The Commonwealth

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VI | Start of Chapter

The new order of things which was for a while established in England was therefore met at its opening by a feeling of almost universal antagonism among the native populations of Ireland. It might have seemed impossible that any influence could arise to widen the breach between the Irish and the ruling power in England, but it is certain that the establishment of the Commonwealth brought a new element of disunion and antagonism. The national temperament of Ireland had, up to this time, been animated by a peculiar spirit of loyalty to the hereditary principle in systems of government. The Irishman found it congenial with his instincts that chieftainship should prevail in the ruling of a State as well as in the ruling of a family. He found it natural to look up to the head of a house, and to take it for granted that the chief of each generation should be chosen from the family itself. In this theory there was a certain blending of the hereditary and the republican principle; for a while the Irish tradition was that the family should continue to rule, the chieftainship need not necessarily descend from father to son, but at each generation might be awarded by the Sept so long as the choice was kept within the family. At the heart of the theory was the sentiment of loyalty to established authority as opposed to the republican principle of elective government. An additional antagonism between the two races was created by the fanaticism which displayed itself in all the actions of the Cromwellian leaders. The intensity of religious faith and the suffusion of religious zeal into the commonest business of life, which so markedly characterized the Cromwellian era in England and Scotland, were to a great extent the inevitable reaction against the decay of principle and of religious faith which had shown itself in England during the reigns of James I. and Charles I. But that intensity of faith, in itself so admirable, became by no means a quality of mercy when it crystallized into the conviction that other beliefs ought to be put down by penal law.