Ireland From The Revolution To The Union

Ireland From The Revolution To The Union (1691-1800)


The Revolution left Ireland a conquered country. The hopes which had been awakened during the administration of Tyrconnel, of throwing off English supremacy, rooting up the Protestant interest, and driving the Protestant land-owners out of the country were doomed to bitterest disappointment. The Irish soldiers who marched out of Limerick in 1691, and took ship for France, were right in judging that there was a dismal prospect before their country. "When the wild cry of the women, who stood watching their departure was hushed, the silence of death settled down upon Ireland. For a hundred years the country remained at peace, but it was the peace of despair. No Englishman who loves what is noble in the English temper can tell without sorrow and shame the story of that time of guilt. The work of oppression, it is true, was done, not directly by England, but by the Irish Protestants; and the cruelty of their rule sprang in great measure from the sense of danger and the atmosphere of panic in which the Protestants lived. But if thoughts such as these relieve the guilt of those who oppressed, they leave the fact of oppression as dark as before. . . . The conquered people, in Swift's bitter words of contempt, became 'hewers of wood and drawers of water,' to their conquerors." 1 Green, History of the English People, iv. 53, 54. Full as much indulgence, no doubt, was granted to Irish Romanists as was commonly allowed at the same date to Protestants in Roman Catholic countries. Men were burned alive in Portugal and Spain, and hanged in France, on the score of religious opinions and practice, in the first half of the eighteenth century. But oppression in one quarter is no adequate justification for it in another.


Probably nearly three fourths of the population of Ireland at the time of the Revolution were Romanists. The deprivations, therefore, that were effected fell here upon the body of the people, and not upon a mere fragment, as was the case in England. In no less than four respects they were subjected to heavy disabilities before the law; namely, in property, in political rights, in education, and in religious privileges. About a million acres of land were reckoned as forfeited. Restrictions were imposed upon the power of Roman Catholics to acquire real estate, or to bequeath the same according to their choice. Romish parents could be compelled to make allowances for Protestant children. If the eldest son turned Protestant, the estate was attached to him, so that it could not be mortgaged or conveyed by the Romish father. Gun-makers and sword-cutlers must disavow Romanism and engage not to receive Romish apprentices. In any trade, except the linen industry, a Roman Catholic could not have more than two apprentices. On the offer of five pounds he might be compelled to part with his horse. As Romish lawyers were efficient aids in the evasion of these regulations, laws were passed to the effect that no one should act as a solicitor who had not given adequate proof of his Protestantism. Besides these restrictions were others quite as fruitful of misery to the Irish people as any of those mentioned, to the Irish people as a whole; for the laws by which England sought to protect her products against Irish competition were supremely adapted to impoverish Protestants and Romanists alike. The shipping interest of Ireland was destroyed, and Swift was guilty of slight exaggeration when he said: "The conveniency of ports and harbors, which nature bestowed so liberally on this kingdom, is of no more use to us than a beautiful prospect to a man shut up in a dungeon." 1 Lecky, History of England in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 227.


as respects political privileges, the Roman Catholics were little better than aliens in their own country throughout the larger part of the eighteenth century. They were disqualified for office, limited in the exercise of suffrage, and finally excluded from its exercise altogether. They were also barred out of the army and the navy.


Laws were passed excluding Roman Catholics from the University. They could not found schools at home, send their children abroad for education without special permit, act as tutors, or even fulfill the office of guardians. Schools were indeed provided for them after 1733, but these were offensively sectarian in character; in fact, manifestly designed to effect the conversion of those who should partake of their benefits.


