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PAST AND PRESENT IRISH DISCONTENT.
SUPERFICIAL persons, who have not given their minds to Irish history, studied the Irish question in a com or who have not set to heart the prehensive manner, looking at the the political truth, that national events of the last three years, may changes must be gradual, should be inclined to agree with those fatal- believe that all that is wrong in Ireists, condemned justly by Sir George land is as bad as it has ever been, Lewis
, who “conceive that there is and that the elements of violent outan innate tendency in the Irish race rage are as active and perilous there to disturbance and outrage, that Ire as of old, and should almost despair land is cut off from the rest of the of the fate of a country from which civilised world, and has been pre- it seems impossible to expel the evil doomed to endless disorder." Dur- spirit of lawless turbulence. Yet, if, ing that period the last real griev- as candid inquirers, we look across ances of the nation have been com- large spaces of time, it is not diffipletely removed ; and in the Church cult to show that the peculiar disand the Land Acts the demands orders under which Ireland has long were more than fully conceded suffered have steadily and remarkwhich had promised to satisfy Irish ably decreased ; that the characteropinion. It might have been sup- istic forms of Irish crime have reposed that these reforms would have cently diminished in general prevabeen hailed with general good-will; lence, and are less formidable in that they would have dissipated the their essential type ; that Irish disworst elements of Irish violence and turbances are, at this time, less deepdiscontent; that they would have rooted and really dangerous than been marked by the cessation of crime they were not many years ago; that and the growth of 'a loyal and peace- the moral temper and condition of ful spirit; and that a tranquil and the country have, in spite of all that happy erá would have closed the is said, improved ; that Ireland, in pages of a disastrous history. These a word, is no exception to the broad sanguine anticipations, however, rule that justice and right will ultihave been to a great extent frus- mately make their presence felt, trated, nor can it be said that a whatever the evils they seek to reprospect exists that they will soon move. The evidence on this subbe fully realised. The years 1869- ject would fill volumes, but we shall 1870 were seasons of fierce agitation confine ourselves to a few docuin Ireland, and witnessed a sudden ments, for the most part the conand fierce outburst of her old plague temporary records of persons chargof agrarian disorder; severe measures
ed with the administration of justice, of coercion wereconsidered necessary whose opinions deservedly carry for the island; the administration of weight. criminal justice has been since defied The peculiar crime of Ireland has and baffled in more than one re been for years a tendency to lawless markable case ; and at this moment combinations
directed mainly against a popular movement, is seeking to the rights of landlords, but some separate Ireland from Great Britain, times allied with revolutionary proand to effect the dismemberment of jects and occasionally, in its worst exthe Empire. We cannot wonder, cesses, breaking out into a wild contherefore, that many who have not spiracy against order and society
itself. This form of disorder, al- masters to release their apprentices, though, no doubt, remotely con carried off the daughters of rich nected with the old feud of race farmers, ravished them into marriages, which came down from the age of of which four instances happened in conquest, made itself conspicuous a fortnight. They levied sums of for the first time about 1760 in some money on the middling and lower of the Midland and Southern Coun- farmers in order to support their ties. In many districts, owing either cause by paying attorneys, &c., in to the increase of their poverty or defending prosecutions against them; of their power, as the population and many of them subsisted for some had begun to multiply, the peasantry years without work, supported by rose in savage insurrection, and for their contributions. The barbarities years parts of Leinster and Munster they committed were shocking. One were scenes of deeds of atrocious of their usual punishments (and by outrage. This movement, which no means the most severe) was associated itself with something of taking people out of their beds, carry. the same kind in Ulster, bore most ing them naked, in winter, on horseof the features of disorders which back for some distance, and burying have ever since afflicted the coun- them up to their chins in a hole try. The combination was general filled with briars, not forgetting to and widespread ; it was essentially cut off one of their ears.” of an agrarian type ; it was sup We see, also, in this Whiteboy posed to have some public de- movement the other melancholy sign ; and it was not only dis- associations which characterise agragraced by ruthless cruelties, but rian crime in Ireland, the difficulty it degenerated into little better of procuring evidence, and the than the worst Jacquerie. Arthur sympathy, at least for a time, of the Young, almost an eyewitness, gives us people with those who were transthis account of this wild outbreak: gressing the law.
