Disturbances in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVII

In the year 1812, the late Sir Robert Peel came to Ireland as Chief Secretary, unfortunately destitute of the enlargement of mind and the native genius of his predecessor, Sir Arthur Wellesley. His abilities, however great, were not such as to enable him to understand a nationality distinct from his own; and hence he could not deal with the Irish, either to his credit, or for their advantage. From the year 1815 to 1817 the conduct of the English Parliament towards Ireland was regulated with the nicest attention to the movements of the General who ruled the Continent. In 1817 an Act was passed, which, with admirable policy, excused Catholic officers, naval and military, from forswearing transubstantiation.

In 1821 George IV. visited Ireland. It was the first time that an English King had come to Ireland as the acknowledged sovereign of the people. Their hopes were high; and the deference for royalty, so eminently characteristic of the Celt, had at last found an opportunity of expressing itself. All that loyalty could do was done; all that the warmest heart could say was said. The King appeared impressed by demonstrations so entirely new to him; he wore a large bunch of shamrocks constantly during his brief stay; but before the shamrocks were faded, Irish wants and Irish loyalty were alike forgotten.

In the year 1824 the subject of Irish disturbances was carefully inquired into by Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament. Some extracts from their reports will give the best and most correct idea of the state of the country from the Union to the year 1834, when another investigation was made. In 1807 the county Limerick was alarmingly disturbed. In 1812 the counties of Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Limerick, Westmeath, Roscommon, and the King's county, were the theatre of the same sanguinary tumults. Limerick and Tipperary remained under the Insurrection Act until 1818. In 1820 there were serious disturbances in Galway, and in 1821, in Limerick.

These disturbances are thus accounted for Maxwell Blacker, Esq., Barrister, who was appointed to administer the Insurrection Act, in 1822, in the counties of Cork and Tipperary: "The immediate cause of the disturbance I consider to be the great increase of population, and the fall in the price of produce after the war; the consequence of which was, that it was impossible to pay the rent or the tithes that had been paid when the country was prosperous." Sir Matthew Barrington, Crown Solicitor of the Munster Circuit for seventeen years, was asked: "Do you attribute the inflammable state of the population to the state of misery in which they generally are?" "I do, to a great extent; I seldom knew any instance when there was sufficient employment for the people that they were inclined to be disturbed; if they had plenty of work and employment, they are generally peaceable." John Leslie Foster, Esq., M.P., in his examination, states: "I think the proximate cause [of the disturbances] is the extreme physical misery of the peasantry, coupled with their liability to be called upon for the payment of different charges, which it is often perfectly impossible for them to meet." Matthew Singleton, Esq., Chief Magistrate of Police in the Queen's county, said, on his examination: "I have seen, and I know land to be set one-third above its value."

It would be useless to give more of this evidence, for the details are always the same. The people were almost starving. They could scarcely get a sufficiency of the poorest food, yet they were compelled to pay rent and tithes far above the value of their land. If they were unable, they were thrown out upon the wayside to die like dogs.

There can be no doubt that the outrages thus perpetrated were very fearful. Every man's hand was against them, and their hand was against every man. They shot their landlords, and they "carded" the tithe-proctors. Gentlemen's houses were barricaded, even in the daytime. Many families of the higher classes lived in a state of siege. The windows were made bullet-proof; the doors were never opened after nightfall. It was a fearful state of society for a Christian country, and the guilt and disgrace of it was surely on those who had caused it. Yet we do not find that the knowledge of these facts produced any effect upon the men who heard them, and who alone had it in their power to apply the remedy. Still something was done; and although it is one of the stern facts of history, one can scarcely choose but smile at the simplicity of those who planned and carried out such a scheme for the improvement of Ireland.