The Catholic Church in 1848 - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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wives, and little ones, wending their way to Cork or Waterford, to take shipping for America; the people not yet ejected, frightened and desponding; with no interest in the lands they tilled, no property in the house above their heads; no food, no arms, with the slavish habits bred by long ages of oppression ground into their souls, and that momentary proud flush of passionate hope kindled by O'Connell's agitation, long since dimmed and darkened by bitter hunger and hardship,—Ah! how could the storm-voice of Demosthenes, and the burning song of Tyrtaeus rouse such a people as this! A whole Pentecost of fiery tongues, if they descended upon such a dull material, would fall extinguished in smoke and stench like a lamp blown out.

So one might well anticipate: and so it would assuredly be amongst any other peasantry on earth, who had been so long subjected to a similar treatment. But there is in the Irish nature a wonderful spring and an intense vitality: insomuch that I believe, even now, the chances of a successful insurrection in '48 to have been by no means desperate. At any rate, O'Brien and his comrades were resolute to give the people a chance; knowing full well that though they should be mown down in myriads by shot and steel, it would be a better lot than poor-houses and famine graves.

It is needful, here, to speak of the Irish priesthood and the part which they took in that last agony of our country. Hitherto I have not had occasion to say much of the Catholic Church, though it makes so potent an element in Irish life, for the reason that in all vehement popular movements it always follows the people, and never leads: unless the movement be strong and sweeping enough to command and coerce the clergy, the clergy keep aloof from it altogether. Instinctively, the Church adheres to what is established, opposes violent action, sympathizes only with success. Thus, in O'Connell's Repeal Agitation, several bishops held themselves neutral; and hundreds of priests, as was well known, were zealous Repealers against their will; only because the popular passion was too strong for them to resist. About the time of my imprisonment, and before the "government" had shown themselves thoroughly resolved to put forth all their resources both of force and fraud to crush us, many of the Catholic clergy had come over to the "Young Ireland " party, which then promised to be strong enough to command the services of the Church. Some of them, I am happy to acknowledge, being more Irishmen than Romans, did from the first fully sympathize with the national aspirations of their island,—did profoundly feel her wrongs, and burn to redress or avenge them. When the final scene opened, however, and the whole might of the empire was gathering itself to crush us, the ...continue reading »

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