossible fully to appreciate the pernicious effect of Mr. O'Connell's teaching, without reviewing in minute detail the leading circumstances of his wonderful career and the matchless and countless resources with which he upheld his fatal system. In dealing with this part of my subject my difficulties have been multiplied and enhanced by a strong desire to do him no injustice, and to leave untouched by doubt or suspicion a character so intertwined with my country's love. But it became necessary to refer to those acts which chiefly tended to increase the obstacles which beset our endeavours. In doing this, whether here or elsewhere in my narrative, if I use phrases which would seem to imply harshness to his memory, I wish them to be understood as applied in reference to the attempt to effect the deliverance of Ireland by force of arms, and establishing her entire and perfect independence. I have avoided this question, assuming that I wrote only for those who agreed with me in the belief that such is her true destiny, and the end for which her children ought to strive.

In this view of her recent struggle, there can be no doubt of the tendency of Mr. O'Connell's policy to demoralise, disgrace, enfeeble and corrupt the Irish people, and it is in that sense, and that only, I have always spoken of him.

Another subject, of perhaps greater delicacy and difficulty, was the part taken by the Catholic clergy. On my arrival in America, I found a fierce contest agitating, dividing and enfeebling the Irish-American population. It was asserted on one side that the entire failure was attributable to the Catholic priests, and that in opposing the liberation of Ireland they acted in accordance with some recognised radical principle of the Church.

I could not assent to either of these propositions. I knew several priests who were fully prepared to take their share in an armed conflict; in fact, the vast majority of those I met at the time. And again, with respect to such as did interfere, and opposed the efforts of the people's chiefs, I do not believe that one man was influenced by considerations connected with, or emanating from the Church, in its corporate capacity. Of Mr. O'Connell's policy, already referred to, none were blinder victims than some of the priests. It had made such an impression on them that they scarcely could believe anything was real, or any sentiment was true; and when they admitted its truth it was only to prove its madness. Of other and more questionable motives I shall say nothing here.

But while I feel the injustice of the sweeping charge made against the whole body of the priesthood, I would be unfaithful to my purpose and my convictions if I concealed the acts and language of those among them, who interposed and unhappily exercised baneful influence on the abortive attempt of their unfortunate country. I shall only say further that what relates to them is the only part of my narrative which gave me shame to tell.

I have only a word to add in reference to certain proceedings in the Committee of the Association now made public for the first time. It may be said, and, I doubt not, will be said, that these were matters which we were morally pledged to keep secret. I readily admit that, although there was no obligation whatever, either expressed or implied, as to any subject discussed in committee any more than in the public hall, still, I should not disclose any part of its proceedings if I were not compelled by an imperative necessity. Upon one subject, and that the most important to the character of my illustrious friend, no other proof was available. And the tacit understanding, in virtue of which I would be disposed to admit any obligation of secrecy, does not and could not extend beyond such matters as would, if divulged, endanger the safety or impair the efficiency of the Association. What I tell of the proceedings of the Committee, even if it yet existed, would scarcely have any such effect. But every one knows it not only does not exist, but that is has left no memory which it would be possible to degrade. Its physical existence long survived the last spark of moral vitality, and its efficiency now consists in this, if it warn all men against the species of terrorism which finally prevailed in its councils and effected its overthrow.

In certain circumstances which I relate, I may possibly make some mistakes in the dates, owing to the difficulty of finding those dates in odd numbers and broken volumes of the Journals to which alone I have had access.

It would have given me the sincerest pleasure to add to the collection of heads, which I have been able to procure, those of others who took an honourable part in the Irish struggle. Foremost among them are John Martin and Kevin Izod O'Doherty, who followed in the footsteps and shared the fate of John Mitchel. But I am not aware that there are any likenesses of them in existence; at all events they are not to be obtained in this country.[1]

There are others, too, mentioned in my narrative, whose likenesses I would feel delighted to present to my readers, and some, who although cursorily or not at all mentioned, acted a noble and devoted part. Of the first, are the companions of my wanderings, James Stephens and John O'Mahony; and of the second, Doctor Antisel, Richard Dalton Williams, James Cantwell, Richard Hartnet, Patrick O'Dea, and indeed many others, of whose efforts and sacrifices it would be a source of pride to me to make honourable mention.[2]

I may be permitted to take this opportunity to assure them and others of whom I have not spoken that no name has been omitted by me from any feelings of dislike or any desire to depreciate the services and sacrifices of a single man among the hundreds, whose exile or ruin attests the sincerity of their convictions and the purity of their patriotism. Even with men who do not take the same view of last year's history as I do, their names and characters will go far to redeem its darkest traces from shame and obloquy. They are now scattered over the wide earth, and there is not one among them from the highest to the humblest, whom I do not hold in the utmost honour and esteem.

New York, September 21, 1849.


[Footnote 1: I am glad it has been found easy to supply these in this edition of the work.—Ed.]

[Footnote 2: Some of these will also be found in the present gallery—Ed.]



The appearance of this narrative will surprise no one. For apology, if any be needed, the writer may trust to his own share in the transactions with which it deals; and still more so perhaps to the misrepresentation to which, during their progress, he had been personally subjected. But personal vindication imparts neither interest nor importance to history, while it necessarily detracts from its dignity and good faith. Besides, time with the disastrous events marking its more recent course, have silenced the voice of calumny; and the writer undertakes his task with no personal feeling to gratify or even to consult. The character of others, now unable to be heard, is far dearer to him than his own: and while he aspires to justify, before the world, their singular career, distinguished throughout by generous and lofty passions, surpassing intellect and measureless love of their country and countrymen—a career so brilliant and instructive even in the last hours of gloom—he will endeavour to infuse into the history of their struggles and their fate, that generous tenderness toward others, that spirit of self-sacrifice and supreme love of truth, which were among their noblest characteristics.

