History of England, Part III, William and Mary to 1887

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER V: Ireland in the Eighteenth Century


1. [1]  During the first half of the eighteenth century the absolute Protestant Ascendency established by 's victories went on. A Penal Code was bit by bit drawn up which took away from Irish Roman Catholics nearly everything that made life worth living. The Catholic worship was never wholly put down, but the priests were registered, and ordered to take an abjuration oath which their Church thought sinful. Nonjuring priests and all bishops, monks, and friars were felons liable to death, and were therefore at the mercy of any informer. Priest-hunting became a trade, and the Roman Catholic bishops were forced to lurk in disguise out in the bogs or on the mountains.

No Catholic could hold any office or vote at any election. No Catholic could be a sheriff, a member of Parliament, a barrister, an attorney, or a gamekeeper, and in most towns corporation by-laws shut him out from the higher branches


of trade. He could not bear the sword which was the mark of a gentleman without a licence that was hard to get. If he owned horses, any Protestant could force him to sell them for five pounds apiece. He could not send his children to a school of his own faith, either at home or abroad. He could not hold land by lease for more than thirty-one years, and if the profit was more than one-third of the rent, the lease could be handed over to the Protestant who found it out. If the son of a Catholic landlord turned Protestant, he could turn his father's estate into a rentcharge for life, and secure the succession over his brothers. To prevent Catholics holding large estates, their lands were equally divided at their death among their children. A still coarser inducement to turn Protestant was the system of Charter Schools started in to

"rescue the souls of thousands of poor children from the danger of Popish superstition and idolatry, and their bodies from the miseries of idleness and beggary."


" such was the bigotry of the deluded people that nothing but absolute want could prevail on them to suffer their children to receive an education which endangered their salvation."

Only in times of famine were the Charter Schools filled.

The Catholics were described by Lords-Lieutenant as the

"common enemy."

The best and bravest found in the service of foreign kings the career foolishly and cruelly denied them at home. The rest lived out a hopeless and spiritless life in their native land. Yet they clung bravely to their faith, and the country was covered with mass-houses and swarming with priests, for the penal laws were too wicked to be fully carried out even by the tyrants that had passed them.

2. [2] In every other way the state of the peasantry was very wretched. The land was owned almost altogether by Pro testants, who were too often either absentee grandees or wasteful and poverty-stricken squireens. To save trouble the larger landlords let out their land to middlemen, and there were often three or four of these between the owner and the actual tiller of the soil. In the richer districts there were large grazing farms which did very well, but gave little work to labourers. But a large mass of the soil was let out in patches of a few acres to miserable cottiers, who paid everything away in rent, except what barely kept them and their large families alive. Thrift, industry, foresight were impossible under such a system.

"What with the severe exactions of rent, of the


parish clergyman, who, not content with the tithe of grain, exacts even the very tenth of the potatoes; of the Catholic priest, who comes armed with the terrors of damnation, and demands his full quota, the poor reduced wretches have hardly the skin of a potato left them to subsist on."

"The highroads throughout the south and west are lined with beggars, who live in cabins of such shocking materials that you may see the smoke ascending from every inch of the roof, and the rain drops on the half-naked, shivering, and almost halfstarving inhabitants within."

"The landlords get all that is made off the land, and the peasants poverty and potatoes."


says Dean ,

"it is the usual practice of the Irish tenant rather than want land to offer more than he knoweth he can ever be able to pay; in that case he groweth desperate and payeth nothing at all."

" The Irish tenants,"

said again,

"lived worse than English beggars."

As the century grew older their troubles increased, for in pasture-lands were practically relieved from tithe, and the landlords turned their land into pasture. The cottiers were driven to the mountains of Kerry and Connaught, whence they wandered in the summer in search of work to pay their rents. There were few factories to take away the people from the land. The English Parliament, moved by the English merchants, who were afraid of Irish competition, had put down the Irish woollen trade. The Navigation Acts still crippled Irish commerce, and the linen-trade of Ulster was of itselfnot enough to give work to the landless poor. There was a large number of Protestant emigrants, but few Catholics now left their native land.

