Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

preparations for a rising. Fresh recruits were found in Bantry and Kenmare; and during the summer and autumn reports went forth of their secret meetings, their oaths, and their drilling.

The Government had accurate information of these doings, but held their hand for a time. In December they suddenly pounced upon the society, and within a few days some twenty members were arrested. A special commission was issued for the trial of the prisoners. By the aid of an informer, and after two trials, a national school teacher, Daniel O'Sullivan, was convicted by a jury from which every Roman Catholic had been studiously excluded, and was sentenced to ten years' penal servitude. The other trials were postponed, some of the prisoners being let out on bail. After eight months' imprisonment, the rest, including Donovan, agreed to plead guilty, and were released on their own recognisances of £200 to come up for judgment on a fortnight's notice. By these vigorous measures the Government crushed the "Phænix conspiracy,but the movement of which it was only a part went on.

In America O'Mahony's mission had graver consequences. There a secret association was established in 1858, whose aim sufficiently appears from the oath of membership: “In the presence of Almighty God, I solemnly swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established, and to take up arms when called on to defend its independence and integrity. I also swear to yield implicit obedience to the commands of my superior officers." This was the Fenian, or the Irish Revolutionary, Brotherhood. Nowhere could the anti-English feeling be found more bitter than amongst the Irish in America, who, with a firm persuasion that they had been driven from their own country by English tyranny, eagerly enrolled themselves in the new association. But for a good many years Fenianism, as a distinct form of the national movement, had comparatively little influence in Ireland, and it 1863] THE PENIAN BROTHERHOOD

1 “So far as I have been able to learn, my belief is, that among the Fenians in almost every State of the Union, there are many thousands of the very cream of the Irish population " (Maguire, "Irish in America," p. 592).

465 never was embraced by more than a small section of the people, though the enthusiasm excited by the first great Fenian demonstration, the McManus funeral in 1861, showed that in the towns there was a field ripe for the revolutionist. The Roman Catholic Church, ever hostile to secret societies, strove hard to prevent the spread of Fenianism. Men like John Martin, Smith O'Brien, and A. M. Sullivan, who believed in open agitation, strenuously opposed it; and it long seemed as if it could serve no other end than to create dissension, jealousy, and weakness among Irish Nationalists. Yet the Nationalist cause was yearly gaining strength. Even English politicians and English newspapers gave it an indirect assistance by their strong utterances on the right of the people of the Papal states of Italy, as of every people, or at any rate every nation, to choose the form of their own government. Let this principle be applied to Ireland as well as to other countries : so it was urged in a petition presented to the Queen in 1860, which is said to have borne more than half a million signatures. In like manner were the Nationalists quick to apply to their own case the almost universal condemnation excited in England by Russian tyranny in Poland. The civil war in America followed, and again did many Englishmen dwell with fervour on the right of revolution and secession. Fresh vigour was given to the Fenian movement by the convention which met at Chicago, under the presidency of O'Mahony, in November 1863, in order to prepare for a more determined and systematic agitation in Ireland. In the same month Stephens started in Dublin a journal called the Irish People, under the direction of three men of remarkable ability and character-O'Leary, Luby, and Kickham. They persistently and contemptuously opposed the constitutional methods of the Nation as methods which had hitherto led to discreditable failure. To quote from one characteristic article: “Ireland to-day has one chance and strength which no subject nation save herself ever possessed. She has not only a new nation, as it were, of her sons outside her own soil, but countless thousands of those sons have been trained to arms in the fierce combats of the present American war. These Irish soldiers (both officers and privates), having already revived the military prestige of Ireland in Transatlantic fights, are impatient to signalise their valour still more in nobler battles at home.” 1

1 “The destiny of a nation ought to be determined, not by the opinions of other nations, but by the opinion of nation itself. cide whether they are well governed or not ... is for those who live under that government” (Times, November 18, 1859).

