Disappointed Hopes (1793-1795)

Patrick Weston Joyce

872. The government kept a strict watch on the United Irishmen, the Catholic Committee, and all such associations, so as to be ready for prosecutions as occasions might arise. At a meeting of United Irishmen held in Dublin in February 1798, with the Hon. Simon Butler as chairman, and Oliver Bond, a Dublin merchant, as secretary, an address was adopted and circulated, animadverting on the conduct of the lords in a secret inquiry about the Defenders. For this Butler and Bond were sentenced to be imprisoned for six months and to pay a fine of £500 each.

873. Archibald Hamilton Rowan, the son of a landed proprietor of Ulster, who had been conspicuous as a volunteer, and was now a United Irishman, circulated an address to the volunteers written by Dr. Drennan. For this he was prosecuted, and was defended by Curran in one of his most brilliant speeches. He was convicted of a seditious libel, and sentenced to be imprisoned for two years, and to pay a fine of £500.

874. While Rowan was in prison, an emissary from France arrived in Ireland to sound the people about a French invasion: the Rev. William Jackson, a Protestant clergyman of Irish extraction. He had with him a London attorney named Cockayne, to whom he had confided his secret, but who was really a spy in the pay of Pitt. These two had interviews with the leading United Irishmen in Dublin—Wolfe Tone, Leonard MacNally, Hamilton Rowan then in the Dublin Newgate prison, and others.

875. MacNally was a Dublin attorney, who managed the legal business of the United Irishmen: he was trusted by them with their innermost secrets, and lived and died in their friendship and confidence. Long after his death it was discovered that he was all the time a spy in government pay. Tone drew out a report on the state of Ireland for Jackson, who kept a copy of it in Hamilton Rowan's handwriting.

876. When the government, who knew all that was going on, thought matters were sufficiently ripe, they arrested Jackson on the 28th of April 1794. Rowan, knowing that his handwriting would betray him, contrived to escape on the 1st of May by bribing a jailer: and although £1,000 were offered for his arrest he made his way to France and thence to America. On the 23rd April of the following year Jackson was tried and convicted of treason on the evidence of Cockayne. But he had managed to take a dose of arsenic before coming into court, and dropped dead in the dock.

877. Towards the end of 1794 people's minds became greatly excited in Ireland, when it became known that Pitt had determined to adopt a policy of conciliation, and to drop coercion. With this object lord Westmoreland was recalled, and the earl of Fitzwilliam, a just, liberal, and enlightened man, having large estates in Ireland, came as lord lieutenant on the 4th of January 1795 with the firm determination, which he did not conceal, to completely emancipate the Catholics. His arrival naturally excited their hopes, and they gave him an enthusiastic reception.

878. He at once applied himself to the work intrusted to him. He removed Edward Cooke from the post of undersecretary on a pension of £1,200 a year; also John Beresford, the commissioner of customs, whose relations held most of the lucrative offices of his department, and who retired on full pay. Both of these had been identified with the system lord Fitzwilliam came to break up. In the joy of the good news, parliament voted a large sum of money for the expenses of the navy in the war now going on with France, and 20,000 men for the army.

879. As the first direct move, Grattan, having previously arranged the matter with the viceroy, brought in a bill on the 12th of February for the admission of Catholics to parliament. But an unexpected obstacle arose which disconcerted all the intended reforms, and dashed the hopes of the Catholics.

880. A bill in order to become law must have the concurrence of the three branches of the legislature:—the king, the lords, and the commons. Beresford, after his dismissal, went to England and made bitter complaints. He had a long private interview with the king and seems to have persuaded him that the Protestant religion was in danger. The king interposed his veto: and that ended the matter. All progress was stopped. Beresford was restored, ascendancy got another lease of life, and the old policy of coercion was resumed. Earl Fitzwilliam was recalled and left Ireland on the 25th of March 1795. He was escorted by sorrowing crowds to the water side, and his coach was drawn along by some of the leading citizens, while the shops were closed and the city put on the appearance of mourning.

881. The disappointment spread sorrow and indignation all over the country, not only among the Catholics, but also among the Protestants of the two parties—the moderates led by Grattan and the more advanced represented by the United Irishmen. That cruel disappointment, from whatever cause, was in a great measure answerable for the tremendous evils that followed.

The king's objections are commonly put forward as the cause of the sudden change of policy. But some suppose that the whole scheme was planned by Pitt in order to obtain large supplies from the Irish parliament.