The undertaking suggests but one painful consideration—the impossibility of treating the subject fully and fairly without investigating facts far anterior to the late struggle, but coincident in their effect with its progress and development, and stamping their pernicious and fatal influence upon the spirit and conduct that led to a final overthrow. This will necessarily involve an inquiry into the late conduct and teaching of Mr. O'Connell, which the writer would most willingly avoid. Mr. O'Connell's name and character fill a mighty space in history. They are the most cherished recollections in his country's memory; and she clings to them with loving pride in this her hour of utter desolation. The hand that traces these recollections would be the last to aim a blow at the object of her sacred affections; and if in obedience to a more binding obligation, Mr. O'Connell's policy be questioned and condemned, his influencing motive shall be unchallenged and unarraigned. What his final purpose was, and how he had determined to effect it, had his life been spared, and his course left unimpeded, now rest with him in his grave. It is for others to write his history and vindicate his career. By me even his mistakes shall be treated with forbearance.

A brief reference to the struggle for Catholic Emancipation becomes here imperative. That struggle has had no equal in history—nor for its moral grandeur, nor for its triumph—but for the singular difficulties which the position of the Irish Catholic imposed on those who engaged in it. It is an error to call it emancipation. It was neither the first nor the last, nor even the most important in the train of concessions, which are entitled to the name of emancipation. The pains and penalties of the "penal laws" had been long abolished, and that barbarous code had been compressed into cold and stolid exclusiveness. But the vices which a long and unrelenting slavery had burned into the character of the country, remained. The lie of law, which assumed the non-existence of the Catholic had infused itself into his nature, and while it was erased from the statute book, it was legible on his heart. That terrible necessity of denying his feelings, his property, his religion and his very being, had stamped its degrading influence on his nature. In a moral sense the law had become a truth—there was no people. The Catholic gentry, giddy by their recent elevation, had only changed for that semblance of liberty their old stern spirit of resistance and revenge. Their new concessions hung gracefully around them, but they were like grafts on an ash stock—their growth was downward, and they wanted the stature and dignity of the native tree. Such were the means at Mr. O'Connell's disposal. His enemies on the other hand were false, powerful, dexterous and unscrupulous. His efforts necessarily partook of the character both of the weapons he was obliged to wield and the foes he struck down. As he advanced to eminence and strength, means, the most crafty and cruel, were taken to overthrow him, every one of which he foiled by a sagacity infinitely above that of his oppressors. So successful had he been in deceiving the champions of intolerance, that of all the great qualities displayed in that wonderful struggle, that which was most prized was the cunning of evasion. It left behind it an enduring and destructive influence. Dissimulation in political action began to be regarded as a public virtue, and long afterwards, when men sought to assert the dignity of truth, their candour was charged against them as a heinous crime. It will be seen hereafter how fatally this fact operated against their efforts.

The very character of Emancipation has assumed an exaggerated and false guise. The joy of the nation was boundless—its gratitude immeasurable. In the shout that hailed the deliverer, earlier deliverers were forgotten. No one remembered the men whose stupendous exertions wrung from the reluctant spirit of a far darker time the right of living, of worship, of enjoying property, and exercising the franchise. All these, and more, which were once, and not very remotely, denied to the Catholics had been before this accorded to them. Yet the interest and importance of winning access to Parliament, to the higher ranks of the army, and, perhaps a stray seat at the Privy Council, acquired the name of Emancipation, and Mr. O'Connell monopolised its entire renown. He was styled the "Liberator," and his achievement designated as "striking the fetters from the limbs of the slave, and liberating the altar." In truth, the import of Emancipation was so exaggerated, and its history so warped, that even now at a distance of more than twenty years, both the act and the actors are so misunderstood that it requires no little daring to approach a question involving the sensibilities, prejudices and passions of an entire generation.

A truer appreciation might have given Mr. O'Connell a different and higher destiny. Not alone the boundless exultation of the Catholic but the mortified pride of the baffled Protestant also stamped its influence on his fortunes, prospects and career. In proportion as he was to the former an object of adulation and pride did the latter hoard up in his heart for him enduring envy and insatiable hate. Another circumstance, too, which Mr. O'Connell did not create and could not in the beginning control, contributed to mar his future glory. This was the pecuniary compensation which the emancipated Catholics kneeled to present him. It is far from being intended here to disparage the offering or decry its acceptance. On the contrary, if this were the proper place, both would be vindicated with zealous pride. But the effect of the continued collection, on Mr. O'Connell's conduct and efficiency was baneful in the extreme. And it was among the most prominent circumstances in shaping his career.

Mr. O'Connell entered the House of Commons under auspices more flattering and encouraging than ever smiled on the advent to that assembly of any other man. In whatever light he was regarded, he was far the foremost personage of his time. How his subsequent career might justify the hushed awe with which a proud senate received him if he had devoted himself to the broad and comprehensive questions of imperial jurisprudence, for which he seemed so eminently fitted, it would be idle now to conjecture. Certain it is that no act of his after life, varied and wonderful as it was, realised the promise of that glad and glorious morning.

