Stern Measures

Justin McCarthy
Chapter III | Start of Chapter

It is quite obvious that the rule of the conqueror can, at its earliest stages, only be maintained by the sword. If the conquering race be inspired by wise, just, and generous counsels, they may win the conquered into willing acceptance of their rule; but the conquerors of Ireland at the time of this Kilkenny Parliament had not advanced far enough in civilization to trouble themselves with moral or philosophical speculations as to the best manner of winning the friendship of those they strove to govern. The Parliament of Kilkenny took energetic measures against the growing amalgamation of the English invaders and the Irish. One of these measures decreed that an English settler who married an Irish woman should forfeit his estate and be put to death, the death itself being preceded by the disembowelling process, which made a part of capital punishment down to a much later period. Macaulay has said somewhere that it was not likely a disloyal subject could feel himself won back to loyalty while the hangman was grabbing at his entrails. It is not likely that the English settler in Ireland who married an Irish wife would have felt loyal devotion to the Sovereign while the hangman was performing that peculiar ceremonial.

Fortunately, these atrocious enactments were not carried out as often as the ruling powers in England might have desired. The English Government had not the strength to enforce such a policy in many instances, and the statutes passed by the Parliament of Kilkenny were doomed to comparative failure on both sides. They failed to satisfy the vengeance of the conquerors, and they further embittered the mood of the half-conquered. Meanwhile England had so many troubles of her own that she could not devote herself exclusively to the subjugation of Ireland.