As for the Romish religion,the legislation contemplated its speedy extinction. In the reign of William III. it was enacted "that all Popish archbishops, vicars-general, deans, Jesuits, monks, friars, and all other regular Popish clergy, and all Papists exercising any ecclesiastical jurisdiction, should depart out of the kingdom before the 1st of May, 1698, on pain of imprisonment till transportation; and that, returning after transportation, they should be guilty of high treason. With respect to any Popish ecclesiastics not actually in the kingdom, it prohibited any such to come in, on pain of twelve months' imprisonment, to be followed by transportation, and of high treason if returning after having been transported. Penalties, varying according to the number of times when the offense should be committed, from twenty to forty pounds, and the forfeiture of lands and goods for life, were enacted against any person who should knowingly harbor, relieve, conceal, or entertain such Popish clergy. It was further enacted that no person, upon pain of forfeiting ten pounds, should bury any dead in any suppressed monastery, abbey, or convent that is not made use of for celebrating divine service, according to the liturgy of the Church of Ireland by the law established, or within the precincts thereof. And that all justices of the peace should, from time to time, issue their warrants for apprehending and committing all Popish ecclesiastics whatsoever that should remain in the kingdom contrary to the act; and for suppressing all monasteries, friaries, nunneries, or other Popish fraternities or societies. A statute was also enacted for preventing the mischiefs which had resulted from the intermarrying of Protestants with Papists." 1 Richard Mant, History of the Church of Ireland, ii. 73, 74. In the reign of George II. the law declared marriages of this kind null, and made the priest who should venture to solemnize them liable to hanging.


The above enactments, it will be observed, did not prohibit the secular clergy resident in the country from exercising a large part of their functions, but by excluding all influx from abroad, and all increase by new ordinations, it aimed to prevent their having any successors.


In the reign of Anne the resident priests were required to be registered and to subscribe the oaths of allegiance and abjuration, the oaths being so constructed that they were obliged to acknowledge the rightfulness of the existing government as opposed to the claims of the Stuarts, as well as their willingness to accept its rule. Out of upwards of a thousand priests only about thirty complied with these requirements. Those refusing compliance could exercise the priestly office only in secret or by connivance of the authorities.


As the nature of the case dictated, much of this legislation was ineffective. There was no power in Ireland adequate to execute the intolerant statutes against a majority of the people. The laws, no doubt, worked toward the political and social degradation of the Roman Catholics; but so far as they were aimed against their religion they were for the most part a failure. It is recorded, indeed, that about a thousand Roman Catholics, many of whom had considerable fortunes, came into the Established Church between the years 1703 and 1738, and that the number of accessions had risen before the last decade of the century to four thousand and eight hundred. But converts gained by worldly considerations were a poor acquisition, and the paltry influx was vastly outweighed by the bitterness fostered in the great mass who adhered to their old faith. Wesley expressed both the fact and the philosophy of the case when he said, "At least ninety-nine in a hundred of the native Irish remain in the religion of their forefathers. . . . Nor is it any wonder that those who are born Papists generally live and die such, when Protestants can find no better ways to convert them than penal laws and Acts of Parliament." 1 Journal, Aug. 15, 1747.


The enactments against the presence of the bishops and the monks were never genuinely executed, and soon were openly discarded. Early in the reign of George II. Archbishop King wrote: "The Papists have more bishops in Ireland than the Protestants have, and twice at least as many priests; their priories and nunneries are public; it is in vain to pass laws against them, for the justices of the peace are no ways inclined to put such laws in execution." 2 Mant, ii 471. Before the middle of the eighteenth century the laws designed to limit and ultimately to abolish the practice of the Roman Catholic religion were virtually obsolete. It was not, however, till the latter part of the century that the statute book began to assume a more favorable aspect. A beginning was made in 1778 toward the repeal of discriminations against Romish subjects. Still farther advance was made in 1782 and 1793, though up to 1829 somewhat was still wanting to complete the legal emancipation of Irish Roman Catholics.


The condition of the Romish population was evidently very unfavorable to religious intelligence. An overwhelming majority of the people could neither read nor write. Gross superstitions abounded and found a profuse manifestation, especially in connection with places of pilgrim resort. Not a few of the priests were extremely ignorant. Drunkenness was far from being an unknown vice among them. It makes a curious impression respecting the drinking customs of the times, when we read that a diocesan chapter, wishing to raise a barrier against inebriety, passed a rule to the effect that "no priest in any one place, and at one time, was to drink more than a naggin [two glasses] of whiskey undiluted, or double that quantity in punch." 1 Killen, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, ii. 292.