Lord Anglesea, who had been removed from the viceroyalty for suspected treachery to the cause of intolerance, was restored to his office, by more distinguished converts, and was received by the people with tumultuous acclaim. His popularity was short-lived. The present Chief Justice, Doherty, was then Attorney-General. He incurred the wrath of Mr. O'Connell in consequence of treachery which he had exhibited in conducting a trial at Clonmel. This led to a fierce encounter in the House of Commons—the first great trial of Mr. O'Connell's powers—in which Doherty's friends claimed for their champion a decisive victory. However unjust may be that judgment, Mr. O'Connell's admirers were compelled to admit that he failed in his impeachment and principally in consequence of a letter written by Mr. Shiel, then second to no other Irishman. Mr. Shiel had been associated with the Attorney-General in the prosecution at Clonmel, and his letter boldly justified the conduct which the great popular tribune vehemently and indignantly impugned. This was quite unexpected, and greatly affected Mr. O'Connell's cause. But whether Mr. Doherty failed or succeeded, he was rewarded, and almost avowedly, by the Chief Justiceship of the Common Pleas. The appointment was a direct insult to Mr. O'Connell, and scarcely a less direct insult to the Irish bar, and the Irish nation. Mr. Doherty was regarded as a man of great forensic ability, but no legal attainments. He had scarcely acquired any practice, and no distinction whatever: so that his elevation to a post he was so inadequate to fill gave universal dissatisfaction, and was read as evidence that the Government of Ireland was subservient to an unscrupulous and audacious faction.

Soon after the date of this appointment the first Repeal Association was established by Mr. O'Connell. His motives were at once bitterly assailed. By some he was charged with being influenced by personal mortification. By some his conduct was attributed to a love of turbulence and money. By some it was said he only intended the agitation as a threat, by means of which he could enforce a wiser, more liberal, and just administration of the law and government in Ireland. Few, if any, believed him to be in earnest and sincere. But the condition of the country and the principles of Mr. O'Connell's early life would suggest higher motives; and the perseverance and intensity of feeling and purpose, with which he urged the deliverance of his country in after times, proves that he was a stranger to the sordid considerations which envy or fear coupled with his first labours in that direction. Certain it is that, whatever were his motives, it could be no tempting ambition that determined him to transfer the exercise of his abilities to the tribune of angry agitation from that more legitimate and loftier arena which, with unsurpassed energy, he had won.

The agitation succeeded rapidly. The Government became at once intolerant and impotent. They proclaimed down the agitation; but this only imparted to it activity, energy and strength. The Government gave way to a furious storm which had been long gathering elsewhere. The great Reform Ministry succeeded with Earl Grey at its head; and in the struggle for Imperial parliamentary Reform, Ireland and her independence were forgotten.

During the intellectual conflict that followed, Mr. O'Connell asserted his pre-eminence, and won a lofty name. He made far the most successful speech on the question of Reform. It not only exceeded the ablest orations of the British leaders, but was, perhaps, the most triumphant he himself had ever delivered. But his position soon changed. From being the unanswerable champion of the ministerial majority in the House of Commons, he took the lead of a small opposition which resisted the Government on the Irish Bill. Although the minister was the exponent and stern advocate of the widest liberality, in applying the reform to England, he undertook to defend, on the very opposite principle, the niggard liberty he was prepared in the same measure to extend to Ireland. In this unnatural and unexpected turn of affairs, Mr. O'Connell took a proud and bold stand, against the Government, and for his country. The ministry succeeded, but he had more than ever acquired the confidence and unbounded gratitude of his countrymen. Thenceforward, he was their acknowledged chief, and his words expressed not more his own than the public will.

His remonstrances were vehement and angry, but they were vain. The ministry disregarded the claims of justice, as well as the voice of the orator. The quarrel became personal and vindictive to so great an extent, that Mr. O'Connell's support would almost ensure the defeat of any measure at the hands of the English Whig faction.

While this was his position in the House of Commons, he was preparing the elements of an organisation which was destined to embrace the whole island. He started the first great Repeal Association, which was at once attended with marvellous success. Forty-four members of Parliament were under its control if not in its ranks. A discussion of the merits of Repeal was forced in the House of Commons by the intemperate zeal of the member for Cork.[3] The motion was resisted by the whole weight and influence of the Ministry. But in a resolution proposed as an amendment, both Houses concurred in acknowledging that Ireland's complaint was founded in justice, and in solemnly pledging themselves to the practical redress of her grievances. The resolution was carried to the foot of the throne, and there received the sanction of royalty.

But that resolution remained and remains unfulfilled. The ministry which proposed it, redeemed their promise by an Algerine measure of coercion, which Mr. O'Connell denounced as "base, bloody and brutal." His opposition, and their own recreancy of principle, tended rapidly to their overthrow. Lord Stanley, in hatred to Mr. O'Connell and his country, abandoned the Government, which he charged with truckling to the great demagogue's will. The country, on the other hand, withdrew its confidence from them on the ground that they truckled to their hereditary foes, and allowed the principles of the Tories to influence Parliament in the name and through the agency of the Whigs. Division and weakness followed; and the result was a break-up of the administration, which was remodelled, with Lord Melbourne for its chief, on the understanding that more liberal views should govern its future course. An alliance was entered into with Mr. O'Connell, whose support the Prime Minister openly claimed and as openly boasted of. Then was formed what was known as the "Litchfield House Compact." This compact, if such the understanding that existed can be called, was based upon the assurance that the most liberal measures of justice should be extended to Ireland, and that in the administrative department, the Government should apply itself diligently to the reform and purifying of all public functions and functionaries. What was the nature or extent of Mr. O'Connell's engagement, I do not pretend to know. But whether he pledged himself to abandon for ever the struggle for independence, or only to place it in abeyance for a season to facilitate the action of the Government in reference to their good intentions and favourable promises, he so far fulfilled his engagement as to dissolve the Association.