3. [3] The Irish Protestants were not without their grievances. The Presbyterians settled in Ulster were shut by a Test Act out of all offices under the Crown, though they had in the Regium Donum a small State endowment for their Church, and their common interests with the Established Church as a Protestant minority made their position much better than that of English Dissenters. But all Irish Protestants bitterly resented the ascendency which England had over all Irish affairs. Poynings' Act, passed in the reign of Henry VII., and strengthened by a Declaratory Act of , provided that no law should be brought forward in the Irish Parliament until it had been approved by the English Privy Council. The English Parliament constantly passed laws binding on Ireland; for example, the Act which finally put down the woollen trade, from which the wealthy Pro


testants of course suffered most. Most of the revenue of the Crown in Ireland was hereditary, and outside the control of the Irish Parliament. The Irish Parliament was in some ways in greater need of reform than the English. More than half its members were returned by proprietors of boroughs. There was no Septennial Act, Mutiny Act, or Habeas Corpus Act. 's Parliament sat all through his reign without re-election.

The chief posts in Church and State were always given to Englishmen. Friends of the Government who were too bad to be helped in England got pensions and places in Ireland. The Established Church was used as a political means of upholding the English connection, and did its spiritual work so badly that the poorer Protestants got little good from it. Dean speaks with bitter scorn of the way in which Church patronage was abused.

"Excellent and moral men have been selected on every vacancy. But it unfortunately has uniformly happened that as these worthy divines crossed Hounslow Heath to take possession of their bishoprics, they have been regularly robbed and murdered by the highwaymen frequenting that common, who seized upon their robes and patents, come over to Ireland, and are consecrated bishops in their stead."

"A true Irish bishop,"

says one of their own order,

"has nothing more to do than to eat, drink, grow fat, rich, and die."

Yet of one important district it was said :

" In many parishes the churches are wholly demolished, and several clergymen have each of them four or five. They commonly live in Dublin, leaving the conduct of their Popish parishioners to priests of their own persuasion."

4. [4] There were brighter sides to Irish life. Neighbourly good feeling often prevented Protestants from putting the Penal Code into force. There was often kindly fellowship even between landlords and tenants, for the worst oppressors were not so much the large landowners as greedy middlemen of low rank, often Catholics, and as ignorant as the peasantry they ground down. With all their poverty found the

"common Irish voluble, cheerful, and lively ; as spiritedly active in play as lazy in work; hospitable, despite their poverty, to all comers ; warm friends, hard drinkers, great liars, but civil, submissively obedient, and great dancers."

There was considerable intellectual activity here and there among the better class of Irish Protestants; and even with the natives notes the hedge schools and schools


for men who were being brought up as priests. Jonathan , Dean of St. Patrick's, the greatest of English satirists, found his eagerest and most devoted readers in Ireland. Berkeley, the great philosopher, was Bishop of Cloyne. Francis Hutcheson, the founder of the philosophy, was an Irish Presbyterian. , the wisest of Whig statesmen, , poet and novelist, and , the humorist, all came from Ireland. In the Dublin Society was established to promote the arts, manufactures, and husbandry of Ireland.

Dublin was still the second city in the empire, with about 120,000 inhabitants. Its Parliament House, Four Courts, and other public buildings, were magnificent, and its Uni versity was, in Chesterfield's opinion, better than those of England. The agreeable and hearty society of Dublin was contrasted strongly by with the brutality and recklessness of

"the little country gentlemen, your fellows with round hats edged with gold, who hunt in the day, get drunk in the evening, and fight the next morning."

chose to bring out his Messiah in Dublin rather than in London. The theatres were as good as those of London itself. Belfast was, says Young,

" a well-built town of brick, lively and busy, with 15,000 inhabitants."

Cork had a population of 70,000.

5. [5] The local government of Ireland was carried on by the grand juries of gentry, who had much the same powers as quarter sessions in England. The central government was in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant, his Chief Secretary, the Irish Privy Council, and the permanent officials that collectively made up Dublin Castle, though all were subject to the control of the English cabinet. But the Lord Lieutenant, always a great English nobleman, only lived in Ireland during the short sessions of the Irish Parliament every other year. When he was away his place was filled by Lords Justices, who were generally great ecclesiastics like Primates Boulter and Stone, or the chief owners of Irish boroughs, such as the Ponsonbys and the Beresfords, who, in return for a large share of patronage, undertook to carry on the king's business, and were therefore called Undertakers. Hence there was for a long time hardly any opposition in the Irish Parliament to Government measures.

