Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

that it is almost needless to remind our readers, that during the reigns of George I. and George II., the Irish Roman Catholics were disabled from holding any civil or military office, from voting at elections, from admission into corporations, from practising law or physic. A younger brother, by turning Protestant, might deprive his elder brother of his birthright: by the same process, he might force his father, under the name of a liberal provision, to yield up to him a part of his landed property; and if an eldest son, he might, in the same way, reduce his father's fee-simple to a life estate. A Papist was disabled from purchasing freehold lands--and even from holding

long leases--and any person might take his Catholic neigh· bour's house by paying five pounds for it. If the child of a

Catholic father turned Protestant, he was taken away from his father and put into the hands of a Protestant relation. No Papist could purchase a freehold, or lease for more than thirty years--or inherit from an intestate Protestant-nor from an intestate Catholic-nor dwell in Limerick or Galway--nor hold an advowson, nor buy an annuity for life. 501. was given for discovering a popish Archbishop-301. for a popish Clergyman -and 10s. for a Schoolmaster. No one was allowed to be trustee for Catholics ; no Catholic was allowed to take more than two apprentices ; no Papist to be solicitor, sheriff, or to serve on grand juries. Horses of Papists might be seized for the militia ; for which militia Papists were to pay double, and to find Protestant substitutes. Papists were prohibited from being present at vestries, or from being high or petty constables; and, when resident in towns, they were compelled to find Protestant watchmen. Barristers and solicitors marrying Catholics, were exposed to the penalties of Catholics. Persons plundered by privateers during a war with any Popish prince, were reimbursed by a levy on the Catholic inhabitants where they lived. All Popish priests celebrating marriages contrary to 12 George Ist, cap. 3, were to be hanged.

The greater part of these incapacities are removed, though many of a very serious and oppressive nature still remain. But the grand misfortune is, that the spirit which these oppressive Laws engendered remains. The Protestant still looks upon the Catholic as a degraded being: The Catholic does not yet consider himself upon an equality with his former tyrant and taskmaster. That religious hatred which required all the prohibiting vigilance of the law for its restraint, has found in the law its strongest support; and the spirit which the law first exasperated and embittered, continues to act long after the original stimulus is withdrawn. The law which prevented

Catholics from serving on Grand Juries is repealed; but Catholics are not called upon Grand Juries in the proportion in which they are entitled, by their rank and fortune. The Duke of Bedford did all he could to give them the benefit of those laws which are already passed in their favour. But power is seldom entrusted in this country to one of the Duke of Bedford's liberality; and every thing has fallen back in the hands of his successors into the antient division of the privileged and degraded castes. We do not mean to cast any reflexion upon the present Secretary for Ireland, whom we believe to be upon this subject a very liberal politician, and on all subjects an honourable and excellent man. The Government under which he serves allows him to indulge in a little harmless liberality; but it is perfectly understood that nothing is intended to be done for the Catholics; that no loaves and fishes will be lost by indulgence in Protestant insolence and tyranny; and, therefore, among the generality of Irish Protestants, insolence, tyranny, and exclusion continue to operate. However eligible the Catholic may be, he is not elected ;-whatever barriers may be thrown down, he does not advance a step. He was first kept out by law; he is now kept out by opinion and habit. They have been so long in chains, that nobody believes they are capable of using their hands and feet.

It is not however the only or the worst misfortune of the Catholics, that the relaxations of the law are hitherto of little benefit to them : the law is not yet sufficiently relaxed. A Catholic, as every body knows, cannot be made sheriff; cannot be in Parliament; cannot be a director of the Irish Bank; cannot fill the great departments of the law, the army and the navy; is cut off from all the high objects of human ambition, and treated as a marked and degraded person.

The common admission now is, that the Catholics are to the Protestants in Ireland as about 4 to 1-of which Protestants, not more than one half belong to the Church of Ireland. This, then, is one of the most striking features in the state of Ireland. That the great mass of the population is completely subjugated and overawed by an handful of comparatively recent settlers, in whom all the power and patronage of the country is vested, who have been reluctantly compelled to desist from still greater abuses of authority, and who look with trembling apprehension to the increasing liberality of the Parliament and the country towards these unfortunate persons, whom they have always looked upon as their property and their prey.

Whatever evils may result from these proportions between the oppressor and the oppressed--to whatever dangers a coun

try so situated may be considered to be exposed these evils and dangers are rapidly increasing in Ireland. The proportion of Catholics to Protestants is infinitely geater now than it was thirty years ago, and is becoming more and more favourable to the former. By a return made to the Irish House of Lords in 1732, the proportion of Catholics to Protestants was not 2 to 1. It is now (as we have already observed) 4 to 1; and the causes which have thus altered the proportion in favour of the Catholics, are sufficiently obvious to any one acquainted with the state of Ireland. The Roman Catholic priest resides; his income entirely depends upon the number of his flock; and he must exert himself, or he starves. There is some chance of success, therefore, in his efforts to convert; but the Protestant clergyman, if he were equally eager, has little or no probability of persuading so much larger a proportion of the population to come over to his church. The Catholic clergyman belongs to a religion that has always been more desirous of gaining proselytes than the Protestant church; and he is animated by a sense of injury and a desire of revenge. Another reason for the disproportionate increase of Catholics is, that the Catholic will marry upon means which the Protestant considers as insufficient for marriage. A few potatoes and a shed of turf, are all that Luther has left for the Romanist; and, when the latter gets these, he instantly begins upon the great Irish manufacture of children. But a Protestant belongs to the sect that eats the fine flour, and leaves the bran to others :