That Association was composed of various and very conflicting elements. The motives which influenced many of its leaders were equally varied. Many joined it merely because Mr. O'Connell was its founder and its guide. Many among the middle ranks of society had acquired a sort of interest in agitation they could not easily surrender. It had gained them local distinction, and gratified a morbid vanity. Profuse votes of thanks were their incentive and reward. To correspond with Mr. Ray, or perhaps the Liberator, consummated their ambition, and for aught beyond that they felt no concern. Others there were, corrupt by nature and cunning in design, whose political exertions had personal advancement for their sole aim; and others still who never believed Mr. O'Connell sincere, but joined the Association and shouted their approval, because too contemptible and feeble to acquire distinction except through the echo of his voice or under shelter of his fame. To the false and the sordid and the indifferent, the dissolution of the confederacy was a welcome event: but the people, yet uncorrupted, looked on passively with agonised hearts.

Physical contagion generally begins at the bases of society, and trails its way slowly to the upper ranks, occasionally dealing doom to some hard hearts that mocked, it may be, its first uncared-for victims. But moral corruption begins with the highest, and embraces the whole circle of society in its descent. So it was in this instance. Members of Parliament who had solemnly pledged themselves to the disenthrallment of their country, accepted the wages, and entered into the service of the Government who had one and all vowed they would prevent the fulfilment of the hustings pledge, even at the risk of a civil war. Among them was Mr. O'Connell's son, who had taken that pledge before the assembled people of Meath, his son-in-law, Mr. Fitzsimon, who had sworn it to the freeholders of the metropolitan county, Mr. Carew O'Dwyer who, in virtue of the same pledge, obtained the unanimous suffrage of Drogheda, and several others. Many relatives and friends of Mr. O'Connell obtained rewards adequate to their services. Agents who had been successful against Whig candidates now retired into Whig places. The corporate towns were made over to the Whigs, who held out the understanding that the sons, nephews and kindred of the leading and deserving citizens would be provided for in the departments suited to their different capacities, and varying from the post of tide-waiter, to that of stipendiary magistrate. Fierce was the struggle which followed, and sore the disappointment, and many a scalding tear of baffled ambition watered the way to the aspirant's ruin.

This is not said for the purpose of disparaging the legitimate ambition of those who sought advancement in the altered circumstances and sentiments of the time. But the effect of such a state of things on the morality of the nation was incalculably injurious. The most solemn resolution was openly violated, and that by the very men who were foremost in recommending the national vow. Nor would its tendency be less fatal, assuming that Mr. O'Connell was correct in supposing that the experiment would be vain, and that its failure could not fail to supply new and more urgent reasons for the nation's independence. The compact, if even entered into with that view, would shake all faith in public men; because it would only change the parties with whom a false obligation was contracted, leaving the obligation itself and its violation exactly where they were.

Mr. O'Connell's support was doomed to be as fatal to the Whigs as his opposition. He unhappily assisted them during his period to carry one measure, against which they had recorded several solemn decisions in Parliament, namely, the Tithe Bill, without an appropriation clause, which was a direct falsification of their own resolution, whereby they defeated Sir Robert Peel's short-lived administration, in 1835. And what was still more lamentable, he supported them in renewing in a modified form the very Coercion Act for the introduction of which he designated them as "base, bloody and brutal."

But other elements were secretly sapping the influences for which he made these sacrifices. The storm of disaffection, a long while gathering among open foes and disappointed retainers, was about to burst on the devoted heads of the Whigs. With their accustomed fickleness and treachery of character they prepared to sacrifice, for the sake of power, the man whom they conciliated and deceived in the same hope of retaining it. If he foresaw that this would be the result of his experiment, never was augury more fully realised. Whatever may be the exact engagements of the Whigs, he was able to allege that not one was fulfilled, while he was in a position to prove that he more than kept his own: unless indeed, it could be assumed that for the few places obtained by his friends, and others, some of them honourable men, he surrendered the lofty and nearly impregnable position he occupied in 1834, and which, in one sense at least, he never afterwards attained.

From whatever cause, his influence over the Whigs visibly declined, and his counsels no longer swayed their Irish policy. Once more they relied on the false expedient of yielding to their enemies and allowing them to wield the power, while they were themselves content with the spoils of the country. Again the quarrel with Mr. O'Connell became bitter and personal, and again had he recourse to Repeal.

From the time of the first Repeal Association to that of the Precursor Society several other associations or societies were established, which have left behind them scarcely the memory of their very names—that of the second association alone excepted. Yet each had an ample treasury, and was composed of the same or nearly the same elements, and the same members. There is many an honest man and many a fool, whose boast it is that they contributed a pound to each of them, and had their respective cards.

At last the late Repeal Association was formed. Its birth was received with sneers. Mr. O'Connell's sincerity was questioned, and his motives canvassed with vindictive vigilance. The warmest Nationalists looked on with doubt and coldness. Not one man of rank, outside the members of the defunct society, joined its ranks. The routine of business, the receipt of money, the resolutions, the speeches, were exactly identical with those of its predecessors. The Government seemed neither to dread it nor care for it. It lingered on, unsustained by the country and despised by its enslavers. The contributions of the members did not suffice to pay half the ordinary expenses of its machinery. Debts accumulated, and the revenue did not increase. While the body was thus situated, Mr. O'Connell had recourse to an expedient at once singular and decisive. It was to build Conciliation Hall. The Association was at the time seriously in debt, and he proposed to multiply that debt four-fold by engaging in this costly undertaking.

