After Limerick (2)

Eleanor Hull
After Limerick | start of chapter

The only step left to make the treaty into law was its passage into an Act of Parliament. There is no doubt that William intended to carry out his pledge. To the Dublin Parliament of 1695 he urged that the treaty should be ratified as it stood. He desired peace, and had long ago offered the Irish much more favourable conditions than those of Limerick, in the hope of bringing the war to an early conclusion. But this proclamation had been ‘smothered’ by the Lords Justices, who, hearing that Limerick was about to capitulate, had hurried off to the camp “that they might hold the Irish to as hard terms as the King’s affairs would admit.” It was with these views in their minds that they drew up and signed the terms.[11]

Almost immediately a party sprang up in Ireland who determined that the Articles should never be ratified. They had hoped to reap large fortunes out of forfeitures, and the newly made Williamites, whose adhesion was probably hastened by the hope of substantial benefits accruing to the winning side, “thought that no terms at all should have been made with the Irish, but that they should have been destroyed root and branch.”

A large body of moderate Protestants were of a wholly different opinion, feeling “that it was for his Majesty’s honour and interest both abroad and at home that the Articles should be strictly observed.”[12] Story, the Williamite historian, considered that it was “fully as unreasonable to destroy other people purely because they cannot think as we do as it is for one man to ruin another because the outward figure and shape of his body is not the same with his own.”[13]

But these moderate opinions had little weight against the extreme party led by Dopping, Bishop of Meath, who preached a furious sermon against the treaty from the pulpit of Christ Church Cathedral on the return of the Lords Justices, arguing that no faith should be kept with the Irish. He was replied to the following Sunday by Dr Moreton, Bishop of Kildare, and the King showed his approval by removing Dopping and appointing Moreton in his place.

William had little power, however, and during the whole of his reign he was engaged in struggles with his English Parliament, who desired to reduce their foreign King to a figurehead in English politics. Nevertheless he cannot be absolved from having abandoned his Irish subjects to the “New Colonial Interest” then paramount in Ireland.

The Articles were altogether omitted from the consideration of the Irish Parliament of 1692–93, and by the time the Parliament of April 1695 was called together the “New Interest” had so got the upper hand that the main object in calling the Parliament was declared to be the “great work of a firm settlement of Ireland upon a Protestant interest.”

In such an atmosphere there was little chance of fair treatment for Catholics. The chances of a just fulfilment of the Articles were still further imperilled by the discussion in the same Parliament of the Acts of James’s Irish Parliament of 1689, with its Bill of Attainder against the Protestant landowners. These Acts were all declared void, and erased from the Roll, and it was in an angry spirit that the House passed on to the consideration of the Limerick treaty. They rode roughshod over its terms, altogether omitting the first clause, which contained the charter of the people’s liberties, and declared that “so much of them as may consist with the safety and welfare of your Majesty’s subjects in this kingdom” only should be confirmed.

The disputed clause in the first draft was again omitted, though solemnly sworn to by the King, and the clauses giving the Catholics the right of exercising callings and professions were annulled. Thus in point of social standing the Catholics were flung back again into the position of inferiors, barred from any hope of rising into positions of trust or influence; and in regard to religious belief they were less free than at any time under either the Tudors or the Stuarts.

An Act of the Parliament of 1692 had already made void the simple oath of allegiance which Catholics were to be called upon to take, and had substituted a new oath, including a declaration against transubstantiation, for all members of either House of the Irish Parliament, thus effectually excluding Catholic members from both Houses.

These Clauses were speedily followed by two others, one for “disarming all Papists,” except the officers covered by the Articles, and the other to restrain Catholics from sending their children abroad for education. Thus began “the dark night,” as it has well been called, of the penal laws which marked the period of Protestant ascendency, and continued for a century and a quarter, gradually spreading its corrupting and debasing influence over the whole life of the Irish people, gentry and peasants alike.

The Acts of William and Mary were succeeded in Anne’s reign by the Act of 1704 to “prevent the further growth of Popery,” the first of those two Acts which Burke has termed the “ferocious” Acts of Anne.

The effect of these Acts entered into the home by taking from a Catholic father the guardianship of his own children, and tempting a son to turn Protestant by rewarding him with his father’s lands. Properties held by Catholics were broken up by a clause which forbade their descent to the eldest son if he were of his father’s religion; in that case the property was to be equally divided among all the children; but if the eldest son was or became a Protestant, even in name, he inherited the whole property. The object of such provisions was clearly to degrade the status of the Catholic owner and to pass lands into Protestant hands.