Among the more noteworthy events in the history of Irish Romanism in the eighteenth century was a declaration of principles prepared toward the end of the reign of George II. by O'Keefe, Bishop of Kildare, and republished in 1792 as an authentic expression of the sentiments of Irish Roman Catholics. It contains among other statements the following: "We have been charged with holding as an article of our belief that the Pope, with or without the authority of a General Council, or that certain ecclesiastical powers, can acquit and absolve us, before God, from our oath of allegiance, or even from the just oaths and contracts entered into between man and man. Now we utterly renounce, abjure, and deny that we hold or maintain any such belief, as being contrary to the peace and happiness of society, inconsistent with morality, and, above all, repugnant to the true spirit of the Catholic religion. We declare that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are we thereby required to believe or profess that the Pope is infallible, or are we bound to obey any order in its own nature immoral, though the Pope, or any ecclesiastical power, should issue or direct such order; but, on the contrary, we hold that it would be sinful in us to pay any respect or obedience thereto." 2 Henry Parnell, History of the Penal Laws; Killen, Eccl. Hist. of Ireland, ii 279. This surely collides in some points both with papal practice and Vatican teaching.


Decisions agreeing with the foregoing declaration, at least in part, were near the same time presented from several Roman Catholic Universities. At the instance of Pitt the three following questions had been submitted: "(1) Has the Pope, or have the cardinals, or has any body of men, or any individual of the Church of Rome, any civil authority, power, jurisdiction, or pre-eminence whatsoever within the realm of England? (2) Can the Pope or cardinals, or any body of men, or any individual of the Church of Rome, absolve his Majesty's subjects from their oath of allegiance, upon any pretext whatsoever? (3) Is there any principle in the tenets of the Catholic faith by which Catholics are justified in not keeping faith with heretics, or other persons differing from them in religious opinions, in any transaction, either of a public or a private nature?" 1 Parnell, History of the Penal Laws. The replies coming from Paris, Douay, Louvain, Alcala, Salamanca, and Valladolid were an explicit negative to each of the questions. These declarations of the learned faculties are interesting as matter of history, though of course, in the absence of any ex cathedra signature by the Pope, they are not worth quoting as respects authority.


The penal legislation of the eighteenth century against the Irish Roman Catholics had its parallel in the vexation of Irish Protestants. Though the Episcopalian or Established Church of Ireland numbered scarcely more than one eighth of the population during the century, legislation was shaped with sole reference to its protection and interests. If it be granted either that the interests of the Establishment were of higher value than the interests of the people in general, or that they were identical with the same, then possibly one may follow the example of Bishop Mant and justify the whole mass of penal and restrictive laws, down to their most rigorous items, though even then it would be necessary to show that the harsh policy was adapted to the end sought. On any other supposition, no justification can be offered. Especially out of character and reason must appear the disabilities imposed upon Protestant Dissenters, the main body of whom were the Presbyterians in the North of Ireland. Their valor had been a principal means of saving the Protestant interest in Ireland from being overthrown before the machinations of Tyrconnel and his allies. Common humanity would seem to dictate that they should not be sacrificed to the supposed welfare of an Establishment numbering scarcely more adherents than their own ranks; and common-sense would seem to dictate with equal plainness, that in the face of an overwhelming Romish majority, Protestantism ought not to be weakened and held in check by a persecution discouraging the immigration and forcing on the emigration of its staunchest adherents. In fine, one can hardly wish to modify the unbounded denunciations which Froude heaps upon the narrow policy that was pursued. Though the Establishment was far from being a highly effective religious agency, Ireland was governed by it and for it for several scores of years. By a section of an act of Parliament in 1704 the Dissenters were shut out of the government, the holding of any office above the rank of constable being made dependent upon taking the sacrament according to the rites of the Established Church. After an interval, however, this grievance was modified by the passage of indemnity bills.