While persons who affected to be in his confidence were amazed at this step, the Government regarded it as an evidence of purpose which it was indispensable at once to check. They saw that their opponents had formerly menaced and coerced in vain, and they determined to proscribe. Accordingly the newly appointed viceroy, Lord Ebrington, being waited on by the Dublin Corporation with some address of congratulation, delivered them a lecture on the disloyalty of the Corn Exchange, and announced his purpose never to employ in the service of the Government any one who frequented that pestilent locality. The corporation returned abashed to their council-rooms to record the viceregal threat. But from end to end of the land rose one shout of indignant defiance. Suspicion, doubt and hesitation gave way to the taunt involved in the insolent challenge. The ranks of the Association were filled, and its treasury replenished; and the viceroy soon discovered how little was to be gained by a vulgar appeal to the meanest passion when it was addressed to the Irish people.


[Footnote 3: Mr. Feargus O'Connor, afterwards leader of the English Chartists.—Ed]



Even before this great occasion, gifted spirits were insensibly moulding the character and destiny of the Association. The hurried but firm step of a pale student of Trinity College might be daily seen pacing the unfrequented flagways that led to the Corn Exchange. His penetrating glance, half shrouded by its own shyness, his face averted from the crowd, and his mind turned within, he would come, and sit, and hear, and suppress the emotions that swelled his proud young heart as he caught glimpses of a bright future for his country. He had the richest store of practical knowledge, an imagination fruitful as a sunny clime: faith, hope and courage boundless as immortal love. That he could realise all things which came within the scope of his own fond yearnings, he had no doubt. But most of the men with whom he took his place were stinted in acquirements, and not over-gifted in intellect, and had no conception or ambition beyond admiring or applauding the behests of one predominant and controlling will. With the passionate aspirations of the young student they felt no kindred sympathies. In their hands, political action, for whatever end, sank into a traffic or parade. Even with such materials he determined to work out his country's redemption, though already satisfied that before such a thing were possible, their habits, feelings, passions and hearts should be entirely changed. In order to do this, it was necessary he should stoop to the level of their conceptions and capacities. Thus for many weary months, with his energies, as it were, chained down to a cold stone, toiled and strove Thomas Davis. His influence first began to be felt as chairman of a sub-committee on the registers. This position afforded him an opportunity of entering into correspondence with the leading politicians of the party, and whenever he saw in any man's replies evidence of depth, capacity or earnestness, he at once entered into friendly and unreserved communication, exhorting him in language full of passionate entreaty. In these, his early efforts, John Dillon shared his labours, his ambition and his heart.

About this time Mr. Stanton, proprietor of the Morning Register, committed to the two young graduates the writing of his journal. His preference was not so much owing to their character as politicians as it was to their pre-eminence in literary attainments. The press of Dublin had then sunk to the lowest level. Newspaper literature had even fallen, too. It was divided into three sections, each of which was the whining slave of one or other of the great predominating factions of the country. The Register was generally regarded as ranking among the mercenaries of the Castle. But no sooner did it fall into the hands of the college friends than all Dublin was startled by the originality, vigour and brilliancy of its articles. When the Whigs were about retiring they determined on a gross and scandalous abuse of power for the purpose of rewarding an unscrupulous partisan, even though it involved an affront to one of their oldest and ablest friends, the then Irish Chancellor. That man was Lord Plunket, who had served the Whigs so faithfully, honourably and fearlessly. He was commanded to retire in order to make room for Sir John Campbell, who was thereby to be qualified for the English peerage.

The stipendiaried journals of the Castle exhausted their adulation, and had received their last reward for upholding the appointment. The Tory press, hungry for the spoil which it maddened the others to lose, paid back the compliments by intense vituperation. The slang of party warfare was bandied in the usual fashion, without thought or a care beyond the interest of party. The Register, to everybody's astonishment, took up the one cause not represented, namely, that of the country. Davis denounced the appointment as an insult to that country, and with a bold hand vindicated the superiority of its Bar, without any reference to party, above the adventurers whom each faction placed over it in turn.

Soon after he and his friend ceased to write for that paper; but not until satisfied by the experiment that a journal devoted to Ireland, guided by truth, and sustained with earnest ability, would supersede the whole jaundiced literature of the metropolis, and create a new era in the progress of the country's civilisation and ambition. They immediately busied themselves to establish such an organ. Charles Gavan Duffy, late editor of the Belfast Vindicator, entered into the spirit of the enterprise, and after an evening's ramble in the Park, during which the terms and the principles of the paper and the spirit in which it should be conducted were canvassed, the publication of the Nation was determined on. Mr. Duffy was convicted for having written a libel in the Vindicator, and his friends earnestly advised him to compromise the matter with a view of bringing more powerful energies to the same task in a wider field.

The first number of the new journal appeared on the 12th of October, 1842. It had been announced under auspices calculated to ensure its success, but its unexpected ability, the ground it broke in the national policy, and the vast intellectual resources it developed eclipsed the prestige under which it was deemed necessary to usher it into existence. It was at once a proof of greater powers than the country had yet witnessed, and a prophecy of a different fate from what she hoped for. The aims, the logic, the very language of factious diplomacy were eschewed. It seemed as if a light had streamed down from heaven, fresh from God, to give the people hope, comfort and assurance. The genius of Davis seized the opportunity as though he were His deputed messenger in the great work of regeneration. For the first time men awoke to the consciousness of what they were or might be. Harnessed to the triumphant car of one gigantic intellect, they had forgotten the dignity of their own nature, and were astonished to find how transcendant its resources and sufficient its strength. The publication of the Nation was really an epoch which marked a wonderful change, and from that day forth self-reliance and self-respect began to take the place of grateful but stultified obedience and blind trust.

