Soggarth Aroon

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXIV

It could not be expected that the Irish priest would see the people exposed to all this misery—and what to them was far more painful, to all this temptation to commit deadly sin—without making some effort in their behalf. There may have been some few priests, who, in their zeal for their country, have sacrificed the sacredness of their office to their indignation at the injury done to their people—who have mixed themselves up with feats of arms, or interfered with more ardour than discretion in the arena of politics; but such instances have been rare, and circumstances have generally made them in some degree excusable.

The position of the Irish priest in regard to his flock is so anomalous, that some explanation of it seems necessary in order to understand the accusations made against Father Nicholas Sheehy, and the animosity with which he was hunted to death by his persecutors. While the priest was driven from cave to mountain and from mountain to cave, he was the consoler of his equally persecuted people. The deep reverence which Catholics feel for the office of the priesthood, can scarcely be understood by those who have abolished that office, as far as the law of the land could do so; but a man of ordinary intellectual attainments ought to be able to form some idea:of the feelings of others, though he may not have experienced them personally; and a man of ordinary humanity should be able to respect those feelings, however unwise they may seem to him.

When education was forbidden to the Irish, the priest obtained education in continental colleges; and there is sufficient evidence to show that many Irish priests of that and of preceding centuries were men of more than ordinary abilities. The Irish, always fond of learning, are ever ready to pay that deference to its possessors which is the best indication of a superior mind, however uncultivated. Thus, the priesthood were respected both for their office and for their erudition.

The landlord, the Protestant clergyman, the nearest magistrate, and, perhaps, the tithe-proctor, were the only educated persons in the neighbourhood; but they were leagued against the poor peasant; they demanded rent and tithes, which he had no means of paying; they refused justice, which he had no means of obtaining. The priest, then, was the only friend the peasant had. His friendship was disinterested—he gained nothing by his ministration but poor fare and poor lodging; his friendship was self-sacrificing, for he risked his liberty and his life for his flock. He it was—

"Who, in the winter's night,
When the cold blast did bite,
Came to my cabin door,
And, on the earthen floor,
Knelt by me, sick and poor;"

and he, too, when the poor man was made still poorer by his sickness,

"Gave, while his eyes did brim,
What I should give to him."[7]


[7] Him.—The ballad of Soggarth Aroon (priest, dear) was written by John Banim, in 1831. It is a most true and vivid expression of the feelings of the Irish towards their priests.