Robert Holmes in Defence of John Mitchel - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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the horrible sufferings and high aspirations of my country crowding on memory and imagination, and the moan of our perishing nation seeming to penetrate even there, and to load the air I breathed; beholding the cause of our ancient nationhood brought to be decided, not, as I had hoped, by the proud array of our people in the field, but by the ignominious parchments of a dastard lawyer and the packed jury of a perjured Sheriff. Scorn almost overcame indignation, as I saw the exquisitely elaborated preparations of the enemy: and I felt that I would respect Lord Clarendon far more if he had hired one of his detectives to stab me in the dark. That would have been a crime; but surely not so vile and hideous a crime as this prostitution of the Courts and the name and forms of Justice.

The trial proceeded. The leading counsel for the defence was old Robert Holmes,—the brother-in-law of Robert Emmet,—the most eminent barrister in Ireland;—who had always refused the honour of a silk gown, and all other honours and promotions, at the hands of a government which he believed to be the mortal enemy of his country. Of course, he challenged the array of jurors on the ground of fraud; but the Attorney-General's brother, Stephen Monahan, clerk in the Attorney-General's office, and also one Wheeler, clerk in the Sheriff's office, had been carefully sent out of the city to a distant part of Ireland; and Baron Lefroy was most happy to avail himself of the defect of evidence to give his opinion that the panel was a good and honest panel. The Crown used its privilege of peremptory challenge to the very uttermost; every Catholic, and most Protestants, who answered to their names, were ordered to "stand by." There were thirty-nine challenges: nineteen Catholics,—all the Catholics who answered to their names were peremptorily set aside, and twenty other gentlemen, who, though Protestants, were suspected of some national feeling, were also set aside:—that is to say, the Crown dared not go to trial with me before the people, Catholic or Protestant. The twelve men finally obtained by the sifting process had amongst them two or three Englishmen; the rest were faithful slaves of the Castle; and all Protestants of the most Orange dye.

Of course there was a "verdict" of guilty; and a sentence of fourteen years' transportation. The facts charged were easily proved; they were patent, notorious, often repeated, and ostentatiously deliberate; insomuch that jurymen who felt themselves to be subjects of the Queen of England could not do otherwise than convict. On the other hand, any Irish Nationalist must acquit. Never before had the government of the foreign enemy and the ...continue reading »

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