The change became more marked as the publication proceeded. In speech, article, song and essay, the spell of Davis's extraordinary genius and embracing love was felt. Historic memories, forgotten stories, fragments of tradition, the cromlech on the mountain and the fossil in the bog supplied him substance and spirit wherewith to mould and animate nationality. Native art, valour, virtue and glory seemed to grow under his pen. All that had a tendency to elevate and ennoble, he rescued from the past to infuse into the future. His songs, so soft and tender, and yet so redolent of manliness and hope, inspired the ambition to compose a minstrelsy as wild and vigorous as themselves. They were read and learned and sung with an avidity and pride heretofore unknown.

The monster meetings were long a design of Thomas Davis, John Dillon and the present writer. One great object with them was to train the country people to military movements and a martial tread. This object it would be unsafe to announce, and it was to be effected through other agencies than drill. The people should necessarily come to such rendezvous in baronial, parochial or town processions, and under the guidance of local leaders. Order is a law of nature; and, without much trouble on the part of those leaders, it would establish itself. The present writer left Dublin early in the spring of 1843 to carry this design into effect. Sir Robert Peel, then Prime Minister of England, alluding to the fact in the House of Commons, said that the first Monster Meeting was purposely held on the anniversary of the very day, the 22nd of May, destined for the rising of '98. Sir Robert was wrong in his inference, though it was a natural and nearly justifiable one; for at that Cashel meeting were offered unmistakable evidences of the tendency of the agitation. Upwards of L1,100 were handed to Mr. O'Connell. Each parish came in procession, headed by a band and commanded by some local leader; and those who took part in the public procession marched in excellent order for upwards of eight miles. A military and magisterial meeting had been previously held in the barracks of Cashel to consider whether the people should not be routed at the point of the bayonet. But though the committee were fully aware of this consultation, they decided unanimously that the meeting should go on. The meeting itself passed the strongest resolutions, and adopted a petition to the Legislature, consisting of a single line, something to this effect: "You have robbed us of our Parliament by fraud and blood; pray restore it, or ——." And finally, Mr. O'Connell said at the dinner that evening, alluding to an armed strife; "Give me Tipperary for half a day." This simple wish, enunciated in accents familiar to that great ruler of men, elicited a cheer, a shout, a wild burst of enthusiasm, so long and loud as almost to suggest the idea that it would be seconded by naked steel and a deadly blow. One would think it had a significant meaning, and yet there was no wrathful ban. Not one pronounced that terrible anathema against shedding a single drop of blood, which afterwards became the canon of peaceful men. Nay, if memory be not very treacherous, amidst that roar was loudly distinguishable the voice of him who on an after day, yet to be spoken of, cursed from God's altar those who wished to realise his simulated aspirations and in the endeavour had forfeited their lives. A doggerel ballad had been written for the occasion by Thomas Davis, to the air of the "Gallant Tipperary," over which himself and his friends afterwards indulged in many a hearty laugh. One verse runs as follows:—

The music's ready, the morning's bright, Step together left, right, left, right, We carry no gun, Yet devil a one But knows how to march in Tipperary O! By twelves and sixteens on we go, Rank'd four deep in close order O! For order's the way To carry the day, March steadily, men of Tipperary O!

It is here introduced as a proof and a justification of what has been stated in reference to one great object of the projectors of the monster meetings. Possibly it will be said that this is an admission of the truth of a charge frequently urged by Mr. O'Connell against the Nation and its writers, namely, that they having intentions of which he knew nothing, had committed him to breaches of the law, of which he was not only not guilty but not cognisant, but which by a perversion of judgment were given in proof against him at the celebrated State Trials. It is quite true that they did entertain the intentions which he afterwards so vehemently repudiated. But they never once concealed them. In the Association, and where Mr. O'Connell was committed with them, they abstained from giving them utterance; but they did so because they felt bound to act in accordance with the resolution of that body. And with respect to the proceedings of the Cashel meeting and the more wonderful and significant meetings that followed, they always submitted to him and had his entire sanction for every act done at and every line written for these meetings. In fact, if he were in any way mistaken as to them, they were still more grievously deceived as to him. All their acts and speeches were in the direction of their intentions; all his acts and speeches were in the same direction, and went further. In truth, they believed that he fully concurred in the sentiments which they cared not to conceal, but which he had the cunning or caution not to avow. One justification of this belief has been already given; another and a more pregnant one was the Mallow defiance which the greatest poet and the greatest sculptor of our time and nation have immortalised. In reference to proofs not published, however conclusive, this history shall be silent.

Succeeding events shall be briefly glanced at only. Some of them have already attained a place in history; and the scope of my narrative only embraces the facts, incidents and tendencies which led to an armed crisis and governed its explosion. Meeting followed meeting in rapid succession, and each was marked by some signal manifestation of a healthier, holier and more resolute national purpose. Numbers, calmness, order, obedience, bespoke an advanced discipline, and prefigured future victory. The crowds that attended the Halls of the Association no longer consisted of idle brawlers; they were listening, thoughtful mechanics, conscious of the toil and danger that lay before them, and braced for the encounter. Dignitaries of the church and the ablest men among the second order of the clergy appeared on the platform, and added sanctity and dignity to the proceedings. Members of Corporations through the country, and private gentlemen of rank brought to the imposing confederacy the weight of their office, rank and name. The existing Government in a splenetic attempt to crush it, had dismissed certain magistrates for having their names enrolled on its books. This new aggression gave a fresh impetus to its progress. Men who had previously looked on it with doubt or fear, now embraced it as the only safeguard for the remaining liberties of the island. The parliamentary committee which had been instituted by Mr. O'Brien, had exhausted every source of information within the reach of industry in developing the resources and capacities of the country. The committee of the Association counted within its members one hundred lawyers who preferred the fortunes of Ireland to professional or political advancement. Many of these and others who were not of the party brought to the popular tribune rare endowments, the most generous passions, and the noblest eloquence. Poetry, fresh, vigorous and full of heart, shed her harmonising and ennobling influence upon the whole, and imparted to patriotism the last pre-requisite of success. Amidst this grand movement stood Mr. O'Connell, erect, alone, its centre and its heart. He was not its guide, but its god, until he slept within a prison, and came forth less than man.

