THE LAND-WAR IN IRELAND
A HISTORY FOR THE TIMES
BY JAMES GODKIN
AUTHOR OF 'IRELAND AND HER CHURCHES' LATE IRISH CORRESPONDENT OF 'THE TIMES'
LONDON MACMILLAN AND CO. 1870
LONDON: PRINTED BY SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE AND PARLIAMENT STREET
It would be difficult to name any subject so much discussed during the last half century as 'the condition of Ireland.' There was an endless diversity of opinion; but in one thing all writers and speakers agreed: the condition was morbid. Ireland was always sick, always under medical treatment, always subject to enquiries as to the nature of her maladies, and the remedies likely to effect a cure. The royal commissions and parliamentary committees that sat upon her case were innumerable, and their reports would fill a library. Still the nature of the disease, or the complication of diseases, was a mystery. Sundry 'boons' were prescribed, by way of experiment; but, though recommended as perfect cures, they did the patient no good. She was either very low and weak, or so dangerously strong and violent that she had to be put under restraint. Whenever this crisis arrived, she arrested the special attention of the state doctors. Consultations were held, and it was solemnly determined that something should be done. Another effort should be made to discover the fons malorum, and dry it up if possible.
A diseased nation, subject to paroxysms of insanity, and requiring 30,000 keepers, was a dangerous neighbour, as well as a serious financial burden. Yet many contended that all such attempts were useless. It was like trying different kinds of soap to whiten the skin of a negro. The patient was incurable. Her ailment was nothing but natural perversity, aggravated by religious delusions; and the root of her disorder could never be known till she was subjected to a post mortem examination, for which it was hoped emigration, and the help of improving landlords, would soon afford an opportunity. In the meantime, the strait waistcoat must be put on, to keep the patient from doing mischief.
But at length a great physician arose, who declared that this state of things should not continue; the honour, if not the safety, of England demanded that the treatment should be reversed. Mr. Gladstone understands the case of Ireland, and he has courage to apply the proper remedies. Yet the British public do not understand it so well; and he will need all the force of public opinion to sustain him and his cabinet in the work of national regeneration which they have undertaken. It is not enough for a good physician to examine the symptoms of his patient. He must have a full and faithful history of the case. He must know how the disease originated, and how it was treated. If injuries were inflicted, he must know under what circumstances, how they affected the nervous system, and whether there may not be surrounding influences which prevent the restoration of health, or some nuisance that poisons the atmosphere.
Such a history of the case of Ireland the author has endeavoured to give in the following pages. It it is no perfunctory service. He resolved to do it years ago, when he finished his work on the Irish Church Establishment, and it has been delayed only in consequence of illness and other engagements. He does not boast of any extraordinary qualifications for the work. But he claims the advantage of having studied the subject long and earnestly, as one in which he has been interested from his youth. He has written the history of the country more or less fully three times. During his thirty years' connexion with the press, it has been his duty to examine and discuss everything that appeared before the public upon Irish questions, and it has always been his habit to bring the light of history to bear upon the topics of the day. Twenty years ago he was an active member of the Irish Tenant League, which held great county meetings in most parts of the island; and was enthusiastically supported by the tenant farmers, adopting resolutions and petitions on the land question almost identical with those passed by similar meetings at the present time. Then Mr. Sharman Crawford was the only landlord who joined in the movement; now many of the largest proprietors take their stand on the tenant-right platform. And after a generation of sectarian division and religious dissension in Ulster, stimulated by the landed gentry, for political purposes, the Catholic priests and the Presbyterian clergy have again united to advocate the demands of the people for the legal protection of their industry and their property.
There is scarcely a county in Ireland which the author of this volume has not traversed more than once, having always an eye to the condition of the population, their mode of living, and the relations of the different classes. During the past year, as special commissioner of the Irish Times, he went through the greater part of Ulster, and portions of the south, in order to ascertain the feelings of the farmers and the working classes, on the great question which is about to engage the attention of Parliament.
The result of his historical studies and personal enquiries is this:—All the maladies of Ireland, which perplex statesmen and economists, have arisen from injuries inflicted by England in the wars which she waged to get possession of the Irish land. Ireland has been irreconcilable, not because she was conquered by England, not even because she was persecuted, but because she was robbed of her inheritance. If England had done everything she has done against the Irish nation, omitting the confiscations, the past would have been forgotten and condoned long ago, and the two nations would have been one people. Even the religious wars resolve themselves into efforts to retain the land, or to recover the forfeited estates. And the banished chiefs never could have rallied the nation to arms, as they so often did against overwhelming odds, if the people had not been involved in the ruin of their lords. All that is really important in the history of the country for the last three centuries is, the fighting of the two nations for the possession of the soil. The Reformation was in reality nothing but a special form of the land war. The oath of supremacy was simply a lever for evicting the owners of the land. The process was simple. The king demanded spiritual allegiance; refusal was high treason; the punishment of high treason was forfeiture of estates, with death or banishment to the recusants. Any other law they might have obeyed, and retained their inheritance. This law fixed its iron grapples in the conscience, and made obedience impossible, without a degree of baseness that rendered life intolerable. Hence Protestantism was detested, not so much as a religion, as an instrument of spoliation.
The agrarian wars were kept up from generation to generation, Ireland always making desperate efforts to get back her inheritance, but always crushed to the earth, a victim of famine and the sword, by the power of England.
The history of these wars, then, is the history of the case of the Irish patient. Its main facts are embodied in the general history of the country. But they have recently been brought out more distinctly by authors who have devoted years to the examination of the original state papers, in which the actors themselves described their exploits and recorded their motives and feelings with startling frankness. When a task of this kind has been performed by a capable and conscientious historian, it would be a work of supererogation for another enquirer to undergo the wearisome toil, even if he could. I have, therefore, for the purpose of my argument, freely availed myself of the materials given to the public by Mr. Froude, the Rev. C.P. Meehan, and Mr. Prendergast, not, however, without asking their permission, which was in each case most readily and kindly granted.
The ancient state of Ireland, and especially of Ulster, is so little known in England, that I was glad to have the facts vouched for by so high an authority as Mr. Froude, and a writer so full of the instinctive pride of the dominant nation; the more so as I have often been obliged to dissent from his views, and to appeal against his judgments. Beguiled by the beauty of his descriptions, I am afraid I have drawn too largely on his pages, in proving and illustrating my case; but I feel confident that no one will read these extracts without more eagerly desiring to possess the volumes of his great work from which they are taken.
I have similar acknowledgments to make to Father Meehan and Mr. Prendergast, both of whom are preparing new editions of their most valuable works. The royal charters, and other documents connected with the Plantation of Ulster, are printed in the 'Concise View of the Irish Society,' compiled from their records, and published by their authority in 1832. Whenever I have been indebted to other writers, I have acknowledged my obligation in the course of the work. In preparing it, I have had but one object constantly in view: to present to the public a careful collection and an impartial statement of facts on the state of Ireland, for the right government of which the British people are now more than ever responsible. I shall be thankful if my labours should contribute in any measure, however humble, to the new conquest of Ireland 'by justice' of which Mr. Bright has spoken. His language is suggestive. It is late (happily not 'too late') to commence the reign of justice. But the nation is not to be despised which requires nothing more than that to win its heart, while its spirit could not be conquered by centuries of injustice. Nor should it be forgotten by the people of England that some atonement is due for past wrongs, not the least of which is the vilification and distrust from which the Irish people have suffered so much. 'The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?' Some manifestation of Christian magnanimity just now would greatly help the work of national reconciliation. The time is favourable. The Government enjoys the prestige of an unparalleled success. The only Prime Minister that ever dared to do full justice to Ireland, is the most powerful that England has had for nearly a century. He has in his Cabinet the only Chief Secretary of Ireland that ever thoroughly sympathised with the nation, not excepting Lord Morpeth; the great tribune of the English people, who has been one of the most eloquent advocates of Ireland; an Ex-Viceroy who has pronounced it felony for the Irish landlords to avail themselves of their legal rights, although he put down a rebellion which that felony mainly provoked; another Ex-Governor, who was one of the most earnest and conscientious that ever filled the viceregal throne, and who returned to Parliament to be one of the ablest champions of the country he had ruled so well; not to mention other members of commanding ability, who are solemnly pledged to the policy of justice. In these facts there is great promise. He understands little of 'the signs of the times,' who does not see the dangers that hang on the non-fulfilment of this promise.
LONDON: January 20, 1870.
