The Irish Question

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Preface to First Edition continued

With regard to Englishmen, I cannot do better than quote the speech of an English member of Parliament, Alderman Salomons, who has just addressed his constituents at Greenwich in these words:—

"The state of Ireland will, doubtless, be a prominent subject of discussion next session. Any one who sympathizes with distressed nationalities in their struggles, must, when he hears of the existence of a conspiracy in Ireland, similar to those combinations which used to be instituted in Poland in opposition to Russian oppression, be deeply humiliated. Let the grievances of the Irish people be probed, and let them be remedied when their true nature is discovered. Fenianism is rife, not only in Ireland, but also in England, and an armed police required, which is an insult to our liberty. I did not know much of the Irish land question, but I know that measures have been over and over again brought into the House of Commons with a view to its settlement, and over and over again they have been cushioned or silently withdrawn. If the question can be satisfactorily settled, why let it be so, and let us conciliate the people of Ireland by wise and honorable means. The subject of the Irish Church must also be considered. I hold in my hand an extract from the report of the commissioner of the Dublin Freeman's Journal, who is now examining the question. It stated what will be to you almost incredible—namely, that the population of the united dioceses of Cashel, Emly, Waterford, and Lismore is 370,978, and that of those only 13,000 are members of the Established Church, while 340,000 are Roman Catholics. If you had read of this state of things existing in any other country, you would call out loudly against it. Such a condition of things, in which large revenues are devoted, not for the good of the many, but the few, if it does not justify Fenianism, certainly does justify a large measure of discontent. I am aware of the difficulties in the way of settling the question, owing to the fear of a collision between Protestants and Catholics; but I think Parliament ought to have the power to make the Irish people contented."

This speech, I believe, affords a fair idea of the opinion of educated and unprejudiced Englishmen on the Irish question. They do not know much about Irish history; they have heard a great deal about Irish grievances, and they have a vague idea that there is something wrong about the landlords, and something wrong about the ecclesiastical arrangements of the country. I believe a careful study of Irish history is essential to the comprehension of the Irish question; and it is obviously the moral duty of every man who has a voice in the government of the nation, to make himself master of the subject. I believe there are honest and honorable men in England, who would stand aghast with horror if they thoroughly understood the injustices to which Ireland has been and still is subject. The English, as a nation, profess the most ardent veneration for liberty. To be a patriot, to desire to free one's country, unless, indeed, that country happen to have some very close connexion with their own, is the surest way to obtain ovations and applause.

It is said that circumstances alter cases; they certainly alter opinions, but they do not alter facts. An Englishman applauds and assists insurrection in countries where they profess to have for their object the freedom of the individual or of the nation; he imprisons and stifles it at home, where the motive is precisely similar, and the cause, in the eyes of the insurgents at least, incomparably more valid. But I do not wish to raise a vexed question, or to enter on political discussions; my object in this Preface is simply to bring before the minds of Englishmen that they have a duty to perform towards Ireland—a duty which they cannot cast aside on others—a duty which it may be for their interest, as well as for their honour, to fulfil. I wish to draw the attention of Englishmen to those Irish grievances which are generally admitted to exist, and which can only be fully understood by a careful and unprejudiced perusal of Irish history, past and present. Until grievances are thoroughly understood, they are not likely to be thoroughly remedied. While they continue to exist, there can be no real peace in Ireland, and English prosperity must suffer in a degree from Irish disaffection.