Intermarriage with Protestants was prohibited. Catholics could neither purchase, sell, bequeath, or inherit landed property, or take land on a longer lease than thirty-one years; and all inducement to improve land was taken away by a provision that if a farm produced a profit greater than one-third of the rent, it should pass to any Protestant who should discover the rate of profit. Such a provision led directly to the revival of the hideous trade of the “informer,” who reaped profit from his interference with his neighbour’s concerns.

By the penal laws a Catholic could neither rise in the army nor act as a solicitor, a profession hitherto open to him; the amount of land he might possess was limited both in size and in the duration of his lease; he could not vote on vestries, serve on grand juries, act as constable, sheriff, or magistrate, vote at elections, or sit in Parliament. In every honourable walk in life he was restrained by the knowledge that there was nothing to which he could rise, nor any post of responsibility or trust open to him. He dared not send his sons abroad for education, and he had difficulty in educating them at home, for by the Act of 8th Anne, no Popish schoolmaster might teach either publicly in school or privately in the home, while all priests had to be registered, and were strictly limited in number.

There had been several good Catholic schools in Ireland, and in the reign of James I a Commission was set up to enquire into their system of teaching. One, that of Alexander Lynch of Galway, was specially commended for the intelligence and answering of its students. It was a large school, numbering one thousand two hundred pupils. Lynch was admonished to change his religion and teaching, if he would keep his school open. But he continued in his old way and his school was closed by order of the Commissioners. It shows the strength of religious prejudice at the period, that the president of this Commission was Ussher, Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College, a man famous for learning and deeply interested in education; sympathetic, too, to Irish studies and one of the first to collect valuable manuscripts for his college. Yet he could approve of the closing of such a school as Lynch’s. But it is just to remember that Protestant schools in France or Spain would, at this period, have met with a like fate.

Politically the main body of the Irish nation ceased to exist for over a century, and socially they were held down to the grade of small farmers unable, like their Protestant neighbours, either to appear in public with a sword at their side in the manner of a gentleman, or to possess a horse of the value of more than £5.

No occupations but the linen trade, which it was desired to encourage and for which they might take apprentices, were open to them, save in a small way, the number of their apprentices in all other trades being confined to two.

These cruel and degrading laws arose out of no political necessity and were the outcome of no rebellion; they originated, not in England, but in Ireland itself, and they were inspired by the grasping selfishness of the party in power there. They were confirmed in England largely in consequence of the petitions which reached the English from the Irish Parliament. Their sole object was to support “the English and Protestant interest,” which was the paramount theme in the Irish official correspondence of the day.

The worst penal Act of Anne’s reign was drawn up in England in 1704 in response to an appeal of the Irish Parliament of November 19, 1703, which outlined the heads of the Bill it was desired to have passed.[14] The Catholics were not the only sufferers; the Sacramental Test disfranchised at the same moment the whole body of Dissenters, Independents, Presbyterians, Huguenots, and Quakers, excluding them equally from the army, the civil service, the corporations, and the magistracy.

Such wholesale disabilities, affecting all but a small minority of the nation, could obviously not be fully enforced, but their existence served as a perpetual sore, opening the way to continual friction and petty revenges and insults exercised by the stronger party upon the weaker. They tended to depress industry, impoverish the nation and plunge it into ignorance and servitude.

The immediate result of the penal laws was to throw a large part of the population out of employment. “We are apt to charge the Irish with laziness,” wrote Swift a few years later, “because we seldom find them employed, but then we do not consider that they have nothing to do.”[15] He was speaking of the Protestants, who lived by industry, but the same could be said in an even greater degree of the Catholics, who lived largely by the land.

The youths of the country, finding all paths closed to them, left Ireland in large numbers, to take service in foreign countries. A hundred years later this exodus was still going on. Lord Charlemont, writing about 1780, laments the deplorable situation of the Catholic gentry in his day.