6. There was a strong and growing disgust at the English Government and their Irish agents. The Catholics at first had no share in this. Even in and the Jacobite


revolts could not rouse them out of the hopeless state into which they had fallen. [6] In , Molyneux, member for Dublin University, and a friend of the English philosopher , became the first spokesman of the Protestant opposition in his famous tract, the Case of Ireland, which the English Parliament burnt.

In an attempt to reform the copper coinage of Ireland caused a great outburst of feeling. There was no mint in Ireland, and it had been the custom to grant patents to private people, allowing them to issue the necessary coins. An English ironmaster named William Wood got a contract to coin £ 10,000 worth from 's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal. The half-pence Wood issued were good weight, and better than the old coins; but many Irishmen believed that there was a scheme to drain the country of its gold and silver, and leave it nothing but a debased copper currency. In Dean lashed the nation into fury against the Government in his brilliant but unscrupulous Drapiers Letters, which, though professedly anonymous, were generally known to be by him. He claimed, like Molyneux, independence for the Irish Parliament. The storm rose so high that , then Lord-Lieutenant, could not allay it. The patent was cancelled by , and for the first time the Irish opposition triumphed.

Charles Lucas, a crippled Dublin apothecary, carried on the agitation of the independent Protestants. In the opposition triumphed in the Irish House of Commons under the leadership of Speaker Boyle and Prime Sergeant Malone. In , the great orator, entered the Irish Parliament.

7. [7] After the accession of a great change occurs. The Catholic peasantry, goaded to desperation by injustice and poverty, formed into gangs called White boys, from the shirts they wore over their clothes as a disguise, or Levellers, because they levelled the new enclosures of commons. They houghed cattle, shot landlords, levied blackmail, and wrought all sorts of outrages in the south. Stern repressive laws known as the Whiteboy Acts were passed year after year to put them down. But even in the north the Oakboys and the Hearts of Steelbroke out into similar lawlessness. Meanwhile sent over Lord as Lord Lieutenant to assert the rights of the Crown and to break up the ring of


Undertakers which reminded of the Whig connection in England (). But in Ireland as in England the attack was unskilfully carried out, and only further in flamed the Irish Protestants. They saw they were being treated just like the Americans, and resolved to follow American methods to get their grievances removed. A young orator, , now became the Irish Chatham. On the pretext of warding off invasion, bands of volunteers were enrolled among the Protestants. The brave and ardent Lord Charlemont put himself at their head, and by the end of they were 50,000 strong. The merchants of Dublin now drew up a non-importation agree ment, which pledged them to use no English goods. In Parliament declared itself for free trade, and granted supplies for six months only. Lord quailed before the storm, and hurried bills through the English Parliament, conceding the chief commercial demands of the patriots.

8. In February a representative Convention of Volunteers met at Dungannon in imitation of the Congress at Philadelphia. With one accord they accepted a resolution drawn up by

"That a claim of any body of men, other than the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, to bind this kingdom is unconstitutional, illegal, and a grievance."

[8] This was a declaration of legislative independence against England, and made his attack still more terrible by taking into partnership the dumb millions of Irish Catholics. In a first Catholic Relief Bill was carried,and now another was proposed.

"I give my consent to it,"

cried ,

"because as the mover of the Declaration of Rights, I should be ashamed of giving freedom to but 600,000 of my countrymen when I could extend it to 2,000,000 more."

On 16th April he carried his Declaration of Independence through both Houses without a single dissentient. The Rockingham ministry said nothing against these daring claims. In May persuaded the English Parliament to repeal the Declaratory Act of But was still dissatisfied, and clamoured for

" simple repeal."

The volunteers ranged themselves round , and they, and not Dublin Castle, were the real rulers of Ireland. Next year fear wrung from England an Act renouncing all authority over Ireland, in the most explicit terms.

9. [9] By the constitution of Ireland was put in the same relation to England as Scotland had been between . The only common bond was the Crown.



's Parliament"

was as supreme and omnipotent as the chambers at Westminster. But the administration of Ireland remained in English hands, and was made secondary to English objects. Hence the great object of Lords-Lieutenant and their Chief Secretaries was to get together a Parliament which would

"support the English Government."

and Charlemont were not satisfied so long as this was possible, and a Volunteer Convention met in Dublin to support 's proposal of parliamentary reform. A claimant for the leadership of the extreme party was found in Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol and bishop of the rich see of . He was a man of strange and eccentric character,

"full of spirits and talk, and displaying the self-complacency of a French marshal rather than the grave deportment of a prelate."