II. THE RULE OF THE O'NEILLS
III. SHANE O'NEILL, SOVEREIGN OF ULSTER
IV. EXTERMINATING WARS
V. AN IRISH CRUSADE
VI. THE LAST OF THE IRISH PRINCES
VII. GOVERNMENT APPEALS TO THE PEOPLE
VIII. THE CASE OF THE FUGITIVE EARLS
IX. THE CONFISCATION OF ULSTER
X. THE PLANTATION OF ULSTER
XI. THE REBELLION OF 1641
XII. THE PURITAN PLANTATION
XIII. THE PENAL CODE. A NEW SYSTEM OF LAND WAR
XIV. ULSTER IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
XV. POVERTY AND COERCION
XVI. THE FAMINE
XVII. TENANT-RIGHT IN ULSTER
XVIII. TENANT-RIGHT IN DOWN
XIX. TENANT-RIGHT IN ANTRIM
XX. TENANT-RIGHT IN ARMAGH
XXI. FAKNEY—MR. TRENCH'S 'REALITIES'
XXII. BELFAST AND PERPETUITY
XXIV. THE LAND SYSTEM AND THE WORKING CLASSES
XXV. CONCLUSION—AN APPEAL TO ENGLISHMEN
XVIII. TENANT-RIGHT IN DOWN 313
XIX. TENANT-RIGHT IN ANTRIM 328
XX. TENANT-RIGHT IN ARMAGH 346
XXI. FAKNEY—MR. TRENCH'S 'REALITIES' 356
XXII. BELFAST AND PERPETUITY 381
XXIII. LEASE-BREAKING—GEASHILL 387
XXIV. THE LAND SYSTEM AND THE WORKING CLASSES 401
XXV. CONCLUSION—AN APPEAL TO ENGLISHMEN 424
THE LAND-WAR IN IRELAND.
As the hour approaches when the legislature must deal with the Irish Land question, and settle it, like the Irish Church question, once for all, attempts are redoubled to frighten the public with the difficulties of the task. The alarmists conjure up gigantic apparitions more formidable than those which encountered Bunyan's Pilgrim. Monstrous figures frown along the gloomy avenue that, leads up to the Egyptian temple in which the divinity, PROPERTY, dwells in mysterious darkness. To enter the sanctuary, we are solemnly assured, requires all the cardinal virtues in their highest state of development—the firmest faith, the most vivid hope, and the charity that never faileth. But this is not the only country that has had a land question to settle. Almost every nation in Europe has done for itself what England is now palled upon to do for Ireland. In fact, it is a necessary process in the transition from feudalism to constitutional self-government. Feudalism gave the land to a few whom it made princes and lords, having forcibly taken it from the many, whom it made subjects and serfs. The land is the natural basis of society. The Normans made it the artificial basis of a class. Society in nearly every other country has reverted back to its original foundations, and so remains firm and strong without dangerous rents or fissures. No doubt, the operation is difficult and critical. But what has been done once may be done again; and as it was England that kept Irish society so long rocking on its smaller end, it is her duty now to lend all her strength to help to seat it on its own broad foundations. Giving up the Viceroy's dreams that the glorious mission of Ireland was to be a kitchen garden, a dairy, a larder for England, we must come frankly to the conclusion that the national life of the Irish people, without distinction of creed or party, increases in vigour with their intelligence, and is now invincible. Let the imperial legislature put an end for ever to such an unnatural state of things—thus only can they secure the harmonious working and cordial Union of the two nations united together in one State—thus only can they insure for the landlords themselves all the power and all the influence that can be retained by them in consistency with the industrial rights and political freedom of the cultivators of the soil. These now complain of their abject dependence, and hopeless bondage, under grinding injustice. They are alleged to be full of discontent, which must grow with the intelligence and manhood of the people who writhe under the system. Their advocates affirm that their discontent must increase in volume and angry force every year, and that, owing to the connection of Ireland with the United States, it may at any time be suddenly swollen with the fury of a mountain torrent, deeply discoloured by a Republican element.
It must be granted, I fear, that the Celts of Ireland feel pretty much as the Britons felt under the ascendency of the Saxons, and as the Saxons in their turn felt under the ascendency of the Normans. In the estimation of the Christian Britons, their Saxon conquerors, even after the conversion of the latter, were 'an accursed race, the children of robbers and murderers, possessing the fruits of their fathers' crimes.' 'With them,' says Dr. Lingard, 'the Saxon was no better than a pagan bearing the name of a Christian. They refused to return his salutation, to join in prayer with him in the church, to sit with him at the same table, to abide with him under the same roof. The remnant of his meals and the food over which he had made the sign of the cross they threw to their dogs or swine; the cup out of which he had drunk they scoured with sand, as if it had contracted defilement from his lips.'
It is not the Celtic memory only that is tenacious of national wrong. The Saxon was doomed to drink to the dregs the same bitter cup which he administered so unmercifully to the Briton. His Teutonic blood saved him from no humiliation or insult. The Normans seized all the lands, all the castles, all the pleasant mansions, all the churches and monasteries. Even the Saxon saints were flung down out of their shrines and trampled in the dust under the iron heel of the Christian conqueror. Everything Saxon was vile, and the word 'Englishry' implied as much contempt and scorn as the word 'Irishry' in a later age. In fact, the subjugated Saxons gradually became infected with all the vices and addicted to all the social disorders that prevailed among the Irish in the same age; only in Ireland the anarchy endured much longer from the incompleteness of the conquest and the absence of the seat of supreme government, which kept the races longer separate and antagonistic. Perhaps the most humiliating notice of the degrading effects of conquest on the noble Saxon race to be found in history, is the language in which Giraldus Cambrensis, the reviler of the Irish Celt, contrasts them with his countrymen, the Welsh. 'Who dare,' he says, 'compare the English, the most degraded of all races under heaven, with the Welsh? In their own country they are the serfs, the veriest slaves of the Normans. In ours whom else have we for our herdsmen, shepherds, cobblers, skinners, cleaners of our dog kennels, ay, even of our privies, but Englishmen? Not to mention their original treachery to the Britons, that hired by them to defend them they turned upon them in spite of their oaths and engagements, they are to this day given to treachery and murder.' The lying Saxon was, according to this authority, a proverbial expression.
The Saxon writers lamented their miserable subjection in a monotonous wail for many generations. So late as the seventeenth century an English author speaks in terms of compassion of the disinherited and despoiled families who had sunk into the condition of artisans, peasants, and paupers. 'This,' says M. Thierry, 'is the last sorrowful glance cast back through the mist of ages on that great event which established in England a race of kings, nobles, and warriors of foreign extraction. The reader must figure to himself, not a mere change of political rule, not the triumph of one of two competitors, but the intrusion of a nation into the bosom of another people which it came to destroy, and the scattered fragments of which it retained as an integral portion of the new system of society, in the status merely of personal property, or, to use the stronger language of records and deeds, a clothing of the soil. He must not picture to himself on the one hand the king and despot; on the other simply his subjects, high and low, rich and poor, all inhabiting England, and consequently all English. He must bear in mind that there were two distinct nations—the old Anglo-Saxon race and the Norman invaders, dwelling intermingled on the same soil; or, rather, he might contemplate two countries—the one possessed by the Normans, wealthy and exonerated from public burdens, the other enslaved and oppressed with a land tax—the former full of spacious mansions, of walled towns, and moated castles—the latter occupied with thatched cabins, and ancient walls in a state of dilapidation. This peopled with the happy and the idle, with soldiers, courtiers, knights, and nobles—that with miserable men condemned to labour as peasants and artisans. On the one side he beholds luxury and insolence, on the other poverty and envy—not the envy of the poor at the sight of opulence and men born to opulence, but that malignant envy, although justice be on its side, which the despoiled cannot but entertain on looking upon the spoilers. Lastly, to complete the picture, these two countries are in some sort interwoven with each other—they meet at every point, and yet they are more distinct, more completely separated, than if the ocean rolled between them.'
Does not this picture look very like Ireland? To make it more like, let us imagine that the Norman king had lived in Paris, and kept a viceroy in London—that the English parliament were subordinate to the French parliament, composed exclusively of Normans, and governed by Norman undertakers for the benefit of the dominant State—that the whole of the English land was held by ten thousand Norman proprietors, many of them absentees—that all the offices of the government, in every department, were in the hands of Normans—that, differing in religion with the English nation, the French, being only a tenth of the population, had got possession of all the national churches and church property, while the poor natives supported a numerous hierarchy by voluntary contributions—that the Anglo-Norman parliament was bribed and coerced to abolish itself, forming a union of England with France, in which the English members were as one to six. Imagine that in consequence of rebellions the land of England had been confiscated three or four times, after desolating wars and famines, so that all the native proprietors were expelled, and the land was parcelled out to French soldiers and adventurers on condition that the foreign 'planters' should assist in keeping down 'the mere English' by force of arms. Imagine that the English, being crushed by a cruel penal code for a century, were allowed to reoccupy the soil as mere tenants-at-will, under the absolute power of their French landlords. If all this be imagined by English legislators and English writers, they will be better able to understand the Irish land question, and to comprehend the nature of 'Irish difficulties,' as well as the justice of feeble, insincere, and baffled statesmen in casting the blame of Irish misery and disorder on the unruly and barbarous nature of Irishmen. They will recollect that the aristocracy of Ireland are the high-spirited descendants of conquerors, with the instinct of conquest still in their blood. The parliament which enacted the Irish land laws was a parliament composed almost exclusively of men of this dominant race. They made all political power dependent on the ownership of land, thus creating for themselves a monopoly which it is not in human nature to surrender without a struggle.
The possession of this monopoly, however, fully accounts for two things—the difficulty which the landlords feel in admitting the justice of the tenant's claims for the legal recognition of the value which his labour has added to the soil, and the extreme repugnance with which they regard any legislation on the subject. Besides, the want of sympathy with the people, of earnestness and courage in meeting the realities of the case, is conspicuous in all attempts of the kind during the last half-century. Those attempts have been evasive, feeble, abortive—concessions to the demand that something must be done, but so managed that nothing should be done to weaken the power of the eight thousand proprietors over the mass of the nation dependent on the land for their existence. Hence has arisen a great amount of jealousy, distrust, and irritability in the landlord class towards the tenantry and their advocates.
The Irish race, to adopt Thierry's language, are full of 'malignant envy' towards the lords of the soil; not because they are rich, but because they have the people so completely in their power, so entirely at their mercy for all that man holds most dear. The tenants feel bitterly when they think that they have no legal right to live on their native land. They have read the history of our dreadful civil wars, famines, and confiscations. They know that by the old law of Ireland, and by custom from times far beyond the reach of authentic history, the clans and tribes of the Celtic people occupied certain districts with which their names are still associated, and that the land was inalienably theirs. Rent or tribute they paid, indeed, to their princes, and if they failed the chiefs came with armed followers and helped themselves, driving away cows, sheep, and horses sufficient to meet their demand, or more if they were unscrupulous, which was 'distress' with a vengeance. But the eviction of the people even for non-payment of rent, and putting other people in their place, were things never heard of among the Irish under their own rulers. The chief had his own mensal lands, as well as his tribute, and these he might forfeit. But as the clansmen could not control his acts, they could never see the justice of being punished for his misdeeds by the confiscation of their lands, and driven from the homes of their ancestors often made doubly sacred by religious associations.
History, moreover, teaches them that, as a matter of fact, the government in the reign of James I.—and James himself in repeated proclamations—assured the people who occupied the lands of O'Neill and O'Donnell at the time of their flight that they would be protected in all their rights if they remained quiet and loyal, which they did. Yet they were nearly all removed to make way for the English and Scotch settlers.
Thus, historical investigators have been digging around the foundations of Irish landlordism. They declare that those foundations were cemented with blood, and they point to the many wounds still open from which that blood issued so profusely. The facts of the conquest and confiscation were hinted at by the Devon Commissioners as accounting for the peculiar difficulties of the Irish land question, and writers on it timidly allude to 'the historic past' as originating influences still powerful in alienating landlords and tenants, and fostering mutual distrust between them. But the time for evasion and timidity has passed. We must now honestly and courageously face the stern realities of this case. Among these realities is a firm conviction in the minds of many landlords that they are in no sense trustees for the community, but that they have an absolute power over their estates—that they can, if they like, strip the land clean of its human clothing, and clothe it with sheep or cattle instead, or lay it bare and desolate, let it lapse into a wilderness, or sow it with salt. That is in reality the terrific power secured to them by the present land code, to be executed through the Queen's writ and by the Queen's troops—a power which could not stand a day if England did not sustain it by overwhelming military force.
Another of the realities of the question is the no less inveterate conviction in the tenants' mind that the absolute power of the landlord was originally a usurpation effected by the sword. Right or wrong, they believe that the confiscations were the palpable violation of the natural rights of the people whom Providence placed in this country. With bitter emphasis they assert that no set of men has any divine right to root a nation out of its own land. Painful as this state of feeling is, there is no use in denying that it exists. Here, then, is the deep radical difference that is to be removed. Here are the two conflicting forces which are to be reconciled. This is the real Irish land question. All other points are minor and of easy adjustment. The people say, and, I believe, sincerely, that they are willing to pay a fair rent, according to a public valuation—not a rent imposed arbitrarily by one of the interested parties, which might be raised so as to ruin the occupier. The feelings of these two parties often clash so violently, there is such instinctive distrust between them, the peace and prosperity of the country depend so much on their coming to terms and putting an end to their long-standing feud, that it is still more imperatively necessary than in the Church question, that a third party, independent, impartial, and authoritative, should intervene and heal the breach.
There was one phrase constantly ringing in the ears of the Devon Commissioners, and now, after nearly a generation has passed away, it is ringing in the ears of the nation louder than ever—'the want of tenure.' All the evidence went to show that the want of security paralysed industry and impeded social progress. It seems strange that any evidence should be thought necesary to prove that a man will not sow if he does not hope to reap, and that he will not build houses for strangers to enjoy. This would be taken as an axiom anywhere out of Ireland. Of all the people in Europe, the Irish have suffered most from the oppression of those who, from age to age, had power in the country. Whoever fought or conquered, they were always the victims; and it is a singular fact that their sufferings are scarcely ever noticed by the contemporary annalists, even when those annalists were ecclesiastics. The extent to which they were slaughtered in the perpetual wars between the native chiefs, and in the wars between those chiefs and the English, is something awful to contemplate, not to speak of the wholesale destruction of life by the famines which those wars entailed. On several occasions the Celtic race seemed very nearly extinct. The penal code, with all its malign influence, had one good effect. It subdued to a great extent the fighting propensities of the people, and fused the clans into one nation, purified by suffering. Since that time, in spite of occasional visitations of calamity, they have been steadily rising in the social scale, and they are now better off than ever they were in their whole history. When we review the stages by which they have risen, we cannot but feel at times grieved and indignant at the opportunities for tranquillising and enriching the country which were lost through the ignorance, apathy, bigotry, and selfishness of the legislature. There was no end of commissions and select committees to inquire into the condition of the agricultural population, whenever Parliament was roused by the prevalence of agrarian outrages. They reported, and there the matter ended. There were always insuperable difficulties when the natives were to be put in a better position. Between 1810 and 1814, for example, a commission reported four times on the condition of the Irish bogs. They expressed their entire conviction of the practicability of cultivating with profit an immense extent of land lying waste. In 1819, in 1823, in 1826, and in 1830, select committees inquired into and reported on drainage, reclamation of bogs and marshes, on roads, fisheries, emigration, and other schemes for giving employment to the redundant population that had been encouraged to increase and multiply in the most reckless manner, while 'war prices' were obtained for agricultural produce, and the votes of the forty-shilling freeholders were wanted by the landlords. When, by the Emancipation Act in 1829, the forty-shilling franchise was abolished, the peasant lost his political value. After the war, when the price of corn fell very low, and, consequently, tillage gave place to grazing, labourers became to the middleman an encumbrance and a nuisance that must be cleared off the land, just as weeds are plucked up and flung out to wither on the highway. Then came Lord Devon's Land Commission, which inquired on the eve of the potato failure and the great famine. The Irish population was now at its highest figure—between eight and nine millions. Yet, though there had been three bad seasons, it was clearly proved at that time that by measures which a wise and willing legislature would have promptly passed, the whole surplus population could have been profitably employed.
In this great land controversy, on which side lies the truth? Is it the fault of the people, or the fault of the law, that the country is but half cultivated, while the best of the peasantry are emigrating with hostile feelings and purposes of vengeance towards England? As to the landlords, as a class, they use their powers with as much moderation and mercy as any other class of men in any country ever used power so vast and so little restrained. The best and most indulgent landlords, the most genial and generous, are unquestionably the old nobility, the descendants of the Normans and Saxons, those very conquerors of whom we have heard so much. The worst, the most harsh and exacting, are those who have purchased under the Landed Estates Court—strangers to the people, who think only of the percentage on their capital. We had heard much of the necessity of capital to develope the resources of the land. The capital came, but the development consists in turning tillage lands into pasture, clearing out the labouring population and sending them to the poorhouse, or shipping them off at a few pounds per head to keep down the rates. And yet is it not possible to set all our peasantry to work at the profitable cultivation of their native land? Is it not possible to establish by law what many landlords act upon as the rule of their estates—namely, the principle that no man is to be evicted so long as he pays a fair rent, and the other principle, that whenever he fails, he is entitled to the market value by public sale of all the property in his holding beyond that fair rent? The hereditary principle, rightly cherished among the landlords, so conservative in its influence, ought to be equally encouraged among the tenants. The man of industry, as well as the man of rank, should be able to feel that he is providing for his children, that his farm is at once a bank and an insurance office, in which all his minute daily deposits of toil and care and skill will be safe and productive. This is the way to enrich and strengthen the State, and to multiply guarantees against revolution—not by consolidation of farms and the abandonment of tillage, not by degrading small holders into day labourers, levelling the cottages and filling the workhouses.
If the legislature were guided by the spirit that animates Lord Erne in his dealings with his tenantry, the land question would soon be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. 'I think,' said his lordship, 'as far as possible, every tenant on my estate may call his farm his castle, as long as he conducts himself honestly, quietly, and industriously; and, should he wish to leave in order to find a better landlord, I allow him to sell his farm, provided he pleases me in a tenant. Therefore, if a man lays out money on his farm judiciously, he is certain to receive back the money, should he wish to go elsewhere.' He mentioned three cases of sale which occurred last year. One tenant sold a farm of seventy acres in bad order for 570 l., another thirty acres for 300 l., and a third the same number of acres in worse condition for 200 l. The landlord lost nothing by these changes. His rent was paid up, and in each case he got a good tenant for a bad one. Lord Erne is a just man, and puts on no more than a fair rent. But all landlords are not just, as all tenants are not honest. Even where tenant-right is admitted in name, it is obvious that the rent may be raised so high as to make the farm worth nothing in the market. To give to the tenant throughout the country generally the pleasant feeling that his farm is his castle, which he can make worth more money every day he rises, there must be a public letting valuation, and this the State could easily provide. And then there should be the right of sale to the highest solvent bidder.
This might be one way of securing permanent tenure, or stimulating the industry and sustaining the thrift of the farmer. But the nature of the different tenures, and the effect of each in bracing up or relaxing the nerves of industry, will be the object of deliberation with the Government and the legislature. It is said that, in the hands of small farmers, proprietorship leads to endless subdivision; that long leases generally cause bad husbandry; that tenants-at-will often feel themselves more secure and safe than a contract could make them; that families have lived on the same farm for generations without a scrape of a pen except the receipt for rent. On the other hand, there is the general cry of 'want of tenure;' there is the custom of serving notices to quit, sometimes for other reasons than non-payment of rent; there are occasional barbarities in the levelling of villages, and dragging the aged and the sick from the old roof-tree, the parting from which rends their heart-strings; and, above all, there is the feeling among the peasantry which makes them look without horror on the murder of a landlord or an agent who was a kind and benevolent neighbour; and, lastly, the paramount consideration for the legislature, that a large portion of the people are disaffected to the State, and ready to join its enemies, and this almost solely on account of the state of the law relating to land. Hence the necessity of settling the question as speedily as possible, and the duty of all who have the means to contribute something towards that most desirable consummation, which seems to be all that is wanted to make Irishmen of every class work together earnestly for the welfare of their country. It is admitted that no class of men in the world has improved more than the Irish landlords during the last twenty years. Let the legislature restore confidence between them and the people by taking away all ground for the suspicion that they wish to extirpate the Celtic race.
Nor was this suspicion without cause, as the following history will too clearly prove. A very able English writer has said: 'The policy of all the successive swarms of settlers was to extirpate the native Celtic race, but every effort made to break up the old framework of society failed, for the new-comers soon became blended with and undistinguishable from the mass of the people—being obliged to ally themselves with the native chieftains, rather than live hemmed in by a fiery ring of angry septs and exposed to perpetual war with everything around them. Merged in the great Celtic mass, they adopted Irish manners and names, yet proscribed and insulted the native inhabitants as an inferior race. Everything liberal towards them is intercepted in its progress.
'The past history of Ulster is but a portion of Scottish history inserted into that of Ireland—a stone in the Irish mosaic of an entirely different quality and colour from the pieces that surround it.
'Thus it came to pass that, through the confiscation of their lands and the proscription of their religion, popery was worked by a most vehement process into the blood and brain of the Irish nation.'
It has been often said that the Irish must be an inferior race, since they allowed themselves to be subjugated by some thousands of English invaders. But it should be recollected, first, that the conquest, commenced by Henry II. in the twelfth century, was not completed till the seventeenth century, when the King's writ ran for the first time through the province of Ulster, the ancient kingdom of the O'Neills; in the second place, the weakness of the Celtic communities was not so much the fault of the men as of their institutions, brought with them from the East and clung to with wonderful tenacity. So long as they had boundless territory for their flocks and herds, and could always move on 'to pastures new,' they increased and multiplied, and allowed the sword and the battle-axe to rest, unless when a newly elected chief found it necessary to give his followers 'a hosting'—which means an expedition for plunder. Down to the seventeenth century, after five hundred years' contact with the Teutonic race, they were essentially the same people as they were when the ancient Greeks and Romans knew them. They are thus described by Dr. Mommsen in his 'History of Rome:'—'Such qualities—those of good soldiers and of bad citizens—explain the historical fact that the Celts have shaken all States and have founded none. Everywhere we find them ready to rove, or, in other words, to march, preferring movable property to landed estate, and gold to everything else; following the profession of arms as a system of organised pillage, or even as a trade for hire, and with such success that even the Roman historian, Sallust, acknowledges that the Celts bore off the prize from the Romans in feats of arms. They were the true 'soldiers of fortune' of antiquity, as pictures and descriptions represent them, with big but sinewy bodies, with shaggy hair and long moustaches—quite a contrast to the Greeks and Romans, who shaved the upper lip—in the variegated embroidered dresses which in combat were not unfrequently thrown off, with a broad gold ring round their neck, wearing no helmets and without missile weapons of any sort, but furnished instead with an immense shield, a long ill-tempered sword, a dagger and a lance, all ornamented with gold, for they were not unskilful in working in metals. Everything was made subservient to ostentation—even wounds, which were often enlarged for the purpose of boasting a broader scar. Usually they fought on foot, but certain tribes on horseback, in which case every free man was followed by two attendants, likewise mounted. War-chariots were early in use, as they were among the Libyans and Hellenes in the earliest times. Many a trait reminds us of the chivalry of the middle ages, particularly the custom of single combat, which was foreign to the Greeks and Romans. Not only were they accustomed in war to challenge a single enemy to fight, after having previously insulted him by words and gestures; in peace also they fought with each other in splendid equipments, as for life or death. After such feats carousals followed in due course. In this way they led, whether under their own or a foreign banner, a restless soldier life, constantly occupied in fighting and in their so-called feats of heroism. They were dispersed from Ireland and Spain to Asia Minor, but all their enterprises melted away like snow in spring, and they nowhere created a great state or developed a distinctive culture of their own.' Such were the people who once almost terminated the existence of Rome, and were afterwards with difficulty repulsed from Greece, who became masters of the most fertile part of Italy and of a fair province in the heart of Asia Minor, who, after their Italian province had been subdued, inflicted disastrous blows on successive Roman generals, and were only at last subjugated by Caesar himself in nine critical and sometimes most dangerous campaigns, B.C. 51.
Niebuhr observes that at that time the form of government was everywhere an hereditary monarchy, which, when Caesar went into Gaul, had been swallowed up, as had the authority of the Senate, in the anarchy of the nobles. Their freedom was lawlessness; an inherent incapacity of living under the dominion of laws distinguishes them as barbarians from the Greeks and Italians. As individuals had to procure the protection of some magnate in order to live in safety, so the weaker tribes took shelter under the patronage of a more powerful one. For they were a disjointed multitude; and when any people had in this manner acquired an extensive sovereignty, they exercised it arbitrarily until its abuses became intolerable, or their subjects were urged by blind hatred of their power to fall off from them, and gather round some new centre. The sole bond of union was the Druidical hierarchy which, at least in Caesar's time, was common to both nations. Both of them paid obedience to its tribunal, which administered justice once a year—an institution which probably was not introduced till long after the age of migrations, when the expulsion of the vanquished had ceased to be regarded as the end of war, and which must have been fostered by the constant growth of lawlessness in particular states—being upheld by the ban, which excluded the contumacious from all intercourse in divine worship and in daily life with the faithful. The huge bodies, wild features, and long shaggy hair of the men, gave a ghastliness to their aspect. This, along with their fierce courage, their countless numbers, and the noise made by an enormous multitude of horns and trumpets, struck the armies arrayed against them with fear and amazement. If these, however, did not allow their terror to overpower them, the want of order, discipline, and perseverance would often enable an inferior number to vanquish a vast host of the barbarians. Besides, they were but ill equipped. Few of them wore any armour; their narrow shields, which were of the same height with their bodies, were weak and clumsy; they rushed upon their enemies with broad thin battle-swords of bad steel, which the first blow upon iron often notched and rendered useless. Like true savages, they destroyed the inhabitants, the towns, and the agriculture of the countries they conquered. They cut off the heads of the slain, and tied them by the hair to the manes of their horses. If a skull belonged to a person of rank, they nailed it up in their houses and preserved it as an heirloom for their posterity, as the nobles in rude ages do stag-horns. Towns were rare amongst them; the houses and the villages, which were very numerous, were mean, the furniture wretched—a heap of straw covered with skins served both for a bed and a seat. They did not cultivate corn save for a very limited consumption, for the main part of their food was the milk and the flesh of their cattle. These formed their wealth. Gold, too, they had in abundance, derived partly from the sandy beds of their rivers, partly from some mines which these had led them to discover. It was worn in ornaments by every Gaul of rank. In battle he bore gold chains on his arms and heavy gold collars round his neck, even when the upper part of his body was in other respects quite naked. For they often threw off their parti-coloured chequered cloaks, which shone with all the hues of the rainbow, like the picturesque dress of their kinspeople the Highlanders, who have laid aside the trousers of the ancient Gauls. Their duels and gross revels are an image of the rudest part of the middle ages. Their debauches were mostly committed with beer and mead; for vines and all the plants of southern regions were as yet total strangers to the north of the Alps, where the climate in those ages was extremely severe; so that wine was rare, though of all the commodities imported it was the most greedily bought up.
Ulster was known in ancient times as one of the five Irish 'kingdoms,' and remained unconquered by the English till the reign of James I., when the last prince of the great house of O'Neill, then Earl of Tyrone, fled to the Continent in company with O'Donel, Earl of Tyrconnel, head of another very ancient sept. Up to that period the men of Ulster proudly regarded themselves as 'Irish of the Irish and Catholic of the Catholics.' The inhabitants were of mixed blood, but, as in the other provinces of the island, the great mass of the people, as well as the ruling classes, were of Celtic origin. Those whom ethnologists still recognise as aborigines, in parts of Connaught and in some mountainous regions, an inferior race, are said to be the descendants of the Firbolgs, or Belgae, who formed the third immigration. They were followed and subdued by the Tuatha de Danans—men famed for their gigantic power and supernatural skill—a race of demigods, who still live in the national superstitions. The last of the ancient invasions was by the Gael or Celt, known as the Milesians and Scoti. The institutions and customs of this people were established over the whole island, and were so deeply rooted in the soil that their remnants to this day present the greatest obstacles to the settlement of the land question according to the English model, and on the principles of political economy, which run directly counter to Irish instincts. It is truly wonderful how distinctly the present descendants of this race preserve the leading features of their primitive character. In France and England the Celtic character was moulded by the power and discipline of the Roman Empire. To Ireland this modifying influence never extended; and we find the Ulster chiefs who fought for their territories with English viceroys 280 years ago very little different from the men who followed Brennus to the sack of Home, and encountered the legions of Julius Caesar on the plains of Gaul.
Mr. Prendergast observes, in the introduction to his 'Cromwellian Settlement' that when the companions of Strongbow landed in the reign of Henry II. they found a country such as Caesar had found in Gaul 1200 years before. A thousand years had passed over the island without producing the slightest social progress—'the inhabitants divided into tribes on the system of the clansmen and chiefs, without a common Government, suddenly confederating, suddenly dissolving, with Brehons, Shaunahs, minstrels, bards, and harpers, in all unchanged, except that for their ancient Druids they had got Christian priests. Had the Irish remained honest pagans, Ireland perhaps had remained unconquered still. Round the coast strangers had built seaport towns, either traders from the Carthaginian settlements in Spain, or outcasts from their own country, like the Greeks that built Marseilles. At the time of the arrival of the French and Flemish adventurers from Wales, they were occupied by a mixed Danish and French population, who supplied the Irish with groceries, including the wines of Poitou, the latter in such abundance that they had no need of vineyards.'
If vineyards had been needed, we may be sure they would not have been planted, for the Irish Celts planted nothing. Neither did they build, except in the simplest and rudest way, improving their architecture from age to age no more than the beaver or the bee. Mr. Prendergast is an able, honest, and frank writer; yet there is something amusingly Celtic in the flourish with which he excuses the style of palaces in which the Irish princes delighted to dwell. 'Unlike England,' he says, 'then covered with castles on the heights, where the French gentlemen secured themselves and their families against the hatred of the churls and villains, as the English peasantry were called, the dwellings of the Irish chiefs were of wattles or clay. It is for robbers and foreigners to take to rocks and precipices for security; for native rulers, there is no such fortress as justice and humanity.' This is very fine, but surely Mr. Prendergast cannot mean that the Irish chiefs were distinguished by their justice and humanity. The following touch is still grander:—'The Irish, like the wealthiest and highest of the present day, loved detached houses surrounded by fields and woods. Towns and their walls they looked upon as tombs or sepulchres, &c.' As to fields, there were none, because the Irish never made fences, their patches of cultivated land being divided by narrow strips of green sod. Besides, they lived in villages, which were certainly surrounded by woods, because the woods were everywhere, and they furnished the inhabitants with fuel and shelter, as well as materials for building their huts.
But further on this able author expresses himself much more in accordance with the truth of history, when he states that the 'Irish enemy' was no nation in the modern sense of the word, but a race divided into many nations or tribes, separately defending their lands from the English barons in the immediate neighbourhood. There had been no ancient national government displaced, no dynasty overthrown; the Irish had no national flag, nor any capital city as the metropolis of their common country, nor any common administration of law.' He might have added that they had no mint. There never was an Irish king who had his face stamped on a coin of his realm. Some stray pieces of money found their way into the country from abroad, but up to the close of the sixteenth century the rudest form of barter prevailed in Ulster, and accounts were paid not in coins but in cows. Even the mechanical arts which had flourished in the country before the arrival of the Celts had gradually perished, and had disappeared at the time of the English invasion. Any handy men could build a house of mud and wattles. Masons, carpenters, smiths, painters, glaziers, &c., were not wanted by a people who despised stone buildings as prisons, and abhorred walled towns as sepulchres. Spinning and weaving were arts cultivated by the women, each household providing materials for clothing, which was little used in warm weather, and thrown off when fighting or any other serious work was to be done.
I should be sorry to disparage the Celtic race, or any other race, by exaggerating their bad qualities or suppressing any reliable testimony to their merits. But with me the truth of history is sacred. Both sides of every case should be fairly stated. Nothing can be gained by striving to hide facts which may be known to every person who takes the trouble to study the subject. I write in the interest of the people—of the toiling masses; and I find that they were oppressed and degraded by the ruling classes long before the Norman invader took the place of the Celtic chief. And it is a curious fact that when the Cromwellians turned the Catholic population out of their homes and drove them into Connaught, they were but following the example set them by the Milesian lords of the soil centuries before.
The late Mr. Darcy Magee, a real lover of his country, in his Irish history points out this fact. The Normans found the population divided into two great classes—the free tribes, chiefly if not exclusively Celtic, and the unfree tribes, consisting of the descendants of the subjugated races, or of clans once free, reduced to servitude by the sword, and the offspring of foreign mercenary soldiers. 'The unfree tribes,' says Mr. Darcy Magee, 'have left no history. Under the despotism of the Milesian kings, it was high treason to record the actions of the conquered race, so that the Irish Belgae fared as badly in this respect at the hands of the Milesian historians as the latter fared in after times from the chroniclers of the Normans. We only know that such tribes were, and that their numbers and physical force more than once excited the apprehension of the children of the conquerors. One thing is certain—the jealous policy of the superior race never permitted them to reascend the plane of equality from which they had been hurled at the very commencement of the Milesian ascendency.'
Mr. Haverty, another Catholic historian, learned, accurate, and candid, laments the oppression of the people by their native rulers. 'Those who boasted descent from the Scytho-Spanish hero would have considered themselves degraded were they to devote themselves to any less honourable profession than those of soldiers, ollavs, or physicians; and hence the cultivation of the soil and the exercise of the mechanic arts were left almost exclusively to the Firbolgs and the Tuatha-de-Danans—the former people, in particular, being still very numerous, and forming the great mass of the population in the west. These were ground down by high rents and the exorbitant exactions of the dominant race, in order to support their unbounded hospitality and defray the expenses of costly assemblies; but this oppression must have caused perpetual discontent, and the hard-working plebeians, as they were called, easily perceived that their masters were running headlong to destruction, and that it only required a bold effort to shake off their yoke.' Then follows an account of a civil war, one of the leaders of the revolution being elected king at its termination. Carbry reigned five years, during which time there was no rule or order, and the country was a prey to every misfortune. 'Evil was the state of Ireland during his reign; fruitless her corn, for there used to be but one grain on the stalk; and fruitless her rivers; her cattle without milk; her fruit without plenty, for there used to be but one acorn on the oak.'
Dr. Lynch, author of Cambrensis Eversus, expresses his astonishment at the great number of ancient Irish kings, most of whom were cut off by a violent death, each hewing his way to the throne over the body of his predecessor. But upon applying his mind to the more profound consideration of the matter, he found nothing more wonderful in the phenomenon 'than that the human family should proceed from one man—the overflowing harvest from a few grains of seed, &c.' His learned translator, the Rev. Matthew Kelly, of Maynooth, sees proof of amendment in the fact that between 722 and 1022 twelve Irish kings died a natural death. This candid and judicious writer observes in a note—'It appears from the Irish and English annals that there was perpetual war in Ireland during more than 400 years after the invasion. It could not be called a war of races, except perhaps during the first century, for English and Irish are constantly found fighting under the same banner, according to the varying interests of the rival lords and princes of both nations. This was the case even from the commencement.'
[Footnote 1: Vol. i. p.216.]
Many persons have wondered at the success of small bands of English invaders. Why did not the Irish nation rise en masse, and drive them into the sea? The answer is easy. There was no Irish nation. About half a million of people were scattered over the island in villages, divided into tribes generally at war with one another, each chief ready to accept foreign aid against his adversary—some, perhaps, hoping thereby to attain supremacy in their clans, and others, who were pretenders, burning to be avenged of those who had supplanted them. It was religion that first gave the Irish race a common cause. In the very year of the English invasion (1171) there were no fewer than twenty predatory excursions or battles among the Irish chiefs themselves, exclusive of contests with the invaders. Hence the Pope said—'Gens se interimit mutua caede.' The Pope was right.
The clergy exerted themselves to the utmost in trying to exorcise the demon of destruction and to arrest the work of extermination. Not only the Bashall Isa, or 'the staff of Jesus,' but many other relics were used with the most solemn rites, to impress the people with a sense of the wickedness of their clan-fights, and to induce them to keep the peace, but in vain. The King of Connaught once broke a truce entered into under every possible sanction of this kind, trampling upon all, that he might get the King of Meath into his clutches. Hence the Rev. Mr. Kelly is constrained to say—'It is now generally admitted by Catholic writers that however great the efforts of the Irish clergy to reform their distracted country in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the picture of anarchy drawn by Pope Adrian is hardly overcharged.' Indeed, some Catholic writers have confessed that the anarchy would never have been terminated except by foreign conquest establishing a strong central government. This, however, was not accomplished till after a struggle of centuries, during which, except in brief intervals, when a strong prince was able to protect his people, the national demoralisation grew worse and worse. An Oxford priest, who kept a school at Limerick, writing so late as 1566 of the Irish nobles, says—'Of late they spare neither churches nor hallowed places, but thence also they fill their hands with spoil—yea, and sometimes they set them on fire and kill the men that there lie hidden.'
Mr. Froude, following the Irish MSS. in the Rolls House, has presented graphic pictures of the disorders of the Irishry in the reign of Queen Mary. 'The English garrison,' he says, 'harassed and pillaged the farmers of Meath and Dublin; the chiefs made forays upon each other, killing, robbing, and burning. When the war broke out between England and France, there were the usual conspiracies and uprisings of nationality; the young Earl of Kildare, in reward to the Queen who had restored him to his rank, appearing as the natural leader of the patriots. Ireland was thus happy in the gratification of all its natural tendencies. The Brehon law readvanced upon the narrow limits to which, by the exertions of Henry VIII., the circuits of the judges had been extended. And with the Brehon law came anarchy as its inseparable attendant.'
The correctness of this view is too well attested by the records which the learned historian brings to light, adopting the quaint and expressive phraseology of the old writers whom he quotes. For example:—
'The lords and gentiles of the Irish Pale that were not governed under the Queen's laws were compelled to keep and maintain a great number of idle men of war to rule their people at home, and exact from their neighbours abroad—working everyone his own wilful will for a law—to the spoil of his country, and decay and waste of the common weal of the same. The idle men of war ate up altogether; the lord and his men took what they pleased, destroying their tenants, and themselves never the better. The common people, having nothing left to lose, became as idle and careless in their behaviour as the rest, stealing by day and robbing by night. Yet it was a state of things which they seemed all equally to enjoy, and high and low alike were always ready to bury their own quarrels, to join against the Queen and the English.'
At the time when the crown passed to Elizabeth the qualities of the people were thus described by a correspondent of the council, who presents the English view of the Irishry at that time:—
'The appearance and outward behaviour of the Irish showeth them to be fruits of no good tree, for they exercise no virtue and refrain and forbear from no vice, but think it lawful to do every man what him listeth. They neither love nor dread God, nor yet hate the devil. They are worshippers of images and open idolaters. Their common oath they swear is by books, bells, and other ornaments which they do use as holy religion. Their chief and solemnest oath is by their lord or master's hand, which whoso forsweareth is sure to pay a fine or sustain a worse turn. The Sabbath-day they rest from all honest exercises, and the week days they are not idle, but worse occupied. They do not honour their father and mother as much as they do reverence strangers. For every murder that they commit they do not so soon repent, for whose blood they once shed, they lightly never cease killing all that name. They do not so commonly commit adultery; not for that they profess or keep chastity, but for that they seldom or never marry, and therefore few of them are lawful heirs, by the law of the realm, to the lands they possess. They steal but from the strong, and take by violence from the poor and weak. They know not so well who is their neighbour as who they favour; with him they will witness in right and wrong. They covet not their neighbours' good, but command all that is their neighbours' as their own. Thus they live and die, and there is none to teach them better. There are no ministers. Ministers will not take pains where there is no living to be had, neither church nor parish, but all decayed. People will not come to inhabit where there is no defence of law.'
After six years of discipline and improvement Sir Henry Sidney, in 1566, described the state of the four shires, the Irish inhabitants, and the English garrison, in the following terms:—'The English Pale is overwhelmed with vagabonds—stealth and spoil daily carried out of it—the people miserable—not two gentlemen in the whole of it able to lend 20 l. They have neither horse nor armour, nor apparel, nor victual. The soldiers be so beggerlike as it would abhor a general to look on them; yet so insolent as to be intolerable to the people, so rooted in idleness as there is no hope by correction to amend them, yet so allied with the Irish, I dare not trust them in a forte, or in any dangerous service.'
A sort of 'special correspondent' or 'commissioner,' as we should call him now, furnished to Cecil a detailed account of the social condition of the people, which of course he viewed with English eyes. He found existing among them a general organisation wherever the Irish language was spoken—the remnants of a civilisation very ancient, but now fast tending to ruin. Next to the chiefs were the priesthood, and after them came a kind of intellectual hierarchy, consisting of four classes of spiritual leaders and teachers, which were thus described. The first was called the Brehon, or the judge. These judges took 'pawns' of both the parties, and then judged according to their own discretion. Their property was neutral, and the Irishmen would not prey upon them. They had great plenty of cattle, and they harboured many vagabonds and idle persons. They were the chief maintainers of rebels, but when the English army came to their neighbourhood they fled to the mountains and woods 'because they would not succour them with victuals and other necessaries.' The next sort was called Shankee, who had also great plenty of cattle wherewith they succoured the rebels. They made the ignorant men of the country believe that they were descended from Alexander the Great, or Darius, or Caesar, 'or some other notable prince, which made the ignorant people run mad, and care not what they did.' This, the correspondent remarked, 'was very hurtful to the realm.' Not less hurtful were the third sort called Denisdan, who not only maintained the rebels, but caused those that would be true to become rebellious—'thieves, extortioners, murderers, raveners, yea, and worse if it was possible.' These seem to have been the historians or chroniclers of the tribe. If they saw a young man, the descendant of an O' or a Mac, with half a dozen followers, they forthwith made a rhyme about his father and his ancestors, numbering how many heads they had cut off, how many towns they had burned, how many virgins they had deflowered, how many notable murders they had done, comparing them to Hannibal, or Scipio, or Hercules, or some other famous person—'wherewithal the poor fool runs mad, and thinks indeed it is so.' Then he will gather a lot of rascals about him, and get a fortune-teller to prophesy how he is to speed. After these preliminaries he betakes himself with his followers at night to the side of a wood, where they lurk till morning. And when it is daylight, then will they go to the poor villages, not sparing to destroy young infants and aged people; and if a woman be ever so great with child, her will they kill, burning the houses and corn, and ransacking the poor cots; then will they drive away all the kine and plough-horses, with all the other cattle. Then must they have a bagpipe blowing before them, and if any of the cattle fortune to wax weary or faint they will kill them rather than it should do the owner good; and if they go by any house of friars, or religious house, they will give them two or three beeves, and they will take them and pray for them, yea, and praise their doings, and say, 'His father was accustomed so to do, wherein he will rejoice.' The fourth class consisted of 'poets.' These men had great store of cattle, and 'used all the trade of the others with an addition of prophecies. They were maintainers of witches and other vile matters, to the blasphemy of God, and to the impoverishing of the commonwealth.'
These four septs were divided in all places of the four quarters of Ireland, and some of the islands beyond Ireland, as Aran, the land of the Saints, Innisbuffen, Innisturk, Innismain, and Innisclare. These islands, he added, were under the rule of O'Neill, and they were 'very pleasant and fertile, plenty of wood, water, and arable ground, pastures, and fish, and a very temperate air.' On this description Mr. Froude remarks in a note—'At present they are barren heaps of treeless moors and mountains. They yield nothing but scanty oat crops and potatoes, and though the seas are full of fish as ever, there are no hands to catch them. The change is a singular commentary upon modern improvements.' There were many branches belonging to the four septs, continues the credulous reporter, who was evidently imposed upon, like many of his countrymen in modern times with better means of information. For example, 'there was the branch of Gogath, the glutton, of which one man would eat half a sheep at a sitting. There was another called the Carrow, a gambler, who generally went about naked, carrying dice and cards, and he would play the hair off his head. Then there was a set of women called Goyng women, blasphemers of God, who ran from country to country, sowing sedition among the people.'
[Footnote 1: Froude's History, of England, vol. viii. chap. vii.]
Mr. Froude says that this 'picture of Ireland' was given by some half Anglicised, half Protestantised Celt, who wrote what he had seen around him, careless of political philosophy, or of fine phrases with which to embellish his diction. But if he was a Celt, I think his description clearly proves that he must have been a Celt of some other country than the one upon whose state he reports. Judging from internal evidence, I should say that he could not be a native; for an Irishman, even though a convert to Anglicanism, and anxious to please his new masters, could scarcely betray so much ignorance of the history of his country, so much bigotry, such a want of candour and discrimination. If Mr. Froude's great work has any fault, it is his unconscious prejudice against Ireland. He knows as well as anyone the working of the feudal system and the clan system in Scotland in the same age. He knows with what treachery and cruelty murders were perpetrated by chiefs and lairds, pretenders and usurpers—how anarchy, violence, and barbarism reigned in that land; yet, when he is dealing with a similar state of things in Ireland, he uniformly takes it as proof of an incurable national idiosyncrasy, and too often generalises from a few cases. For example, in speaking of Shane O'Neill, who killed his half-brother, Matthew Kelly, Baron of Dungannon, in order to secure the succession for himself, he says—'They manage things strangely in Ireland. The old O'Neill, instead of being irritated, saw in this exploit a proof of commendable energy. He at once took Shane into favour, and, had he been able, would have given him his dead brother's rights.'
THE RULE OF THE O'NEILLS.
Shane O'Neill was a man of extraordinary ability and tremendous energy, as the English found to their cost. He was guilty of atrocious deeds; but he had too many examples in those lawless times encouraging him to sacrifice the most sacred ties to his ambition. He resolved to seize the chieftainship by deposing his father and banishing him to the Pale, where, after passing some years in captivity, he died. He was, no doubt, urged to do this, lest by some chance the son of the baron of Dungannon should be adopted by England as the rightful heir, and made Earl of Tyrone. This title he spurned, and proclaimed himself the O'Neill, the true representative of the ancient kings of Ulster, to which office he was elected by his people, taking the usual oath with his foot upon the sacred stone. This was an open defiance of English power, and he prepared to abide the consequences. He thought the opportunity a favourable one to recover the supremacy of his ancestors over the O'Donels. He accordingly mustered a numerous army, and marched into Tyrconnel, where he was joined by Hugh O'Donel, brother of Calvagh, the chief, with other disaffected persons of the same clan. O'Donel had recourse to stratagem. Having caused his cattle to be driven out of harm's way, he sent a spy into the enemy's camp, who mixed with the soldiers, and returning undiscovered, he undertook to guide O'Donel's army to O'Neill's tent, which was distinguished by a great watch-fire, and guarded by six galloglasses on one side and as many Scots on the other. The camp, however, was taken by surprise in the dead of night, and O'Neill's forces, careless or asleep, were slaughtered and routed without resistance. Shane himself fled for his life, and, swimming across three rivers, succeeded in reaching his own territory. This occurred the year before he cast off his allegiance to England. He was required to appear before Elizabeth in person to explain the grounds on which he had claimed the chieftainship. He consented, on condition that he got a safe-conduct and money for the expenses of his journey. At the same time he sent a long letter to the Queen, complaining of the treatment he had received, and defending his pretensions. The letter is characteristic of the man and of the times. He said: 'The deputy has much ill-used me, your Majesty; and now that I am going over to see you, I hope you will consider that I am but rude and uncivil, and do not know my duty to your Highness, nor yet your Majesty's laws, but am one brought up in wildness, far from all civility. Yet have I a good will to the commonwealth of my country; and please your Majesty to send over two commissioners that you can trust, that will take no bribes, nor otherwise be imposed on, to observe what I have done to improve the country, and hear what my accusers have to say; and then let them go into the Pale, and hear what the people say of your soldiers, with their horses, and their dogs, and their concubines. Within this year and a half, three hundred farmers are come from the English Pale to live in my country, where they can be safe.
'Please your Majesty, your Majesty's money here is not so good as your money in England, and will not pass current there. Please your Majesty to send me three thousand pounds in English money to pay my expenses in going over to you, and when I come back I will pay your deputy three thousand pounds Irish, such as you are pleased to have current here. Also I will ask your Majesty to marry me to some gentlewoman of noble blood meet for my vocation. I will make Ireland all that your Majesty wishes for you. I am very sorry your Majesty is put to such expense. If you will trust it to me, I will undertake that in three years you will have a revenue, where now you have continual loss.'
Shane suspected evil designs on the part of the English, and not without reason. The object of the summons to England was to detain him there with 'gentle talk' till Sussex could return to his command with an English army powerful enough to subjugate Ulster. For this purpose such preparations were made by the English Government in men and money, 'that rebellion should have no chance; and,' says Mr. Froude, 'so careful was the secresy which was observed, to prevent Shane from taking alarm, that a detachment of troops sent from Portsmouth sailed with sealed orders, and neither men nor officers knew that Ireland was their destination till they had rounded the Land's End.' The English plans were well laid. Kildare, whom Elizabeth most feared, had accepted her invitation to go to London, and thus prevented any movement in the south, while O'Donel was prepared to join the English army on its advance into Ulster; and the Scots, notwithstanding their predilection for Mary Stuart, were expected to act as Argyle and his sister should direct. But Shane had a genius for intrigue as well as Elizabeth, and he was far more rapid than her generals in the execution of his plans. By a master-stroke of policy he disconcerted their arrangements. He had previously asked the Earl of Argyle to give him his daughter in marriage, in order that he might strengthen his alliance with the Ulster Scots. It is true that she had been already married to his rival, O'Donel; but that was a small difficulty in his way. The knot was tied, but he had no hesitation in cutting it with his sword. 'The countess' was well educated for her time. She was also a Protestant, and the government had hopes that her influence would be favourable to 'civility and the Reformation' among the barbarians of the north. But whatever advantages the presence of the fair Scottish missionary might bring, Shane O'Neill did not see why they should not be all his own, especially as he had managed somehow to produce a favourable impression on her heart. Accordingly he made a dash into Tyrconnel, and carried off both the lady and her husband to his stronghold, Shane's Castle, on the banks of Lough Neagh. Her Scotch guard, though fifteen hundred strong, had offered no resistance. O'Donel was shut up in a prison, and his wife became the willing paramour of the captor. 'The affront to McConnell was forgiven or atoned for by private arrangement, and the sister of the Earl of Argyle—an educated woman for her time, not unlearned in Latin, speaking French and Italian, counted sober, wise, and no less subtle—had betrayed herself and her husband. The O'Neills, by this last manoeuvre, became supreme in Ulster. Deprived of their head, the O'Donels sank into helplessness. The whole force of the province, such as it was, with the more serious addition of several thousand Scotch marauders, was at Shane's disposal, and thus provided, he thought himself safe in defying England to do its worst.'
[Footnote 1: Froude, Ibid.]
Meantime, Sussex had arrived in Dublin preceded by his English forces. He made a rapid preliminary movement to the north, and seized the Cathedral of Armagh, in order to make it a fortified depot for his stores. He then fell back into Meath, where he was joined by Ormond with flying companies of galloglasses. Soon after a singular attack was made on the English garrison at Armagh. Seeing a number of kernes scattered about the town, the officer in command sallied out upon them, when O'Neill suddenly appeared, accompanied by the Catholic Archbishop, on a hill outside the walls. 'The English had but time to recover their defences when the whole Irish army, led by a procession of monks, and every man carrying a fagot, came on to burn the cathedral over their heads. The monks sang a mass; the primate walked three times up and down the lines, willing the rebels to go forward, for God was on their side. Shane swore a great oath not to turn his back while an Englishman was alive; and with scream and yell his men came on. Fortunately there were no Scots among them. The English, though out-numbered ten to one, stood steady in the churchyard, and, after a sharp hand-to-hand fight, drove back the howling crowd. The Irish retired into the friars' houses outside the cathedral close, set them on fire, and ran for their lives.'
'So far,' adds Mr. Froude, 'all was well. After this there was no more talk of treating, and by the 18th, Sussex and Ormond were themselves at Armagh with a force—had there been skill to direct it—sufficient to have swept Tyrone from border to border.'
The English historian exults in the valour of the small garrison of his countrymen, well-disciplined and sheltered behind a strong wall, in resisting the assault of a howling multitude of mere Irish, and he observes significantly, that 'fortunately there were no Scots among them.' But he is obliged immediately after to record an Irish victory so signal that, according to the lord deputy himself, 'the fame of the English army so hardly gotten, was now vanished.' Yet Mr. Froude does not, in this, lay the blame of defeat upon the nationality of the vanquished. It is only the Irish nation that is made the scape-goat in such cases.
It was July, but the weather was wet, the rivers were high, Ormond was ill, Sussex would not leave his friend, and so the English army stayed in town doing nothing till the end of the month, when their failing provisions admonished them that an Irish hosting would be desirable. O'Neill, who seems to have been aware of the state of things, presented the appropriate temptation. Spies brought the lord deputy word that in the direction of Cavan there were herds of cows, which an active party might easily capture. These spies, with ardent professions of loyalty, offered to guide the English troops to the place where the booty would be found, their object being to draw them among bogs and rivers where they might be destroyed. The lord deputy did not think it necessary to accompany this host, which consisted of 200 horse, 500 men-at-arms, and some hundreds of the loyal Irish of the Pale. Shane intended to attack them the first night while resting on their march. But they escaped by an alteration of the route. Next morning they were marching on the open plain, miles from any shelter of hill or wood, when the Irish chief, with less than half their number, pursued them, and fell upon the cavalry in the rear, with the cry, 'Laundarg Aboo—the Bloody Hand—Strike for O'Neill!' The English cavalry commanded by Wingfield, seized with terror, galloped into the ranks of their own men-at-arms, rode them down, and extricated themselves only to fly panic-stricken from the field to the crest of an adjoining hill. Meantime, Shane's troopers rode through the broken ranks, cutting down the footmen on all sides. The yells and cries were heard far off through the misty morning air. Fitzwilliam, who had the chief command, was about a mile in advance at the head of another body of cavalry, when a horseman was observed by him, galloping wildly in the distance and waving his handkerchief as a signal. He returned instantly, followed by his men, and flung himself into the melee. Shane receiving such a charge of those few men, and seeing more coming after, ran no farther risk, blew a recall note, and withdrew unpursued. Fitzwilliam's courage alone prevented the army from being annihilated. Out of 500 English 50 lay dead, and 50 more were badly wounded. The survivors fell back to Armagh 'so dismayed as to be unfit for farther service.' Pitiable were the lamentations of the lord deputy to Cecil on this catastrophe. It was, said he, 'by cowardice the dreadfullest beginning that ever was seen in Ireland. Ah! Mr. Secretary, what unfortunate star hung over me that day to draw me, that never could be persuaded to be absent from the army at any time—to be then absent for a little disease of another man? The rearward was the best and picked soldiers in all this land. If I or any stout man had been that day with them, we had made an end of Shane—which is now farther off than ever it was. Never before durst Scot or Irishman look on Englishmen in plain or wood since I was here; and now Shane, in a plain three miles away from any wood, and where I would have asked of God to have had him, hath, with 120 horse, and a few Scots and galloglasse, scarce half in numbers, charged our whole army, and by the cowardice of one wretch whom I hold dear to me as my own brother, was like in one hour to have left not one man of that army alive, and after to have taken me and the rest at Armagh. The fame of the English army, so hardly gotten, is now vanished, and I, wretched and dishonoured, by the vileness of other men's deeds.'