Among the various annoyances to which Protestant Dissenters were exposed a peculiarly odious infliction was the obstacle thrown in the way of their marriages being solemnized by their own ministers. After the accession of Queen Anne, "the Presbyterian marriages, hitherto connived at, were declared illegal, and prosecutions were threatened for incontinency. . . . It was announced that the children of all Protestants not married in a church should be treated as bastards, and, as the record of this childish insanity declares, many persons of undoubted reputation were prosecuted in the bishops' courts as fornicators for cohabiting with their own wives.)" 1 Froude, The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century. Prosecutions of this sort were forbidden after 1737, but not till the latter part of the century did the law distinctly allow Dissenting ministers to solemnize marriages, and then the concession was made in the face of the protest of the bishops of the Establishment.


The adoption of a more liberal policy toward Dissenters at the close of the eighteenth century does not seem to have been prejudicial to the Established Church. On the contrary, it rose to an improved condition at this very time. "The revival," says Killen, "among the Episcopal clergy, which commenced about the time of the Rebellion of 1798, continued to spread far and wide; so that before the end of the reign of George III. the Irish Establishment contained a considerable number of ministers who, in point of real eloquence and pastoral devotedness, would have adorned the brightest period in the Christian annals, a few of those now awakened became in the end dissatisfied with their Church and withdrew from its communion, but the greater number remained within its pale, and contributed greatly to promote its credit and efficiency. This baptism of grace was experienced by other denominations; and hence, since the year 1800, there has been a general improvement in the state of Irish Protestantism." 2 Killen, ii. 388, 389.


At the close of the period the Episcopal Church in Ireland underwent an important change in respect to its constitution. The same Union Bill, of the year 1800, which united in one the Parliaments of England and Ireland consolidated the Church Establishments of the
two countries.


Among the distinguished representatives of the Irish establishment in the eighteenth century there were very few who approached Archbishop King, Dean Swift, and Bishop Berkeley in extent of celebrity.


The main body of Presbyterians in Ireland were located in Ulster and connected with the Synod of Ulster. In 1751 this synod reckoned one hundred and fifty-seven congregations.


While the State consented to the persecution of the Irish Presbyterians in one way or another, by a strange inconsistency it contributed toward the support of their ministers. A specific sum of money, the so-called Regium Donum, was conceded, with the exception of a short interval in the reign of Anne, down to the era of disestablishment (1871), when a compensation was allowed for the life interest of existing beneficiaries. In the time of William III. the Regium Donum was £1,200; in 1868 it amounted to £40,000.


The liberalism which invaded the Presbyterians of England in the eighteenth century touched in a less degree the Presbyterians of Ireland. A number became restless under the bondage to dogma. "In 1726 twelve ministers with their flocks, constituting what was called the Presbytery of Antrim, were excluded from the general body. The distinctive principle of these separatists was non-subscription to all creeds or confessions." 1 Killen, ii. 282. At the same time the views of Simson, the Glasgow professor, were given more or less currency through the agency of those who had studied at the Scotch University.


From the time that Wesley invaded Ireland in 1747 the Methodist evangelists pressed forward with characteristic ardor and with characteristic experiences of opposition and mob violence. If the apparent results upon Irish soil were less ample than in some other quarters, it was because of special obstacles. Not to mention the difficulty of contending with a predominant Romanism, enforced in the hearts of the people by political as well as by religious prejudices, the growth of the Methodist societies was repeatedly hindered or wholly stopped by the extensive emigration of their members. The number reported as connected with the Irish Conference in 1813, namely, 28,770, may be regarded as expressing about the maximum of membership which has at any time been reached. Three or four years later the Conference was much weakened by a schism which resulted in consequence of a vote to concede the sacraments to the societies. Very few of the ministers joined the schismatics, but several thousands of the people, including not a few of the wealthier class, united to form a body of "Primitive Methodists" on the principle of perpetual adherence to the Established Church.


As already noted, Ireland contributed to Wesley such distinguished co-laborers as Thomas Walsh, Adam Clarke, and George Moore. In the closing years of the eighteenth and the early part of the present century a place of peculiar honor in the annals of Irish Methodism was won by Gideon Ousley. A man of good family and education, having a courageous heart, blessed with a good share of mother wit, and deeply sympathizing with the poor people, he was eminently qualified for successful work in his chosen vocation as a missionary at large. Many a tribute of esteem and admiration was gained by him from his Romish auditors whom he addressed in the Irish tongue.