« ForrigeFortsæt »
But though, in the commencement of this reign, the inhabitants of the kingdom of all denominations united, with apparent cordiality, in acknowledgments of allegiance to the new monarch, there were elements in the condition of the country well fitted to awaken the anxiety of statesmen. The agrarian disturbances, which soon afterwards occurred, revealed the pressure of a multitude of social grievances. Many of the Irish landowners—like too many of the Irish beneficed clergy_were non-resident; and whilst the factors appointed to manage the estates of the absentees sought to recommend themselves to their employers by the augmentation of the rentals, both landlords and agents often entirely ignored the principle that property las its duties as well as its rights. Most of the nobility and gentry were Episcopalians; and few of them, who lived in Ireland, acted in a way calculated to gain the esteem, and promote the improvement of the surrounding population. An Irish squire of the eighteenth century was often a strange mixture of pride, thoughtlessness, and prodigality. He kept a pack of hounds ; spent much of his time in field sports; wound up the hunting day with a feast; and closed the feast with deep potations. According to his views, a gentleman lost caste by engaging in tradeso that, if his sons did not care to take orders in the Church,
1 On the 23rd of January, 1764, on the motion of Sir Wm. Osborne, for a return of the names of non-resident incumbents, Lucius O'Brien, Esq., M.P. for Ennis, made the following statement in the Irish House of Commons :- “ I live in the County of Clare, which is one of the largest in Ireland and extremely well peopled. In that county there are no less than seventy-six parishes, and no more than fourteen churches, so that sixty-two parishes of the seventy.six are sinecures. But could it be believed that when the number of churches is so small, in proportion to the number of parishes, the rectors of most of them are non-resident, nor is there so much as a curate of forty pounds a year to supply their place. The inhabitants of many parishes must either live in the total neglect of all religious duties, or they must have recourse to popish priests. The priest must marry those who would enter into the nuptial contract, the priest must baptize the children, and the priest must bury their dead ; or they must cohabit like savages in the unenlightened recesses of Africa, the child must be considered a mere denizen of nature, under no covenant with God, and the dead must be deposited in the earth without memorial of a resurrection.”-Historical Memoir of the O'Briens, by John O'Donoghue, A.M., pp. 538-9.
Dublin, 1860. It is remarkable that this large county-thus so shamefully neglected by the clergy of the Protestant establishment—was afterwards the first to return a Roman Catholic representative to the Imperial Parliament.
or to enter the legal profession, they were very frequently brought up in idleness and profligacy. The squire professed great zeal for the Protestant interest, and yet seldom appeared in the house of God, and more rarely still at the communion table. Extravagance generated embarrassment; and the necessities of the landlord led to the oppression of the tenantry. Exorbitant rents were exacted; the working classes, as well as the gentry, were improvident; and, in an island remarkable for its fertility, one unpropitious season reduced the peasantry to want. There were open grounds, called “commons," in many parts of the country; and, to enable the occupiers of small holdings to pay their rents, they had been allowed the privilege of feeding their cattle on these pastures. But about this time there was increasing demand in foreign markets for beef and butter; the price of such commodities rose rapidly; and the gentry discovered that grazing was more profitable than tillage. They accordingly proceeded, in several districts of Munster, to enclose the commons, and appropriate these lands to their own use; whilst they made no corresponding reduction in the rents of the peasantry. Their conduct, as might have been expected, created much irritation. The poor people banded themselves together under the designation of “ Levellers," and broke down the newly-made fences. Nor did they stop here. The decay of tillage interfered with their means of subsistence-for they could find no employment; and many of them had been ejected from their holdings to make room for sheep and oxen. Driven almost to distraction by sheer destitution, they assembled at night in great multitudes; and wearing shirts over the rest of their clothing—that they might be known to each other in the darkness—they acquired the name of Whiteboys. United by an oath of association, and traversing the country in all directions, they spread terror wherever they appeared. They dug up pasture grounds, houghed cattle, mounted obnoxious individuals on horseback, and compelled them to ride naked through the parish on saddles covered with the skins of hedgehogs; or, making excavations in the fields, thrust them, to the chin, in a state of nudity, into these pits; and then trampling in thorns around them, subjected them to lingering agony. As the tithe of agistment was no longer payable, and as so much land was devoted to pasturage, the gentry, who were Protestants, gave comparatively little to their Church; whilst the poor cottiers and small farmers, who were Romanists, and who could not live without husbandry, were the principal contributors to its maintenance. The tithe proctor had thus a task of no common difficulty. He had to collect an odious impost from a community ground down by exactions; and if he was obliged to use citations, and processes, and other appliances in the enforcement of his claim, he at once added to its amount, and exposed himself to much obloquy. He was, therefore, peculiarly unpopular; and he had good reason to tremble when the Whiteboys went their rounds.