"We must have blood,"

was his cry before the Convention. But the Irish Parliament refused to be coerced ; himself voted with the Government.

The Catholic question now dissolved the remnant of power of the Volunteers. and Charlemont were willing to repeal the Penal Code, but would give no military or legislative power to the Catholics, for they saw that this would

"totally break the connection with England, and make Ireland a Catholic country."

Their political ideal was a free Protestant aristocracy independent of England, and treating kindly its Catholic dependants. would, however, have gladly seen the Catholic gentry in Parliament, and in this agreed with him. also wished to throw open to Irish traders the whole commerce of England, receiving in return some contribution from Ireland to the general expenses of the empire. But, in , this scheme failed through the jealousies of English traders and the touchiness of the Irish Parliament. For the next few years the government of Ireland remained in English hands, and a system of bribery and jobbery grew up by which the Government maintained a majority in the unreformed Irish Parliament. Yet under the new constitution Ireland grew richer and more prosperous. Dublin was adorned with more magnificent public buildings. A bounty on exported corn counteracted the old tendency towards pasture, and made Ireland again an arable country. The linen trade rapidly increased. The Penal Code was bit by


bit repealed. But nothing was done to grapple with the deeper evils which the land system continued to produce. The population grew, and the cottiers' position did not improve. The Irish Parliament was full of eloquence, but it had a strong dislike to do too much.

10. [10] The outbreak of the French Revolution was warmly welcomed by the Presbyterians of the north, and the Free-thinkers in the great towns. Theobald Wolfe , a daring and zealous young Protestant lawyer, started in the first Society of United Irishmen. Its professed object was

"to unite the whole people of Ireland, to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter,"

to clamour for parliamentary reform, and complete Catholic emancipation. But looked on all this as a means

"to subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, break the connection with England, and assert the inde pendence of my country."

Other leaders of the United Irishmen were James Napper Tandy, Thomas Emmet, Arthur , the friend of the English Whigs, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald (brother of the Duke of Lein ster, the first nobleman in Ireland), who had become a warm follower of , and admirer of the French Revolution. In a few years the United Irishmen extended their organisation all over Ireland, the central control of the society being in the hands of a secret Executive Directory of five members. In opposition to them the extreme Pro testants formed the counter organisation of the Orange Lodges, so called after the

11. [11] Between the revolutionaries and the bigots stood the Catholic party, representing the mass of Irishmen. The Catholics had had since a Central Committee at Dublin to look after their interests. Their position was a strong one, as sympathised with them, and the United Irish bade heavily for their help. The educated Catholics looked to the Government for support, while the ignorant masses fell blindly into the plans of the United Irishmen. The confusion was increased by the want of settled policy of the Government, where the liberal instincts of , and the prejudices of strong Protestants, like , afterwards Lord , the Irish Chancellor, asserted themselves in turn. In the Irish Parliament was forced by the Government to pass a great Catholic Relief Act, which gave


Catholics the franchise without the right of being returned members. This made it still harder to get Parliamentary Reform, because it was now seen that the Protestant ascendency depended on keeping up the rotten boroughs. In the Whig Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Fitzwilliam, an engaging and attractive man, tried and failed in his policy of conciliation. He turned out the notorious Beresford from a commissionership of the revenue, and frightened every jobber and place-hunter in Ireland. Fitzgibbon now persuaded the king that he would break his coronation oath if he let Catholics sit in Parliament. As a result 's Reform Bill was rejected; and Fitzwilliam was superseded by Lord Camden. The Catholic Committee dissolved itself, and the United Irishmen prepared for a revolution.

12. and Lord Edward now fled to the Continent, and arranged with the French general, Lazare Hoche, that an army of French Free-thinkers should The Rebellion come to the help of the Catholic Irish, though of . little came from this. But the popularity of the rebel leaders with the peasantry soon turned the northern Protestants on to the side of the Government, and when the war broke out in it was a regular religious war of Protestant and Catholic.

