The Character of Grattan's Parliament, and its Effect on the Nation, 1783-1800

29. Grattan's Parliament, as it has deservedly been called, was now, for a short term of years, absolute in Ireland. It was, indeed, virtually a Sovereign Parliament, under a Dual Monarchy. Yet, it is necessary to examine that Parliament. Not a member of the ancient Irish nation was present in it, or represented in it. Grattan declared: "I am now to address a free people. . . . Ireland is now a nation. In that new character I hail her, and bowing to her august presence I say, Esto perpetua." But the words he spoke were untrue. He himself had no thought of permitting within the walls of the house wherein he spoke a single member of the Irish nation." Flood, his colleague in the battle that was won, stood avowedly for the jailer ascendancy. The Earl of Charlemont, who had provided the sinews without which that war would have ended with indignant words, and the Duke of Leinster, who commanded the Volunteers outside the Parliament House, would have greeted with horror the civil or religious liberty of the submerged nation.

The parliament which Grattan eulogised was filled with placemen who represented nothing; it made claims for a small and decreasing ascendancy that did not, for the most part, even reside in Ireland; and the ancient Irish nation, who now formed the overwhelming majority of the population, was left outside its doors. Yet it cannot be thought that such vivid happenings would be without their effect. An object-lesson so apposite could not but stir a nation lying in a bondage beside which the captivity of their jailers was as a silken robe to a chain of iron. It could not but remind them of the memories of their national greatness of which they had spoken in their misery. They were now, not only the historic nation, but the overwhelming part of the population of Ireland. They had multiplied greatly; whereas those to whom their lands had been granted had removed to England, where they spent the hard profits won from the soil of Ireland. Also, they had never relinquished their hope of national freedom. For fear of evil consequences, Grattan disbanded the Irish Volunteers, when they had taken him as far as he wished to go; but the lessons of that organisation were not forgotten, and many of its leading spirits were ready to continue the work it had begun. The nation was ready to hear. It only awaited a leader who would give the one signal it would heed: the signal for a rising to win entire freedom for the whole nation.