The lawless multitude did not rest satisfied with destroying rich pastures, injuring cattle, and terrifying tithe proctors. Informers, and others who incurred their displeasure, and who came in their way, paid the penalty of death. Government was obliged to interfere energetically for the suppression of these outrages. A bill providing for the summary punishment of the offenders obtained the sanction of Parliament; and a number of the Whiteboys fell victims to public justice. But there was a widespread impressionat least among his own co-religionists--that one individual who was now handed over to the executioner, was innocent of the crime for which he suffered. Father Nicholas Sheehyassistant parish priest of Clogheen in the County of Tipperary-lived in the midst of the Whiteboys; and several hundreds of them belonged to his own congregation. He felt for their wrongs; and did not scruple to give free expression to his sentiments. As might have been expected, he largely enjoyed their confidence; but he imprudently permitted himself to be regarded as their apologist or advocate—whilst he had neither wisdom to guide them, nor perhaps any great desire to restrain their excesses. He was, accordingly, soon denounced as their ringleader. He was accused of high treason; and in 1765 a large reward was offered for his apprehension. Like a man fully conscious of the rectitude of his proceedings, he wrote to the Irish Chief Secretary, offering to give himself up voluntarily, on condition that he would be tried for any crime imputed to him, not in Clonmel, but in the Irish metropolis. This was a very reasonable proposal ; as, in his case, all Romanists would be excluded from the jury. The members of the Established Church in his own county were deeply pre. judiced against him, so that it was not remarkable he was unwilling to submit his case to their decision. His offer was accepted; he was taken to Dublin ; and the adverse witnesses were deemed so unworthy of credit that he obtained a verdict of acquittal. But, immediately afterwards, while he was still in Dublin, a new charge was preferred ; and he was indicted for the murder of a man named Bridge, who had been known as an informer. He was
1 Gordon's History of Ireland, ii. 239 ; Wesley's Journal, pp. 502-3 ; Burdy's Ireland, pp. 401-3.
2 Some of the tithe proctors were quite unscrupulous, and enriched themselves by the spoliation of the peasantry. One of these wretches, in 1762, claimed five shillings for every marriage celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest! Madden's United Irishmen, second series, Hist. Introd., vol. i., p. xviii.
3 Sheehy was of respectable Roman Catholic parentage. He was connected by relationship with some of the R. C. gentry of the district. Madden, second series, vol. i., Hist. Introd., p. xiii.
He was now arraigned at Clonmel; and on the testimony of the very same witnesses—who had not been believed on the first trial—he was brought in guilty. In a few days afterwards he was hanged and quartered. He persisted in protesting in the most solemn manner that he was not concerned in the dark deed charged upon him, that he was not cognisant of a design to murder Bridge, and that he knew nothing of the affair until he heard of it by public rumour.3 Sheehy had probably com
1 Dr. Curry—who was his contemporary and who appears to have been well acquainted with his character-says of him :-“This man was giddy and officious, but not ill-meaning, with somewhat of a Quixotic cast of mind towards relieving all those within his district whom he fancied to be injured or oppressed ; and, setting aside his unavoidable connection with these rioters, several hundreds of whom were his parishioners, he was a clergyman of an unimpeached character in all other respects.”—Curry's State of the Catholics of Ireland, pp. 568-9. Sheehy seems to have been concerned in the rescue of some Whiteboy prisoners.
2 See before, p. 202 of this volume.
It appears that Bridge was murdered by two men—one of whom was a Protestant and the other a Romanist. The latter revealed his guilt to Sheehy in confession. Madden, in his United Irishmen, has minutely discussed the whole case. See his second series, vol. i., Hist. Introd. xiii.-lv.
mitted many acts of indiscretion, and, it may be, had even instigated to deeds of violence; but he was condemned for a crime of which he was guiltless 1 by a hostile jury on the evidence of false witnesses. Such an award was far more likely to aggravate than allay the dangerous excitement which su extensively prevailed.
The outrages in the south continued for years; and even the Irish House of Commons on one occasion described them as a “popish insurrection.”2 It was alleged by some that they originated in French intrigue, and that their object was to promote the interests of the Pretender ; but these statements were sustained by very insufficient proof; 8 and they have not even the appearance of probability. Though the Whiteboys were almost all connected with the Church of Rome, they were driven into rebellion simply by the hardships of poverty embittered by a sense of oppression. Irish legislators were too often guided by a very selfish policy; and the just claims of the humbler classes-except when pressed on their consi
i It is with great reluctance that I differ from Mr. Froude ; and yet I feel bound to express my conviction that he has been unjust to Father Sheehy. See his English in Ireland, ii. 31. He places much reliance on depositions made by Father O'Brien and others, published in the appendix to Musgrave's History of the Irish Rebellion. These depositious appear to me to contain internal marks of falsehood. They prove quite too much. According to them the R. C. Archbishop of Cashel was the great organizer of the Whiteboys. There is reason to believe that he was strongly opposed to them. See Renehan's Collections, p. 321. The depositions do not even refer to the murder of Bridge. Father O'Brien was a degraded priest who turned Protestant. See Madden, Hist. Introd. i. p. lxxxvi. On this trial at Clonmel, Father Sheehy was treated with the grossest injustice.
· Plowden, i., p. 344.
3 One of the most cogent proofs was the appearance of French coins among the peasantry ; but as there was then much smuggling carried on between that part of the country and France, the possession of the French money could be easily explained.
At this time the idea of restoring the dethroned dynasty was generally abandoned even by the Tories. See Pictorial History of England, iv. 807. It appears from a paper written by the celebrated Edmund Burke that some of the outrages of the Whitehoys were promoted by a deranged Protestant solicitor. See Correspondence of Right Hon. Edmund Burke, vol. i., p. 44. London, 1844.