The Government showed great vigour, and a stern but almost necessary cruelty in disarming the disaffected peasantry. Unluckily the lack of regular troops forced it to allow a Protestant yeomanry to be established, which took advantage of the chance to wreak its hatred on the wretched Catholics. General Lake disarmed Ulster and prevented a rising there, and the prompt arrest of Lord Edward and other leaders deprived the rising of its heads. In May the rebellion broke out in Leinster. The attempt to raise the neighbourhood of Dublin proved a failure, but in Wexford a great army of peasants assembled under the leadership of some helpless local leaders and one or two zealot priests. For some time they commanded the country, and worked much cruel revenge on many of their Protestant tyrants; but they were badly armed and led, and could not hold their own against regular troops. Lake stormed their fortified camp on Vinegar Hill, near Enniscorthy, and the rebel army broke up into small bands, which bit by bit melted away.

It was now the turn of the yeomanry to avenge the crimes of the rebels by misdeeds equally wanton and hideous. So thoroughly were the Irish put down that when General


Humbert with some French troops landed in August at Killala in Connaught, very few joined him, and though he easily put the militia to flight at Castlebar Races, he soon surrendered.

13. [12] The rebellion still raged when Lord , formerly general of the English army in America, succeeded Lord Camden as Lord-Lieutenant. He did his best to prevent the two races from flying at each other's throats. Like he believed that Ireland could only be justly ruled by men free from the prejudices of Irish parties, held that the rebellion had proved the failure of the government of the Protestant minority, and considered the true solution of the difficulty to be the Parliamentary Union of England and Ireland. With a united Parliament Catholic emancipation would be easier, as there would be no danger of Catholic ascendency. It was even hoped that some sort of State support could be found for the Catholic clergy, whose hatred of Jacobinism had made them, as a class, loyal during the rebellion. To the Catholics such a union would have been welcome, but the ruling Protestants were violently opposed to it as destructive of all their privileges. In the session of the Government was defeated in the House of Commons. The chief supporters of the Union were Lord , the Chief Secretary, now first rising into note, and the Chancellor Lord . , Ponsonby, Curran, Plunket, were all violent against it.

"I will resist it,"

cried Plunket,

"to the last gasp of my existence and with the last drop of my blood, and when I feel the hour of my dissolution approaching, I will, like the father of Hannibal, take my children to the altar and swear them to eternal hostility against the invaders of their country's freedom."

But Ponsonby's resolution pledging the House to

"maintain the undoubted birthright of Ireland, an independent Parliament,"

was withdrawn. During the recess a good deal was done towards winning over opinion and votes. The non-represented Protestants were lukewarm; the Catholics were hopeful, and direct or indirect Government corruption won over the boroughowners, the lawyers, and the Dublin tradesmen. In vain , who had not been in Parliament for several years, bought a seat, and appeared in the dress of the old Volunteers to thunder against the scheme. The Act of Union was carried by 46 votes, and received the royal assent on 2d August .

The terms of the Union were (a) The separate Parliament of Ireland was abolished ; (b) 4 Irish bishops and 28 Irish temporal lords elected for life were to sit in the House of Lords for the United Kingdom; (c) 100 Irish members, two for each shire, the rest for the boroughs, elected under the old system, were to sit in the United House of Commons; (d) a large number of Irish boroughs was disfranchised, and a million and a quarter paid as compensation to the borough owners, whose opposition was thus bought off; (e) Irish peers were allowed, unlike those of Scotland, to sit for English constituencies in the House of Commons, and only one new Irish peer was to be created when three Irish peerages became extinct, until the number was reduced to 100. Twenty-two new peerages were also now created, besides other honours, and 5 Irish lords were made peers of the United Kingdom, and others advanced to higher titles; (f) absolute free trade was established between Ireland and Great Britain; (g) Ireland was to contribute two-fifteenths to the revenue of the United Kingdom, and the debts of the two countries were to be kept apart; (h) the Irish Church and the Irish army were to be united to those of England, but the separate judicial system of Ireland, the Lord-Lieutenancy, and

"Dublin Castle"

remained as before.


[1] The Penal Code.

[2] The Land system.

[3] Grievances of the Protestants.

[4] Better aspects of Irish Society.

[5] The System of Irish Government.

[6] Growth of a Protestant Opposition in Ireland, 1698-1760.

[7] Ireland imitates America, 1767-79

[1] [1767-1785.]

[8] Legislative independence of Ireland vindicated, 1782.

[9] Ireland under Grattan's Parliament, 1782-1800.

[1] [1791-1798.]

[10] The French Revolution and the United Irishmen.

[11] Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform

[1] [1798-1803.]

[12] The Union, 1800.

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