Statute of Kilkenny

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXII

Lionel, the third son of Edward III., who, it will be remembered, was Earl of Ulster in right of his wife, Isabella, was now appointed Viceroy. He landed in Dublin, on the 15th September, 1360, with an army of one thousand men. From the first moment of his arrival he exercised the most bitter hostility to the Irish, and enhanced the invidious distinction between the English by birth and the English by descent. Long before his arrival, the "mere Irishman" was excluded from the offices of mayor, bailiff, or officer in any town within the English dominions, as well as from all ecclesiastical promotion. Lionel carried matters still further, for he forbid any "Irish by birth to come near his army." But he soon found that he could not do without soldiers, even should they have the misfortune to be Irish; and as a hundred of his best men were killed soon after this insulting proclamation, he was graciously pleased to allow all the King's subjects to assist him in his war against the enemy. He soon found it advisable to make friends with the colonists, and obtained the very substantial offering of two years' revenue of their lands, as a return for his condescension.

In 1367 the Viceroy returned to England, but he was twice again intrusted with office in Ireland. During the last period of his administration, he held the memorable Parliament at Kilkenny, wherein the famous "Statute of Kilkenny" was enacted. This statute is another proof of the fatal policy pursued towards the Irish, and of the almost judicial blindness which appears to have prevented the framers of it, and the rulers of that unfortunate nation, from perceiving the folly or the wickedness of such enactments.

It was a continuance of the old policy. The natives of the country were to be trampled down, if they could not be trampled out; the English and Irish were to be kept for ever separate, and for ever at variance. How, then, could the Irish heart ever beat loyally towards the English sovereign? How could the Irish people ever become an integral portion of the British Empire? Pardon me for directing your attention specially to this statute. It will explain to you that the Irish were not allowed to be loyal; it will excuse them if they have sometimes resented such cruel oppressions by equally cruel massacres and burnings—if they still remembered these wrongs with that statute before them, and the unfortunate fact that its enactments were virtually continued for centuries.

This statute enacts (1) that any alliance with the Irish by marriage, nurture of infants, or gossipred [standing sponsors], should be punishable as high treason; (2) that any man of English race taking an Irish name, or using the Irish language, apparel, or customs, should forfeit all his lands; (3) that to adopt or submit to the Brehon law was treason; (4) that the English should not make war upon the natives without the permission of Government; (5) that the English should not permit the Irish to pasture or graze upon their lands, nor admit them to any ecclesiastical benefices or religious houses, nor entertain their minstrels or rhymers. (6) It was also forbidden to impose or cess any soldiers upon the English subjects against their will, under pain of felony; and some regulations were made to restrain the abuse of sanctuary, and to prevent the great lords from laying heavy burdens upon gentlemen and freeholders.