The Government knew that the American agitation in Ireland had increased after the convention of Chicago; but for two years no sign of interference was made, and the Irish People was allowed to go on preaching the policy of force. It found its strongest supporters among the Irish of the English and Scotch towns. The inaction of the Government showed that in Ireland there was no immediate danger of its revolutionary advice being taken. The close of the American war in 1865 at once changed the aspect of affairs. Members of the brotherhood, who had served in the war, now came over to Ireland in considerable numbers, and busied themselves in making recruits. At the beginning of September the Government obtained information that a rising was being planned. An informer handed over a letter, written by Stephens, under an assumed name, in which it was said, “This year—and let there be no mistake about it-must be the year of action. I speak with a knowledge and authority to which no other man could pretend ; and I repeat the flag of Ireland-of the Irish Republic-must this year be raised." The Government decided to take action. Suddenly, on September 15, a descent was made on the office of the Irish People. O'Leary, Luby, O'Donovan Rossa, and some subordinates were arrested, and many incriminating documents seized. Two months later Stephens was secured, but in less than a fortnight he escaped from prison, and,

1 Quoted in "Memoir of A. M. Sullivan,” p. 73. See an interesting article entitled “ '82 and '29" (quoted by Barry O'Brien, “Fifty Years of Concessions to Ireland,” vol. ii. p. 212), the drift of which is that English concessions have been more harmful to Ireland than open hostility.

1866] SUSPENSION OF HABEAS CORPUS ACT 467 after remaining concealed for several months in Dublin, succeeded in reaching France. The rest were tried and sentenced to terms of penal servitude. The sentences were severe, not to say harsh; and their severity was rendered the more odious by the fact that one of the two presiding judges was the renegade Keogh, the friend of Sadleir, the man who had himself been charged with having, in the election of 1852, openly recommended assassination. This first decided step taken by the Government, so far from crushing the conspiracy, had the effect of awakening popular sympathy, and of assisting the Fenian recruiting agents. Every day the situation became more grave. In England there prevailed a feeling of anxiety, all the more intense that no certainty existed as to how far the disaffection had spread. The new Parliament were accordingly met with the demand for a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and a letter was read from Lord Wodehouse declaring the urgent necessity of giving the Executive fresh powers.

Great numbers of Fenian agents, he said, were engaged in swearing in members; fully five hundred were known to the police; they had three manufactories of arms in Dublin; and they were working hard to seduce the troops. Parliament responded to the appeal with the alacrity usual in such cases. The Bill was brought in on Saturday, February 17; the standing orders were suspended; it was carried through all its stages in both Houses in the evening; and it received the royal assent early on the Sunday morning. This was the first Act passed by the new Parliament of 1865. During the six months' suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act 756 persons were arrested, many of whom were released after a short term of imprisonment, while a great number of others escaped arrest by fleeing the country. In August a further suspension was readily agreed to. A Fenian raid in Canada in the month of May; the continued importation of arms into Ireland; and a proclamation from Stephens, who had now gone to America, that the general rising would

ake place before the year was out, kept both England and Ireland in a state of alarm throughout the autumn

and winter. In America, on the other hand, Stephens's continued inaction had lost him the confidence of his colleagues. He was formally deposed, and men of less caution were sent over on the wild errand of preparing simultaneous risings in different parts of Ireland.

After much blundering in the arrangements, and after an attempt to seize Chester Castle, which but for an informer might have been successful, the long-expected rising at length took place in March 1867, and proved an even more pitiable failure than could have been anticipated. The informer had again been beforehand, so that the Government had full knowledge of the plan of operations. A few police barracks were captured; there were some encounters with the police; and in two or three days the affair was at an end. Most of the leaders were arrested, put on trial, convicted, and sentenced, some to death, and some to penal servitude for life or for long terms of years. The sentence of death was afterwards commuted in each case to penal servitude.

Few men in England were at that time able to view these events with ordinary calmness or fairness of mind. The most exaggerated and false accounts of the Fenian plans—for instance, that a general massacre had been intended—were repeated without a shadow of evidence; the severity of the sentences not only was regarded as necessary in the interest of society, but was hailed with indecent exultation; with general approval the convicted men were treated as ordinary criminals. Yet the English mind, which had often been stirred by tales of foreign tyranny, was familiar enough with the distinction between political offences and ordinary crimes. On May 3, 1867, a moderate petition was presented to the House of Commons, praying, among other things, that the sentences might be revised and the Fenians treated as political prisoners. Its strongest words were these : “that in the consequent apparent hopelessness of a remedy for the evils which press on their country, honourable Irishmen may, however erroneously, feel justified in resorting to force ; that, in a word, there is legitimate ground for the chronic dis

« ForrigeFortsæt »