Irish Volunteers

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXIV. concluded

The Volunteer Corps, which had been formed in Belfast in 1779, when the coast was threatened by privateers, had now risen to be a body of national importance. They were reviewed in public, and complimented by Parliament. But they were patriots. On the 28th of December, 1781, a few of the leading members of the Ulster regiments met at Charlemont, and convened a meeting of delegates from all the Volunteer Associations, at Dungannon, on the 15th of February, 1782. The delegates assembled on the appointed day, and Government dared not prevent or interrupt their proceedings. Colonel William Irvine presided, and twenty-one resolutions were adopted, demanding civil rights, and the removal of commercial restraints. One resolution expresses their pleasure, as Irishmen, as Christians, and as Protestants, at the relaxation of the penal laws. This resolution was suggested by Grattan to Mr. Dobbs, as he was leaving Dublin to join the assembly. It was passed with only two dissentient votes.

The effect of this combined, powerful, yet determined agitation, was decisive. On the 27th of May, 1782, when the Irish Houses met, after an adjournment of three weeks, the Duke of Portland announced the unconditional concessions which had been made to Ireland by the English Parliament. Mr. Grattan interpreted the concession in the fullest sense, and moved an address, "breathing the generous sentiments of his noble and confiding nature."

Mr. Flood and a few other members took a different and more cautious view of the case. They wished for something more than a simple repeal of the Act of 6 George I., and they demanded an express declaration that England would not interfere with Irish affairs. But his address was carried by a division of 211 to 2; and the House, to show its gratitude, voted that 20,000 Irish seamen should be raised for the British navy, at a cost of £100,000, and that £50,000 should be given to purchase an estate and build a house for Mr. Grattan, whose eloquence had contributed so powerfully to obtain what they hoped would prove justice to Ireland.