Insurrection Act in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVI

The Viceroyalty of Earl FitzWilliam once more gave the Irish nation some hope that England would grant them justice. But he was soon recalled; Lord Camden was sent in his stead; and the country was given up to the Beresford faction, who were quite willing to co-operate in Mr. Pitt's plan of setting Protestants and Catholics against each other, of exciting open rebellion, and of profiting by the miseries of the nation to forge new chains for it, by its parliamentary union with England. Everything was done now that could be done to excite the Catholics to rebellion.

The Orangemen, if their own statement on oath [6] is to be trusted, were actually bribed to persecute the Catholics; sermons [7] were preached by Protestant ministers to excite their feelings; and when the Catholics resisted, or offered reprisals, they were punished with the utmost severity, while their persecutors always escaped. Lord Carhampton, a grandson of the worthless Henry Luttrell, who had betrayed the Irish at the siege of Limerick, commanded the army, and his cruelty is beyond description. An Insurrection Act was passed in 1796; magistrates were allowed to proclaim counties; suspected persons were to be banished the country or pressed into the fleet, without the shadow of trial; and Acts of Indemnity [8] were passed, to shield the magistrates and the military from the consequences of any unlawful cruelties which fanaticism or barbarity might induce them to commit.

Grattan appealed boldly and loudly against these atrocities. "These insurgents," he said, "call themselves Protestant Boys—that is, a banditti of murderers, committing massacre in the name of God, and exercising despotic power in the name of liberty." The published declaration of Lord Gosford and of thirty magistrates, who attempted to obtain some justice for the unfortunate subjects of these wrongs, is scarcely less emphatic. It is dated December 28, 1795: "It is no secret that a persecution, accompanied with all the circumstances of ferocious cruelty which have in all ages distinguished this calamity, is now raging in this country; neither age, nor sex, nor even acknowledged innocence, is sufficient to excite mercy or afford protection. The only crime which the unfortunate objects of this persecution are charged with, is a crime of easy proof indeed; it is simply a profession of the Roman Catholic faith. A lawless banditti have constituted themselves judges of this species of delinquency, and the sentence they pronounce is equally concise and terrible; it is nothing less than a confiscation of all property and immediate banishment—a prescription that has been carried into effect, and exceeds, in the number of those it consigns to ruin and misery, every example that ancient or modern history can supply. These horrors are now acting with impunity. The spirit of justice has disappeared from the country; and the supineness of the magistracy of Armagh has become a common topic of conversation in every corner of the kingdom."

One should have supposed that an official declaration from such an authority, signed by the Governor of Armagh and thirty magistrates, would have produced some effect on the Government of the day; but the sequel proved that such honorable exposure was as ineffective as the rejected petition of millions of Catholics. The formation of the yeomanry corps filled up the cup of bitterness. The United Irishmen, seeing no hope of constitutional redress, formed themselves into a military organization. But, though the utmost precautions were used to conceal the names of members and the plans of the association, their movements were well known to Government from an early period. Tone, in the meantime, came to France from America, and induced Carnot to send an expedition to Ireland, under the command of General Hoche. It ended disastrously. A few vessels cruised for a week in the harbour of Bantry Bay; but, as the remainder of the fleet, which was separated by a fog, did not arrive, Grouchy, the second in command, returned to France.


[6] Oath.—I give authority for these details. In the spring of 1796, three Orangemen swore before a magistrate of Down and Armagh, that the Orangemen frequently met in committees, amongst whom were some members of Parliament, who gave them money, and promised that they should not suffer for any act they might commit, and pledged themselves that they should be provided for by Government. The magistrate informed the Secretary of State, and asked how he should act; but he never received any answer. For further details on this head, see Plowden's History of the Insurrection.

[7] Sermons.—On the 1st of July, 1795, the Rev. Mr. Monsell, a Protestant clergyman of Portadown, invited his flock to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne by attending church, and preached such a sermon against the Papists that his congregation fell on every Catholic they met going home, beat them cruelly, and finished the day by murdering two farmer's sons, who were quietly at work in a bog.—Mooney's History of Ireland, p. 876.

[8] Indemnity.—Lord Carhampton sent 1,300 men on board the fleet, on mere suspicion. They demanded a trial in vain. An Act of Indemnity was at once passed, to free his Lordship from any unpleasant consequences.