During this period two events occurred deserving particular notice—the only facts upon which Mr. O'Connell's supremacy was questioned, or his advice audibly condemned. These were, first, his refusal of French contributions and French sympathy, of which M. Ledru Rollin, since so celebrated, was to be the bearer; and secondly, his acceptance of contributions from America under protest, against the "infamous institution" of slavery. He rejected the first with indignant scorn, because it was the offering of "republicans," and spoke of the latter with contempt, as "smelling of blood."

These two acts alienated from his cause the only foreigners in the world who were willing to espouse it. His wisdom was questioned and condemned. It was urged upon him that he should not intermeddle with foreign institutions or with the political predilections of individuals. Enough for Ireland, he was told, to find that Frenchmen and Americans were ready to do battle in her cause, and it ill became her to spurn their advances with indignity and a sneer. The argument failed, his hatred of slavery and republicanism out-weighed all other considerations.

I have fixed upon the State Trials as an epoch in this history, marking a distinct phase in the character of the Repeal Association. The proceedings of that extraordinary inquest are familiar to most men. It is not my intention to refer to them, except as a sort of pivot upon which public sentiment veered. When they were commenced there was untold wealth in the coffers of the Association. There was still a greater store of public purpose in the country. Threats, hot and violent, had been uttered. Pledges had been made which could only be violated in shame and death. A challenge had been given from which it would be baseness to shrink. The world looked on in wonder and awe. Each successive act was more and more gigantic; each resolution bolder. When the meeting at Clontarf was projected, the heart of the nation beat quick and hotly. Yet no man was surprised; none condemned. The associations of the spot suggested a perilous future. Still the hazards it prefigured created no alarm; the directions of a sub-committee respecting the military order of the processions towards the place of meeting was but the expression of the public hope that lay at every heart.

While the bustle of preparation was at its height; while the flushed capital was dizzy with wild excitement, a proclamation appeared on the walls—'twas nearly evening's dusk—forbidding the proposed demonstration. For that proclamation there was no law; scarcely any object. It could not render the meeting illegal. It would not entitle the chief magistrate to disperse it; for if it were proved to be constitutional, he would be answerable before the laws of his country. It was simply a warning utterly inefficient for good or ill in any trial that may follow. In this state of things, a responsibility of the greatest magnitude devolved on the Association, or its committee. They were hastily summoned or came together spontaneously. Alarm, surprise, disappointment, chagrin, swayed their hurried consultation. The decision was weak, and it was fatal. It was only carried by a small majority, but in that majority was the great spirit of the confederacy. Never after did he stand on equal terms with his adversary. He was driven before him amidst broken hopes, and broken promises—his challenge, a boast unfulfilled, his prestige withered.

What the issue might have been if the decision were different, it would be rash to conjecture. It might have been carnage; it might have been a triumph. The historian has nothing to do with conjecture. But in this case was involved a mighty question, palpable, self-created and conclusive. The wisest forethought may fail to arrive at a sound conclusion as to the result of holding the meeting. The risk existed, no doubt, that some ill-disposed or hired villains, or even rash enthusiasts may provoke the troops, and thus afford a pretext for carnage. But opposed to that were the dictates of prudence, honour and fear on the part of those in command of the army; and it seemed a more probable result that either the meeting would be allowed to proceed, or it would be illegally dispersed in the usual way by reading the Riot Act. Even if the weight of conjecture were the other way, the consequences should be risked rather than falsify the national pledge. To recede was cowardice; not the vulgar cowardice arising from personal weakness, but the moral cowardice which shrinks from an imperious obligation, because it is perilous. The meeting should be held; every possible precaution should be taken to prevent an armed conflict. If Power, drunk with its own advantage, risked an outrage, the people should be taught to yield; but only to yield with the purpose of entering a court of law, as prosecutors and avengers. Even if worse consequences ensued after every effort to prevent them had been exhausted, the issue should be left to God. Recriminations, painfully petty in their nature, followed. The Government were charged with a premeditated design to commit wide and indiscriminate slaughter, and the weakness, in which were shrouded deep national shame and guilt, was made matter of indecent boast. The Government, aware of the unexpected advantage, followed up the blow. Mr. O'Connell took shelter in the sacredness of the Hall, which, he imagined, he had guarded against the encroachments of arbitrary power, and thither they followed him. Having abandoned a position where he could act on the offensive, he was forced to contend against the aggressive attacks of Government flushed with its first success.

The trial that followed already occupies a large space in history. Its effects were immediate and disastrous. The personnel of the accused assumed the nation's place. Exhortations full of intense eloquence were addressed to the people from which the question of the country's deliverance was entirely excluded. Technicalities of law absorbed the attention which was due to Liberty. A demurrer, a motion in abatement, or in arrest of judgment, was canvassed with a deeper interest by the people of the provinces than by even the distinguished Bar, which were arrayed on either side. Mr. O'Connell's infallibility in law engaged the anxious solicitude, the pride, the passions of Ireland. Yet throughout that long trial the question which would test it was not mooted. The indictment was a subtle net-work, which excluded such argument. The objections to the indictment also were objections of form merely, and the final issue upon which the judgment was reversed was not even remotely connected with the main enquiry, whether or not the charge of conspiracy was sustainable in point of constitutional law. During the progress of the trial, a fraud, a swindle, a petty theft, was perpetrated by the officers of government, which more than one man, high in office, had a hand in suborning. This fact had supreme influence on the decision of the House of Lords. But the plain truth is, the judgment was reversed as an essential move in a great party game.

