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it meet the approbation of these self-created reformers. The pretext upon which these illegal confederacies is framed is a repugnance to the payments in support of the legal establishment of the church of the country, and also of the fees which have been usually paid, without any law to enforce them, to the clergymen of the Catholic persuasion. The mode taken to accomplish this object has been by assembling themselves at night in disguise, sometimes with arms, going to the houses of such persons as refuse to associate themselves in their body, and, if necessary for their purpose, breaking open the houses of those persons, and robbing them of their property; inflicting torture upon those who become objects of their enmity; and, if necessary for the final completion of their designs, if any person be honest or bold enough to give information against them, the business which began in lawless combination is consummated by murder*"
" The first object of the association (says Mr. Dennis Browne, at Castlebar) was the reduction of tithes and priests' dues; when it travelled into this part (Mayo), it assumed that and also another shape, that of attacking the wages of weavers and other artificers, and latterly farmers. In different stages of its progress it professed different objects; all kinds of payments, whether of tithes, industry, labour, or farming; assemblies of people collected in disguise, and wearing badges and armed, appeared in different parts of the country. It showed itself in posting up written notices exciting people to rebellion under various different pretences. When I took steps in different parts to stop the consequence of these notices by tearing them down and offering rewards, they adopted another mode of exciting disturbances, by delivering messages in the chapels, threatening the priests, and calling upon the congregations, that if they did not lower their dues, avoid the payment of tithes, and alter the wages of labourers, the Threshers would visit them, and that the priests might have their coffins
* Report of Proceedings under a Special Commission in the Counties of Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim, Longford, and Cavan, in December, 1806, by W, Ridgway, Barrister-at-Law, p. 9.
prepared, and that the flesh would be torn off their bones; which messages have had more effect than any mode which was before resorted to*."
An instance of the delivery of one of these messages occurs in a trial at Castlebar.
One witness states that “ He went to mass, and after Mr. Nolan came out to shake the holy water among the people there assembled, the prisoner said to the priest, that he was sworn to come to him, and told him that he should marry persons for half-a-guinea, baptize for nineteen-pence halfpenny, read mass for thirteen-pence, and at any house to which he came to confession, if he got hay and oats for his horse, to take it, but if not, to go away on pain of suffering for it.”
Another witness gives a similar account:
“When the prayers were over at mass, and the priest was shaking the holy water, the prisoner said he was sent with a message against his will to the priest. He said he was ordered to tell him not to charge more than half-a-guinea for marriage, thirteen-pence for mass, and nineteen-pence halfpenny for christening. He said he should lower his fees, and sinking his voice, said, if not, to have his coffin convenientti'
Mr. Serjeant Moore gives the following description of the confederacy of the Thrashers in the county of Longford, in his first speech on behalf of the Crown.
“Gentlemen, it seems to me that its general character is that of an association, certainly of very wicked and evil-designing persons, but not of any rank or influence in the community; and, what must be a consolation to the mind of every good subject, not, as I conceive, partaking of any political complexion, or confined to any particular party or persuasion of people. Their professed object is that of regulating the payment of tithes, and certain dues customarily taken by the
Report of Proceedings, p. 134.
of Ibid. pp. 136-143.
clergymen of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and the rates and prices of manual and manufacturing labour. These appear, at least, to be their professed objects; and the great instruments by which they seek to attain their ends seem to me to be alternate terror and delusion, hope and fear, vain and wicked promises, daring and atrocious threats, amplified and false reports of the numbers, and strength, and success of the association, of the benefits which they profess to achieve, and of the grievances which they pretend to redress*.”
In the year which followed the disturbances of the Thrashers, the Insurrection Act, first passed in 1796, during the tumults of the Defenders, was renewed. The system of Whiteboy outrage and intimidation continued nevertheless still to prevail among the peasantry of the centre and south, and it broke out into open violence at various intervals.
“ In 1807 the county of Limerick was alarmingly disturbed. In 1811 and 1812 the counties of Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Limerick, Westmeath, Roscommon, and King's County, became the theatre of the same sanguinary tumults. In 1815 a great part of the county of Tipperary, considerable portions of the King's County, and county of Westmeath, and the whole of that of Limerick, were placed under the Insurrection Act.
“ The counties of Limerick and Tipperary, however, continued in a dreadful state, and they remained under the Insurrection Act until that Act, after a temporary renewal in 1817, finally expired in 1818.
“ In 1817 part of the county of Louth was subjected to the Insurrection Act.
“ In 1820 came the disturbance in the county of Galway; and in 1821, the actual deplorable outrages in that of Limerickt."
* Report of Proceedings, p. 275.
* Mr. Charles Grant's speech, 22nd April, 1822, on Sir John Newport's motion on the state of Ireland, pp. 6 and 7.
Since the troubles here alluded to (which originating in the Courtenay estate in the county of Limerick, spread over that and other adjoining counties, and lasted for several years), there have been the disturbances of the Terry Alts in the counties of Limerick and Clare, in the spring of 1831 ; and at a later period, the serious outrages which prevailed chiefly in the county of Kilkenny, and the King's and Queen's Counties, and which gave rise to the Coercion Act passed in 1833; renewed, with some alterations, in 1834, and finally reduced to a milder measure in 1835 (5 and 6 Wm. IV., c. 48).
The Irish House of Commons resolutely abstained from instituting any inquiry into the causes of the
the peasantry in the last forty years before the Union * ; nor was it till the year 1824 that the local disturbances in Ireland were made the subject of a systematic parliamentary inquiry. Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament were appointed in that year to inquire into the nature of the Irish disturbances ; and having continued their labours in the following session, they collected a great mass of valuable evidence, on this and other questions connected with the state of Ireland. A Committee of the House of Commons in 1832, to whom a petition from the King's County, praying for a renewal of the Insurrection Act, was referred, likewise made an extensive inquiry into the causes and character of the disturbances in question. The investigations of these three Committees (together with the Papers on the state of Ireland laid on the table of both Houses of Parliament in 1834) have almost exhausted the subject; and little now remains to be done, except to arrange and comment upon the evidence which has been thus obtained. In undertaking this task, I propose to consider the question under two general heads ; viz., 1st, the causes of Irish
* See 7th Irish Debates, pp. 37-8. The House even went so far in 1764 as to suppress a Report on the late insurrections in the North, which had been actually prepared, and which the Chairman of the Committee had begun to read. Irish Debates in 1763 and 1764, vol. ii. pp. 663-6.