- he must have comforts, and he does not marry till he gets them. He would be ashamed if he were seen living as a Catholic lives. This is the principal reason why the Protestants who remain attached to their church do not increase so fast as the Catholics. But in common minds, daily scenes, the example of the majority, the power of imitation, decide their habits religious as well as civil. A Protestant labourer who works among Catho.. lics, soon learns to think and act and talk as they do-he is not proof against the eternal panegyric which he hears of Father O’Leary. His Protestantism is rubbed away; and he goes at last, after some little resistance, to the chapel, where he sees every body else going

These eight Catholics not only hate the ninth man, the Protestant of the Establishment, for the unjust privileges he enjoys- not only remember that the lands of their father were given to his father-but they find themselves forced to pay for the support of his religion. In the wretched state of poverty in which the lower orders of Irish are plunged, it is not without considerable effort that they can pay the

everyoso eight Catholicshment, for the unjus of their father

few shillings necessary for the support of their Catholic priest; and when this is effected, a tenth of the potatoes in the garden are to be set out for the support of a persuasion, the introduction of which into Ireland they consider as the great cause of their political inferiority, and all their manifold wretchedness. In England, a labourer can procure constant employment-or he can, at the worst, obtain relief from his parish. Whether tithe operates as a tax upon him, is known only to the political economist: if he does pay it, he does not know that he pays it; and the burthen of supporting the Clergy is at least kept out of his view. But, in Ireland, the only method in which a poor man lives, is by taking a small portion of land, in which he can grow potatoes : seven or eight months out of twelve, in many parts of Ireland, there is no constant employment of the poor: and the potatoe farm is all that shelters them from absolute famine. If the Pope were to come in person, and seize upon every tenth potatoe, the poor peasant would scarcely endure it: With what patience, then, can he see it tossed into the cart of the heretic Rector, who has a church without a congregation, and a revenue without duties?

We do not say whether these things are right or wrong—whether they want a remedy at all or what remedy they want; but we paint them in those colours in which they appear to the eye of poverty and ignorance, without saying whether those colours are false or true : Nor is the case at all comparable to that of Dissenters paying tithe in England; which case is precisely the reverse of what happens in Ireland; for it is the contribution of a very small minority to the religion of a very large majority; and the numbers on either side make all the difference in the argument. To exasperate the poor Catholic still more, the rich graziers of the parish--or the Squire in his parish-pay no tithe at all for their grass land. Agistment tithe is abolished in Ireland ; and the burthen of supporting two Churches seems to devolve upon the poorer Catholics, struggling with plough and spade in small scraps of dearly-rented land. Tithes seem to be collected in a more harsh manner than they are collected in England. The minute subdivisions of land in Ireland-the little connexion which the Protestant clergyman commonly has with the Catholic population of his parish, have made the introduction of tithe-proctors very general-sometimes as the agent of the clergyman-sometimes as the lessee or middle-man between the clergyman and the cultivator of the land ; but, in either case;—practised, dexterous estimators of tithe. The English clergymen, in general, are far from exacting the whole of what is due to them, but sacrifice a little to the love of popula

rity, or to the dread of odium. A system of tithe-proctors established all over England (as it is in Ireland), would produce general disgust and alienation from the Established Church.

During the administration of Lord Halifax,' says Mr Hardy, in quoting the opinion of Lord Charlemont upon tithes paid by Catholics, “ Ireland was dangerously disturbed in its southern and northern regions. In the south principally, in the counties of Kilkenny, Limerick, Cork, and Tipperary, the White Boys now made their first appearance; those White Boys, who have ever since occasionally disturbed the public tranquillity, without any rational method having been as yet pursued to eradicate this disgraceful evil. When we consider, that the very same district has been for the long space of seven and twenty years liable to frequent returns of the same disorder into which it has continually relapsed, in spite of all the violent remedies from time to time administered by our political quacks, we cannot doubt but that some real, peculiar, and topical cause must exist; and yet, neither the removal, nor even the investigation of this cause, has ever once been seriously attempted. Laws of the most sanguinary and unconstitutional nature have been enacted ; the country has been disgraced, and exasperated by frequent and bloody executions; and the gibbet, that perpetual resource of weak and cruel legislators, has groaned under the multitude of starving criminals : yet, while the cause is suffered to exist, the effects will ever follow. The amputa. tion of limbs will never eradicate a prurient humour, which must be sought in its source, and there remedied.'

I wish,' continues Mr Wakefield, for the sake of humanity, and for the honour of the Irish character, that the gentlemen of that country would take this matter into their serious consideration. Let them only for a moment place themselves in the situation of the halffamished cotter, surrounded by a wretched family, clamorous for food ; and judge what his feelings must be, when he sees the tenth part of the produce of his potatoe garden exposed at harvest time to public cant ; or, if he have given a promissory note for the payment of a certain sum of money, to compensate for such tithe when it becomes due, to hear the heart-rending cries of his offspring clinging round him, and lamenting for the milk of which they are deprived, by the cows being driven to the pound, to be sold to discharge the debt. Such accounts are not the creations of fancy; the facts do exist, and are but too common in Ireland. Were one of them transferred to canvas by the hand of genius, and exhibited to English humanity, that heart must be callous indeed that could refuse its sympathy. I have seen the cow, the favourite cow, driven away, accompanied by the sighs, the tears, and the imprecations of a whole family, who were paddling after, through wet and dirt, to take their last affectionate farewell of this their only friend and benefactor, at the pound gate. I have heard with emotions which I can scarcely describe, deep curses repeated from village to village as the caval. cade proceeded. I have witnessed the group pass the domain walls of the opulent grazier, whose numerous herds were cropping the

« AnteriorContinuar »