Ireland triumphed. Her triumph was a just and a great one.

But her exultation was on a fallacious basis. She believed Mr. O'Connell's infallibility was re-established. No one cared, or perhaps dared to correct the error. In itself it seemed little worthy of notice, yet it had its share of evil influence. First, it diverted men's minds from the one question; secondly, it left behind it the demoralising effect inseparable from untruth. Were it even what the public eagerness chose to shape it, its relative value, weighed against the triumph of courage and virtue, would be contemptible.

Mr. O'Connell himself did not seem to share in the nation's pride. His spirit was broken. He anticipated the glad wishes of the metropolis, and walked home from the penitentiary clouded and gloomy. It was evident something within him had died. However, he went back the next day, and left the prison the second time in the midst of public rejoicings never surpassed on any occasion in his life. His addresses on that day, and subsequently while in town, were not such as they were wont to be; and he soon retired to his wild mountain home to invigorate a mind and body, borne down by gigantic labours, fearful responsibilities, some alarms, and perhaps a chilling sense of defeat and weakness. His health was soon restored, but his political vigour never. The first time his voice was heard from that retreat, it was to recommend a compromise; and, for the first time, his advice was openly opposed. Charles Duffy answered his letter, which recommended to fall back on Federalism—a question in the mouths of many, but in the brain of none—respectfully and firmly remonstrating against such a course. In a great many circles, Mr. Duffy could not be looked at with more wonder if he had recommended to cut off Mr. O'Connell's head.

Hitherto, this condensed retrospect has been almost exclusively confined to the name and fortunes of O'Connell. It is time now to revert to other actors in the scene. Even before the trial, elements of antagonism had begun to manifest themselves. With the party since called "Young Ireland," every consideration was subordinate to the great question of national deliverance. They laboured incessantly to elevate the morals, the literature, the taste, passions, genius, intellect and heart of the country to the sublime eminence of a free destiny. Far the foremost man in urging and encouraging this glorious endeavour was Thomas Davis. From sources the most extraordinary, and the least known, there welled forth abundant and seductive inspiration. He struck living fire from inert wayside stones. To him the meanest rill, the rugged mountain, the barren waste, the rudest fragment of barbaric history, spoke the language of elevation, harmony and hope. The circle, of which he was the beloved centre, was composed of men equally sincere, resolute and hopeful; there was not one of them undistinguished. Some of them had now the first literary distinction. The character of each was remarkable for some distinctive and bold feature of originality. I, of course, exclude myself from this description. I know not to what circumstance I owe the happiness of their trust and friendship. My habits, my education, my former political connections, disqualified me for such association. Since first I took my place among them, seven or eight years have now rolled by. They have been years of severest trial, years of suffering and sorrow, years of passion and prejudice and calumny, years of rude and bitter conflict, years of suspicion and acrimony, and finally of defeat and shame; still, in that eventful course of time, to me at least, there has occurred no moment wherein I would exchange the faintest memory of our mutual trust, unreserved enjoyment and glad hope for the hoarse approval of an unthinking world. There was no subject we did not discuss together; revolution, literature, religion, history, the arts, the sciences—every topic, and never yet was there spoken among us one reproachful word, never felt one distrustful sentiment. Our confidence in one another was precisely that of each in himself; our love of one another deeper than brotherly. When we met, which was at least weekly, and felt alone, shut in from the rude intrusion of the world, how we used to people the future with beauty and happiness and love. Little did we dream that those for whom we toiled, and thought, and wove such visions of glory, would shun and scorn, and curse us. But had that bitter cup, which afterwards we were forced to empty to the dregs, been then presented to us, there was not one of us who would not have drunk it to the last drop; drunk it willingly and cheerfully, without further hope or purpose than our own deep conviction that we owed the sacrifice to truth.

Those who took immediate part in the proceedings of our circle before the State Trials, were Thomas Davis, John Dillon, Thomas MacNevin, Michael Joseph Barry, Charles Duffy, David Cangley, John O'Hagan, Denis F. MacCarthy, Denny Lane, Richard Dalton Williams, with one or two others whose names I cannot mention. To this list was afterwards added Thomas Francis Meagher, Richard O'Gorman, John Mitchel, Thomas Devin Reilly, and Thomas Darcy M'Gee. I do not include several distinguished men who lived in the provinces with whom we communicated, and from whom we received sympathy and sustainment; and I omit others who took a leading part, in deference to the position they are now placed in.

With the first section above named, originated the idea of publishing the Library of Ireland. It was proposed, discussed, and determined on one evening, at the house of Thomas MacNevin, while some one sat at the piano, playing the lovely Irish airs, of which the soft strains of Davis suggested the conception to William Elliot Hudson. The music was as true to the Celtic genius as the lays of Davis to its character and hopes; and amidst the entrancing seductiveness of their association, was born the generous resolution of rescuing the country's literature from the darkness in which it had long lain. The Library of Ireland was proposed as a beginning, and so diffident did its promoters feel, that they deemed it indispensable to engage the recognised genius of William Carleton, whose name and abilities they pledged to the public, as an assurance for the undertaking. Mr. Carleton promptly undertook his share of the task, and James Duffy, the enterprising bookseller, assumed all the risk and responsibility of the enterprise.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse