The Graces

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXVIII. ...continued

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The Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Bulkely, was foremost in commencing the persecution. He marched, with the Mayor and a file of soldiers, to the Franciscan [2] church in Cook-street, on St. Stephen's Day, 1629, dispersed the congregation, seized the friars, profaned the church, and broke the statue of St. Francis. The friars were rescued by the people, and the Archbishop had "to take to his heels and cry out for help," to save himself. Eventually the Franciscans established their novitiates on the Continent, but still continued their devoted ministrations to the people, at the risk of life and liberty. Their house in Cook-street was pulled down by royal order, and three other chapels and a Catholic seminary were seized and converted to the King's use.

Wentworth assembled a Parliament in July, 1634, the year after his arrival in Ireland. Its subserviency was provided for by having a number of persons elected who were in the pay of the crown as military officers. The "graces" were asked for, and the Lord Deputy declared they should be granted, if the supply was readily voted. "Surely," he said, "so great a meanness cannot enter your hearts as once to suspect his Majesty's gracious regards of you, and performance with you, when you affix yourself upon his grace." This speech so took the hearts of the people, that all were ready to grant all that might be demanded; and six subsidies of £50,000 each were voted, though Wentworth only expected £30,000. In the meanwhile neither Wentworth nor the King had the slightest idea of granting the "graces;" and the atrocious duplicity and incomparable "meanness" of the King is placed eternally on record, in his own letter to his favourite, in which he thanks him "for keeping off the envy [odium] of a necessary negative from me, of those unreasonable graces that people expected from me."[3] Wentworth describes himself how two judges and Sir John Radcliffe assisted him in the plan, and how a positive refusal was made to recommend the passing of the "graces" into law at the next session.

"Charles' faith" might now safely rank with Grey's; and the poor impoverished Irishman, who would willingly have given his last penny, as well as the last drop of his blood, to save his faith, was again cruelly betrayed where he most certainly might have expected that he could have confided and trusted. One of the "graces " was to make sixty years of undisputed possession of property a bar to the claims of the crown; and certainly if there ever were a country where such a demand was necessary and reasonable, it was surely Ireland. There had been so many plantations, it was hard for anything to grow; and so many settlements, it was hard for anything to be settled. Each new monarch, since the first invasion of the country by Henry II., had his favourites to provide for and his friends to oblige. The island across the sea was considered "no man's land," as the original inhabitants were never taken into account, and were simply ignored, unless, indeed, when they made their presence very evident by open resistance to this wholesale robbery. It was no wonder, then, that this "grace" should be specially solicited. It was one in which the last English settler in Ulster had quite as great an interest as the oldest Celt in Connemara. The Burkes and the Geraldines had suffered almost as much from the rapacity of their own countrymen as the natives, on whom their ancestors had inflicted such cruel wrongs. No man's property was safe in Ireland, for the tenure was depending on the royal will; and the caprices of the Tudors were supplemented by the necessities of the Stuarts.

But the "grace" was refused, although, probably, there was many a recent colonist who would have willingly given one-half of his plantation to have secured the other to his descendants. The reason of the refusal was soon apparent. As soon as Parliament was dissolved, a Commission of "Defective Titles" was issued for Connaught. Ulster had been settled, Leinster had been settled, Munster had been settled; there remained only Connaught, hitherto so inaccessible, now, with advancing knowledge of the art of war, and new means of carrying out that art, doomed to the scourge of desolation.

The process was extremely simple. The lawyers were set to work to hunt out old claims for the crown; and as Wentworth bad determined to invalidate the title to every estate in Connaught, they had abundant occupation. Roscommon was selected for a commencement. The sheriffs were directed to select jurors who would find for the crown. The jurors were made clearly to understand what was expected from them, and what the consequences would be if they were "contumacious." The object of the crown was, of course, the general good of the country. The people of Connaught were to be civilized and enriched; but, in order to carry out this very desirable arrangement, the present proprietors were to be replaced by new landlords, and the country was to be placed entirely at the disposal of the Sovereign.[4]

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[2] Franciscan.—An account of the sufferings of the Franciscans will be found in St. Francis and the Franciscans. The Poor Clares, who are the Second Order of St. Francis, were refounded and established in Ireland, by Sir John Dillon's sister, about this time, and suffered severe persecutions. Miss Dillon, the Abbess, was brought before the Lord Deputy; but her quiet dignity made such impression on the court, that she was dismissed without molestation for the time.

[3] From me.—Strafford's State Letters, vol. i. p. 331.

[4] Sovereign.—Strafford's Letters, vol. ii. p. 241.


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