The Suppressed Informations

From Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, 1868

By 'An Ulsterman'

THE mystery which the Government has shown its wish to preserve with regard to the evidence furnished by the so-called General Massey, has naturally been the cause of various wild and strange rumours, especially in Ireland; and reactionary partizans have not neglected the opportunity of endeavouring to cast a shadow of suspicion over the more prominent of their political opponents in Great Britain. It would, of course, be unfair to say that such a result was officially intended, even although it may have been foreseen. But conjectures do not end here, nor are they all built on so slender a basis of fact. There are other grave suppositions concerning the amount of aid and countenance given to Fenianism by foreign Powers which have a better foundation. They seem to be endorsed by Lord Derby's intimation that he could not imagine a course more likely to embroil this country with foreign Powers than that the Government should lay before Parliament all the information it possesses with regard to the countenance and support which such conspiracies may have received from Foreign States.

An intimation like this affords apparent reason to believe that the suppressed informations contain revelations at once extremely criminatory and extremely unexpected. It is natural that men of fertile imagination should fill up such an outline with the darkest colours in the pictures they think proper to present to their neighbours. But in reality there is a flaw in their reasoning. It does not follow from Lord Derby's statement that, with regard to the conspiracy or to the countenance it has received, the suppressed informations contained much beyond what was already generally known. The graver character assigned to them could be explained by the simple fact that the statements they contain have now passed from the region of mere public intelligence, and become embodied in an official document. The Government might previously have ignored any awkward relationships which may have existed between the conspiracy and foreign Powers; it only becomes officially cognizant of them when the sworn testimony is placed within its hands. So long as this is secret, it is free to act or not to act, as it thinks proper; to ignore the disagreeable statements, or to make them the occasion for merely informal enquiry and remonstrance. Should they, however, be officially produced, it could no longer, with a due regard to its honour, avoid taking formal action in the matter and demanding an explanation from the States implicated. Such a course would, no doubt, cause little hesitation or embarrassment were the Powers in question inferior in strength or undoubtedly friendly in disposition. But it happens that the States which are thus called in question in the suppressed informations are neither the one nor the other.

Before alluding to some points, which we have reason to believe have been referred to by the informer, it may be as well to state that the so-called General Massey was not at all the head and front of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, so that this league is not decapitated by losing him. He was not even one of the prominent personages of the American Fenians, so that neither have they suffered any mortal blow. Having served in a subordinate position in the British army for a short time, he emigrated to America, and became an officer in the Confederate forces. When the Confederacy had suffered defeat and dissolution, he next found employment as Fenian "Organizer" in the district of Louisiana. He visited Ireland with some other Irish-American officers at a period previous to his recent advent, when it was expected that an outbreak would take place. When it was found that there was no prospect of active service, or of freedom from molestation, or even of punctual and plentiful pay in Ireland, he retired to America again with his brothers in arms. Stephens did not obtain much credit for the due discharge of his functions at this period.

The Irish-American officers were greatly displeased with his conduct; and this combined with other things to defeat his opposition, when, just before the recent outbreak, Massey volunteered to invade Ireland if a fund of five hundred guineas were placed at his disposal. He reveals, in his informations, how he distributed portions of this sum to four Irish-Republican officers whom he met in London, and despatched to their several districts, with orders to hold themselves in readiness for the signal of insurrection. Next he proceeded to Dublin, where a meeting of "centres" was convened immediately, to confer with him on the subject of ways and means. He found that the members were numerous and willing, but not sufficiently prepared, and very imperfectly supplied with arms. In the Dublin district, little by little, they had succeeded in drilling and disciplining a body of some 18,000 recruits, many of whom, however, were in their 'teens. As to arms, there had been naturally great difficulties in the way of procuring and secreting any; but from their iron forges and other sources they had acquired about 3,000 weapons; while of percussion caps and other munitions they had a fair supply. But, although Dublin has been a stronghold of the Irish Republicans, it was surpassed in many respects by the Cork district. The organization in the latter place, indeed, had had the advantage of priority of time in its origin, and thus a greater opportunity of developing itself; neither could it be so well watched over as the capital can be by its small army of metropolitan police.

Then there is also the fact that, the larger the town the more is its interest centered in itself, whilst in smaller and provincial towns the connection between city and country is close and familiar. It thus occurs that Massey found the Cork district excelled Dublin by 2,000 men and 12,000 arms. The public mention of these two districts merely was all that was needed for the purposes of the prosecution, but it would be a grave error to conclude that there are no Irish Republican Brethren elsewhere in any force. It would, however, be almost as serious a mistake to take these figures as a basis for calculating the numbers for other districts where they are really by no means so great. We shall not be far from a correct estimate if we calculate that the added numbers in the two districts named represent one-half of the sworn soldiers of the "Irish Republic" in Ireland. This would give a total of some 76,000 persons, old and young, who had vowed to make war for an idea; impelled thereto by despair of the disposition of Parliament to consider their demands and redress their grievances. The fact is grave and pregnant; and the more so when we remember with what tenacity of hope these men long clung to the exercise of moral force and to the practice of petitioning for redress. It is not true that Massey has been able to implicate any persons of position in Ireland, or to point to any such as being members of the conspiracy. But on the other hand, it has been in his power to declare that many of the influential classes in Ireland, and a few in England, faintly opposed the movement, simply remarking they regarded its success as not to be expected.