This is real history that Mr. Froude has given us. It places the actors before us, enables us to discern their characters, tells us who they are and what they have done. It shows also the value and the necessity of documentary evidence for establishing the truth of history. How different from the vague, uncertain, shadowy representations derived from oral tradition, or mere reports, though contemporary, circulated from mouth to mouth, and exaggerated according to the interests of one party or the other. Let us for illustration compare Mr. Froude's vivid picture of this battle, so disastrous to the English, with the account given of the same event by the Annalists called the Four Masters. These writers had taken great pains to collect the most authentic records of the various Irish tribes from the invasion by Henry II. to the period of which we are writing. They were intensely Irish, and of course glad of any opportunity of recording events creditable to the valour of their countrymen. They lived in Donegal, under the protection of O'Donel, but they showed themselves quite willing to do full justice to his great rival O'Neill. The presence of the lord deputy, the Earl of Ormond, and other great men at Armagh, with a select English army, would naturally have roused their attention, and when that army was encountered and vanquished in the open field by the Irish general, we should have expected that the details of such a glorious event would have been collected with the greatest care from the accounts of eye-witnesses. The bards and historiographers should have been on the alert to do justice to their country on so great an occasion. They were on the spot, they were beside the victors, and they had no excuse whatever for ignorance. Yet here is the miserably cold, jejune, feeble, and imperfect record which we find in the Annals of the Four Masters:—'The Lord Justice of Ireland, namely Thomas Fitzwalter (Sussex), marched into Tyrone to take revenge for the capture of Caloach O'Donel, and also for his own quarrels with the country. He encamped with a great army at Armagh, and constructed deep entrenchments and impregnable ramparts about the great church of Armagh, which he intended to keep constantly guarded. O'Neill, i.e. John, having received intelligence of this, sent a party of his faithful men and friends with Caloach O'Donel to guard and keep him from the Lord Justice, and they conveyed him from one island to another, in the recesses and sequestered places of Tyrone. After some time the Lord Justice sent out from the camp at Armagh, a number of his captains with 1000 men to take some prey and plunder in Oriel. O'Neill, having received private information and intelligence of those great troops marching into Oriel, proceeded privately and silently to where they were, and came up to them after they had collected their prey; a battle ensued in which many were slain on both sides; and finally the preys were abandoned, and fell into the hands of their original possessors on that occasion.'
That is the whole account of the most signal victory over the English that had crowned the arms of Ulster during those wars! Not a word of the disparity of the forces, or the flight of the English cavalry, or the slaughter of the Englishmen-at-arms, or the humiliation and disabled condition of the garrison at Armagh. Equally unsatisfactory is the record of the subsequent march through Tyrone by Sussex, in the course of which his army slaughtered 4000 head of cattle, which they could not drive away. Of this tremendous destruction of property the Four Masters do not say a word. Such omissions often occur in their annals, even when dealing with contemporary events. Uncritical as they were and extremely credulous, how can we trust the records which they give of remote ages?
O'NEILL, SOVEREIGN OF ULSTER.
The moral atmosphere of Elizabeth's court was not favourable to public virtue. Strange to say at this time Lord Pembroke seemed to be the only nobleman connected with it whose patriotism could be depended on; and, according to Cecil, there was not another person, 'no not one' who did not either wish well to Shane O'Neill, or so ill to the Earl of Sussex as 'rather to welcome the news than regret the English loss!' It would be difficult to find 'intriguing factiousness' baser than this even in barbarous Ireland. The success of O'Neill, however, had raised him high in the opinion of the Queen, who proposed, through the Earl of Kildare, to leave him in possession of all his territories, and let him govern the Irish 'according to Irish ideas' if he would only become her vassal. Sussex had returned to Dublin with the remnant of his army, while Fitzwilliam was dispatched to London to explain the disaster, bearing with him a petition from the Irish Council, that the troops who had been living in free quarters on the tenants of the Pale should be recalled or disbanded. 'Useless in the field and tyrannical to the farmer, they were a burden on the English exchequer, and answered no purpose but to make the English name detested.'
To O'Neill the Queen sent a pardon, with a safe conduct to England, if he could be prevailed on to go. In the meantime Shane sent a message to the lord deputy, demanding the removal of the garrison from Armagh. One of his messengers, Neill Grey communicated secretly with Lord Sussex, affecting to dislike rebellion, and intimating that he might help the English to get rid of his master. The lord deputy, without the least scruple or apparent consciousness of the criminality or disgrace of the proceeding, actually proposed to this man that he should murder O'Neill. This villanous purpose he avows in his letter to the Queen. 'In fine,' said he, 'I breake with him to kill Shane; and bound myself by my oath to see him have a hundred marcs of land by the year to him, and to his heirs, for his reward. He seemed desirous to serve your Highness, and to have the land; but fearful to do it, doubting his own escape after with safety, which he confessed and promised to do by any means he might, escaping with his life. What he will do I know not, but I assure your Highness he may do it without danger if he will. And if he will not do that he may in your service, there will be done to him what others may. God send your Highness a good end.'
This English nobleman was, it seems, pious as well as honourable, and could mingle prayers with his plots for assassination. Mr. Froude suggests extenuating circumstances: 'Lord Sussex, it appears, regarded Shane as a kind of wolf, whom having failed to capture in fair chase he might destroy by the first expedient that came to his hand.' And 'English honour, like English coin, lost something of its purity in the sister island.' Of course; it was the Irish atmosphere that did it all. But Sussex was not singular in this mode of illustrating English honour. A greater than he, the chivalrous Sir Walter Raleigh, wrote to a friend in Munster, recommending the treacherous assassination of the Earl of Desmond, as perfectly justifiable. And this crime, for which an ignorant Irishman would be hanged, was deliberately suggested by the illustrious knight whilst sitting quietly in his English study. But what perplexes the historian most of all is that the Queen of England showed no resentment at the infamous proposal of Sussex. 'It is most sadly certain, however, that Sussex was continued in office, and inasmuch as it will be seen that he repeated the experiment a few months later, his letter could not have been received with any marked condemnation.' Yet Elizabeth was never in Ireland.
[Footnote 1: See Life of Sir Walter Raleigh.]
Fitzwilliam, however, returned with reinforcements of troops from Berwick, with which the deputy resolved to repair the credit of the English arms, and to set the Irish an example of civilised warfare. How did he do this? Dispatching provisions by sea to Lough Foyle, he succeeded this time in marching through Tyrone, 'and in destroying on his way 4,000 cattle, which he was unable to carry away. He had left Shane's cows to rot where he had killed them; and thus being without food, and sententiously and characteristically concluding that man by his policy might propose, but God at His will did dispose; Lord Sussex fell back by the upper waters of Lough Erne, sweeping the country before him.' When the Irish peasantry saw the carcasses of their cattle rotting along the roads, while their children were famished for want of milk, they must have been most favourably impressed with the blessings of British rule! Shane, instead of encountering the deputy on his own territory, amused himself burning villages in Meath. Neither of those rulers—those chief protectors of the people—seems to have been conscious that he was doing anything wrong in destroying the homes and the food of the wretched inhabitants, whom they alternately scourged. On the contrary, the extent of devastation which they were able to effect was supposed to put them in a better position for meeting together, and treating as honourable and gallant representatives of their respective nations.
In accordance with the desire of the Queen, Shane, fresh from the work of destruction in the Pale, was invited to a conference with Kildare. They met at Dundalk, and the Irish chief consented to wait upon Elizabeth in London, being allowed to name his own conditions. In doing so he implied 'that he was rather conferring a favour than receiving one, and that he was going to England as a victorious enemy permitting himself to be conciliated.' He demanded a safe-conduct so clearly worded that, whatever was the result of his visit, he should be free to return; he required 'a complete amnesty for his past misdeeds, and he stipulated that Elizabeth should pay all expenses for himself and his retinue; the Earls of Ormond, Desmond, and Kildare must receive him in state at Dundalk, and escort him to Dublin; Kildare must accompany him to England; and, most important of all, Armagh Cathedral must be evacuated. He did not anticipate treachery; and either he would persuade Elizabeth to recognise him, and thus prove to the Irish that rebellion was the surest road to prosperity and power, or, at worst, by venturing into England, and returning unscathed, he would show them that the Government might be defied with more than impunity.'