Arthur Young “ These disturbances began in Tip- says :-“Many of the magistrates perary, and were owing to some en. were active in apprehending them, closures of commons, which the but the want of evidence prevented Whiteboys, as they are called, threw punishments, for many of those who down, levelling the ditches, and were even suffered by them had not spirit first known by the name of levellers. to prosecute. The gentlemen of the After that they began with the tithe country had frequent expeditions to proctors (who are men that hire the discover them in arms, but their tithes of the rectors), and these proc- intelligence was so uncommonly tors either screwed the cotters up good by their influence over the to the the utmost shilling or re-let common people, that not one party the tithes to such as did it. It was that ever went in quest of them was a common practice with them to go successful." in parties about the country, swearing The immediate cause of this inmany to be true to them, and forc- surrection, which seems to have been ing them to join by manaces, which extremely atrocious, was, undoubtedthey very often carried into execution. ly, landlord wrong and oppression. At last they set up to be general re- The dreamers who think that in dressers of grievances, punished all those days the relation of landlord obnoxious persons who advanced the and tenant in Ireland was gracefully value of lands, or hired farms over feudal and patriarchal, will do well their heads, and, having taken the to read these words from a speech of administration of justice into their Lord Clare in the Irish House of own hands, were not very exact in Commons, corroborated in Edmund the administration of it. They forced Burke's correspondence :-"I am
very well acquainted with the faction. For above ten miles from
The cruelties perpetrated by the and, so to speak, was swallowed up
the agitated period which followed were sawed off.”
the Union, agrarian troubles broke The Irish Parliament characteris- out again, and the Midland Counties, tically refused to inquire into the and even Connaught, became centres causes of the mischief or to devise a of wild conspiracies and barbarous single remedial measure except laws deeds of blood and outrage. By this of extreme severity. As there was time, though the war prices mainno real police in the country the tained a kind of fictitious prosperity, insurrection was hardly checked; the extraordinary growth of the Irish but some Special Commissions were population had reduced millions to issued in which the Irish judges the verge of pauperism; and in the made themselves notorious for ex wretchedness of these swarming travagant harshness. One, an masses abundant elements existed Englishman, Aston, was a bright for the exasperation and increase of exception, and his conduct was disturbance. We quote from a speech appreciated by the peasantry, who, of the Attorney-General of the day a whatever their faults, have always description of the agrarian confedeshown a keen sympathy with true racies in Sligo and Mayo in 1806-7:justice. It is recorded :—“Aston “The mode taken to accomplish did his duty, but in the discharge of their objects has been assembling it would not violate the dictates of themselves at night in disguise,
On his return from sometimes with arms, going to the Dublin he was witness to a sight houses of such persons as refuse to most affecting, and which he must associate themselves in their body, have beheld with the highest satis- and, if necessary for their purpose,
breaking open the houses of those and consequent distress, crime and persons and robbing them of their disorder quickly multiplied. For property; inflicting torture upon those several years whole districts in Irewho become objects of their enmity; land were disgraced by scenes of and, if necessary for the final com violent disturbance; a movement pletion of their designs, if any per was made against rents; and the son be honest or bold enough to wild risings in parts of the country give any information against them, were marked by numberless savage the business which began in law offences. Harsh measures of represless combination is consnmmated by sion were enacted in vain, and many murder."
Special Commissions were issued; It will be observed, too, that the mischief apparently only increasthis combination, directed originally ed; and from 1816 onwards some against the rights of property, had a counties in Ireland were theatres of tendency to run into wild excesses : mere lawlessness, crime, and con-“When the association travelled fusion. Mr. Charles Grant gave into this part of the country it assum- this account of the condition of ed another shape, that of attacking things in 1822:—"In 1815 a great the wages of weavers and other part of the county of Tipperary, artificers, and latterly farmers. In considerable portions of the King's different stages of its progress it County and County of Westmeath, professed different objects, and and the whole of that of Limerick, opposed all kinds of payments, were placed under the Insurrection whether of tithes, industry, labour, Act. The Counties of Limerick and or farming."