“Their sons were destitute of professions; the only occupation left them was foreign service, and of this they availed themselves; but in the French service, in which a national brigade had been formed for their reception … they often found themselves compelled to fight against their King and country and to exercise their native valour to the destruction of that soil from whence it was derived. … When abroad I had been intimately acquainted with many of my countrymen in foreign service and never knew one who did not regret the horrid necessity of bearing arms against his country. My most particular friend, the brave and truly amiable General O’Donnell, when speaking on this subject, often wept.”[16]

On the sufferers the Penal Laws had a double result. They not only degraded them, but they made them lawless. Legislation that is unjust will be defied; when it cannot be defied it will be evaded, and the origin of that defiance of law which we freely blame in the Irish people may be found to a large extent in the sense that for a hundred years they were living under laws that they knew to be unjust and felt to be humiliating.

The object of the Penal Laws has been summed up as being designed “to make the Catholics poor and to keep them poor.” But they were even more directly aimed at making and keeping them impotent both in political and social life.

The possession of unlimited power by a small order is always attended by the worst results, and in Ireland it ended in the creation of a class familiarly known as “the Protestant Bashaws” of the South and West. These men strenuously and consistently opposed any attempts to alleviate the condition of their tenants, whom they regarded practically as serfs, or of their Catholic neighbours, whom they considered to belong to an inferior race.

The Penal Code ended in the complete separation of the two classes; and Hardy, in the years preceding emancipation, considers that this was the cause of the “hereditary scowl and mien of disgust and alienation which so long deformed the faces of Irishmen.”[17]

There were, as was inevitable, a certain number of real or pretended conversions, and a good deal of outward conformity either with the object of retaining property and position or of gaining it. These so-called conversions were naturally distrusted; and Boulter expressed alarm at the large number of these pseudo-Protestants who were practising the profession of the law, the practice of which, he says, “from the top to the bottom is almost wholly in the hands of these converts.”[18]

A more agreeable side of the matter was the friendly relations entered into between some of the Catholic landowners and their Protestant neighbours, who nominally became, by private arrangement, the temporary holders of the lands, with the intention of restoring them when the rigour of the Penal Laws should be relaxed. In most cases these compacts were scrupulously observed, and the forfeited properties were handed back to the descendants of the original owners without loss or deduction.

The O’Connell properties at Derrynane, which were considerably enlarged by the business habits of the Liberator’s grandfather, even before the passing of the Relief Bill by the Irish Parliament in 1782, were retained in the family by the good offices of Hugh Falvey, of Faha, who had conformed to the Protestant faith in order to become a barrister-at-law, and who, until a short time before his death, acted as trustee to the O’Connell estate.[19]

On the other hand, Dr. O’Conor tells us that his uncle, Denis O’Conor of Belanagare, who forfeited one-fourth of his property for adherence to the cause of James II, was obliged to plough his own land after the defeat of the Jacobite armies. He was wont to say to his children, “Boys, you must not be impudent to the poor: I am the son of a gentleman, but ye are the children of a ploughman.” Many others must have been circumstanced in a similar way.

The Penal Laws were the more unjust because the Catholics had not by any overt act given reason to the new dynasty to fear their disloyalty. Nor did they later take any part in the risings in favour of either the Old or the Young Pretender, their love for the young Charles Stuart being purely a sentimental one, which had no open consequences.

Many of their bishops and priests, in spite of the disabilities and actual penalties under which they were suffering continued to charge their flocks, both in public and private, to co-operate with their Protestant brethren to preserve order and tranquillity.

From time to time they sent to the Government addresses couched in the most loyal terms, while exhorting their people “to be just in their dealings, sober in their conduct, religious in their practice, to avoid riots, quarrels, and tumult and thus to approve themselves good citizens, peaceable subjects, and pious Christians.”

In a remarkable declaration made in 1775, in the reign of George III when the Penal Laws were as yet unrevoked, they express their unfeigned loyalty to the Crown, and they explicitly abjure all those doctrines current at an earlier time—that it is lawful to murder, destroy, or injure any person whatever under excuse that he is a heretic, or to break an oath made to a heretic. They abjure the power of the Pope to loose them from their allegiance to King George, and they declare “that neither the Pope of Rome or any other prince, prelate, state, or potentate hath or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority, or preeminence, directly or indirectly, within this realm.”

Nothing could be more explicit than this protest, which was signed by a number of clergy and laity of rank and sent to Rome as the act and deed of the Irish Catholics. It was formed on the model of several earlier protests, but it adds the remarkable promise that when they are restored to the franchise of their country they will uphold, and see that their representatives uphold, the arrangements made by Act of Parliament, as established by the different Acts of Attainder and Settlement; a most unexpected statement as coming from those who had most severely suffered by those Acts.