It is very remarkable that Irish Republicans have been supplied from two other secret societies, in all things else furiously opposed to each other—the Orange and the Ribbon brotherhoods. The first of these was originally formed of a violent section of the Colonial Ascendancy party in Ulster, and aimed with some success at centering in themselves the power to rule and legislate for the inhabitants of the northern province. They enjoyed this power to some extent for a considerable time; but of late years they have discovered that the central Government of the Empire is not disposed to allow the usurpation to continue. The Ribbon Society was organized out of the old Irish element for the purpose of resisting the ultimatum offered them to go "to Hell or Connaught," and leave their farms behind. Both these societies long held aloof from the emissaries of Irish Republicanism; but, by carefully excluding the religious element from their discussions, a breach was made in their outworks.

It has been several times argued that the Fenians did not care for the destruction of the Church Establishment. The assertion is not altogether without foundation. They considered the retention of the Establishment a trifle when compared with the accession of strength they might obtain by cementing a union with Orangeism; whilst, on the other hand, the fact of its existence was always a crushing argument against the devout Catholic who might be deterred from joining the Brotherhood by clerical censures. The fact that they were denounced by priests, and did not hesitate in return to repudiate the intermeddling of priests in politics, gave them an additional claim to confidence on the Orange party, who, in consequence of O'Connell's Catholic politics, feared that any repeal of the Union would be made to signify the substitution of Catholic for Protestant ascendancy. Neither did such a strife with their clerical opponents frighten the Ribbonmen; they had long been intimately accustomed to it themselves. The Republican principles of the new Brotherhood comrnended themselves to both societies, for members of each had friends and relatives who were in the United States, or had returned from that country in improved circumstances. The Irish Republicans urged their point so well that they were able to enrol not a few members of both the hostile leagues; and these have not proved the least efficient of their members. Besides, almost all the Irish American officers who were sent to Ireland were "free and accepted" Masons, a fact which tended still more to extrude the idea of religious discords, and to win sympathy for the society from unexpected quarters.

Most newspaper correspondents who have felt themselves called upon of late years to show cause why the chances of Fenianism in the United States should be regarded with contempt, have fancied the question settled by declaring that the squalor and religion of the Irish emigrants would always separate them from native American sympathy. Passing over the fact that the Irish vote at an election must always be an influence worth courting, this view, no doubt, had a shade of plausibility about it. But these writers forgot that Fenianism was not merely an Irish or a religious movement: it aimed at the spread of Republican principles, and does not invoke so much the name of "Catholic Ireland" as of the "Irish Republic." Now, by a singular chance, American public opinion had been previously inclined to Ireland by Irishmen who were not Catholics. Whilst the Catholics of Ireland were turning their eyes to France and and Spain, and sending recruits to the Brigade Irlandaise, the Protestant cultivators of the soil were watching America and sending emigrants to its shores. The agrarian rising against the exaction of exorbitant rents, which convulsed Ulster shortly after the middle of the last century, having been quelled, a large outflow of the population followed.

"So great and wide was the discontent," says a Protestant historian, "that many thousands of Protestants emigrated from these parts of Ulster to the American settlements, where they appeared in arms against the British Government, and contributed powerfully by their zeal and valour to the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain." Thus, the native Americans were prepared, by communion with the sentiments of their co-religionists, to sympathize with Ireland; and this tendency was further promoted by the arrival of distinguished Protestant refugees of 1798, the relations of Tone and Emmet, and others, some of whom soon attained prominent positions and much influence. Some of the occasional orations of these men, together with certain celebrated speeches of Irish political martyrs, are to be found in the school books put into the hands of American youth, side by side with the masterpieces of their own countrymen. Thus, to a far greater extent than is dreamed of in England, the Americans have come to identify the cause of Ireland with their own. It is true that amongst the multitudes that have poured in upon them from Ireland, there have been not a few mere political adventurers; but the Americans have had too many such of native manufacture to be prejudiced on that account against the people of the country which produced them.

These facts, together with the anti-English sentiments engendered in their several disputes with England, will make the stand-point of the Americans with regard to the Irish more intelligible. The Irish element has lost nothing of its importance in America by having crystallized into a vast and influential organization, wide-spread and animated by one ardent desire. American statesmen have without a doubt neither frowned it down, nor discountenanced it. They have given it the benefit of their sympathy, and have not forbidden the sale of army-material at a nominal rate, even although it might possibly pass into the hands of its agents. American officers, of Irish extraction perhaps, but of high position, have not refused the promise of their support if they could see their way clear; nor have American merchants shown any repugnance to supply the sinews of war in case of a real emergency. Whilst Massey's information is of gravity as making the Government officially cognisant of some of these points, it does not suggest any facile and peremptory remedy. The American Government would not be at all embarrassed by a demand for explanations. They have been piqued at the inefficiency of their efforts with regard to the Alabama claims, and this feeling would combine with reasons of home policy to mitigate their dislike of a rupture with Great Britain.

If we turn from America and consider Fenianism in its European relations, we shall find that, for the first time in history, the Irish have managed to weld a solid link between themselves and the extreme popular party on the Continent. Thus Ireland, which was long regarded as a sort of Catholic commonplace to be used against England, and which did not in consequence obtain the sympathy of the democratic masses, has now acquired another foothold. The originators of Fenianism were men who had been previously initiated into a certain great revolutionary fraternity, and had even been promoted to a high place in its councils. They have had the advice and sympathy of experienced Continental organisers in the formation of the Irish Republican Society, and would have likewise their support and co-operation under certain eventualities. There are even those on the Continent of Europe who belong to neither of the classes mentioned, and yet would not greatly regret the agitation of such a movement nor its effect in lowering the prestige of England.

But whilst many of the facts we have mentioned or alluded to have influenced the decision of the Government in this matter, it cannot be doubted that the disclosures made touching the extent of the conspiracy, and the sympathy felt for it nearer home, even among those on whom it was thought reliance might be placed to repel its progress, have had quite as much to do with the suppression of Massey's informations as the fear of embroiling the country with foreign governments.