Tipperary, however, continued in a The general state of Connaught dreadful state, and they remained and of some adjoining counties at under the Insurrection Act until that this time was thus described on a Act, after a temporary renewal in subsequent occasion by Chief Justice 1817, finally expired in 1818. In Bushe :-“The entire province of 1817 part of the county of Louth was Connaught, with the exception of subjected to the Insurrecton Act. In one county, and two counties on the 1820 came the disturbance in the North-West Circuit (Longford and County of Galway; and in 1821 the Cavan) were overrun by insurgents so actual deplorable outrages in that of formidable that the King's Judges Limerick." upon a Special Commission could The state of crime in Cork in the not move through the country except same year is thus described in the under a military escort; so formid- just published Memoir of the late able, that the sentence of the law Chief-Justice Lefroy :--"When the could not be executed in one par- Special Commission, under the Inticular county town till a general surrection Act, opened in Limerick officer had marched from a distant and Cork in the month of February, quarter, at the head of a strong 1822, the calendar of crime presented force, to support the civil power." for trial was appalling. The number
It was not, however, until after the of offenders in Cork alone was 366, War that agrarianism assumed its vast of whom 35 received sentence of proportions. By that time the popula- death, and some of them were tion of Ireland pressed hardly upon ordered for immediate execution, the means of subsistence; every others for speedy execution. With patch of available land was fought respect to the remainder
, Baron for by a peasantry living on a pre- M'Clelland, the officiating judge
, in. carious root, without the protection timated that the extreme penalty of of a poor-law; and, as the Peace the law would be suspended, and was followed by a great fall of prices that their ultimate punishment would
depend on the future conduct of the severe repression to cope with or peasantry. If tranquillity was re- allay disorder. The result of these stored and the surrender of arms in measures and of the efforts of the the district became general, mercy vigilant police, then lately establishwould be extended to them; but if ed, was, so to speak, to drive the no sure signs of returning peace ap- disease inwards, and to make it, peared, their doom was inevitable. perhaps,
, in spite of this warning, the Agrarianism, which up to this time Spring Assizes, which followed at a had exhibited itself in open combinshort interval, only presented a ations, ceased generally to be insurfurther sample of the terrible extent tectionary and wild, and assumed to which crime prevailed, and the the form of a vast conspiracy, acobstinacy with which outrages of the complishing its ends by assassination, worst description continued to be and outrages planned and executed openly perpetrated."
by the instruments of secret societies. This frightful prevalence of dis- Meanwhile, the changes which had order attracted the attention of the followed the Peace had tended to the Imperial Parliament, and the evi- consolidation of farms, and the sysdence and reports of Several Com- tem began of those widespread mittees searched out at least the evictions too often characterised by causes of the evil. We quote from injustice and productive of frightful the observations of the late Judge misery and ill-will.
A social war Day :-" The recent disturbances in raged in many parts of Ireland, the Ireland originated in the poverty of landlords straining their rights to the the people, which exposes them to utmost, the peasantry and the starvthe seduction of any felonious and ing millions of pauper wretchedness turbulent leaders; the want of em- which covered the land, forming ployment, the absence and non-resi- themselves into a huge Trades Union dence of landlords, the want of of Poverty in deadly feud with education, which leaves them in a Property, and vindicating an semi-barbarous state and incapable of written law of blood by the decrees judging for themselves. The severe of hidden tribunals of murder
. The and unconscionable rents too often fierce agitation of the Catholic exacted from the peasantry ought Claims and the general movement not to be forgotten. There was a against tithes, gave fresh stimulus to system (now diminishing, thank God) the mischief; and about 1832-33, of subinfeudation which prevailed Ireland was in a state which Sir through Ireland, and which, after a Robert Peel described as a ghastly succession of sub-lettings, left scarce
scene of violence and barbarism. ly anything to the miserable occupy- Lord Wellesley wrote of these crimes ing peasantry."
in 1834:—"Acomplete system of legisThe late Lord Chancellor Black-lation, with the most prompt, vigorous, burne said :-“The population of and severe executive power-sworn, the parts of the country where in- equipped, and armed for all purposes surrections were most prevalent is of savage punishment-is established extremely dense. The property is in almost every district. . . The comgreatly subdivided, and the condition bination established surpasses the law of the lower orders of the people is in vigour, promptitude, and efficacy, more miserable than I can describe and it is more safe to violate the it."
law than to obey it." But though the most active Chief Justice Bushe had, in 1832, causes of crime in Ireland were suf- given this account of the generally ficiently explained, the Government tranquil Queen's County S"It is of that day had no expedients but scarcely two months since the gaol