Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

1757)

LORD CHESTERFIELD VICEROY

59

dispensed with. But, under cover of this moderation, so novel and agreeable to the poor oppressed people, Lord Chesterfield displayed an untiring vigilance regarding Jacobite movements. He soon satisfied himself that there were none. In fact, no interest in the Stuarts or their cause survived; it would not have been possible to get up an insurrectionary movement in their favour in Ireland, except among an insignificant number of Jacobites, many, if not most, of whom were Protestants, and none of whom were of the old Irish. Having ascertained this, the Popery laws ceased to be enforced. Mass was openly celebrated; but not a single enactment of the penal code was repealed. The Government, as a matter of policy, merely connived at the non-enforcement of the laws; but, as Edmund Burke observed, “connivance is the relaxation of slavery, not the definition of liberty.”

Lord Chesterfield's mission of conciliation by a connivance at a temporary relaxation of the religious persecution having succeeded in tiding over the time of danger, there was no further necessity for his presence, and he was accordingly recalled, and the old policy resumed. But the short respite from persecution had infused a new spirit into the Catholics, and had introduced disturbing elements in the minds of thoughtful Protestants, as to the efficacy of persecution. The struggles of the patriots, though generally unsuccessful, kept alive the spirit of patriotism-colonial as yet, but destined in no long time to become national. It was but a respite, however, as the case of Mr. Saul, a Catholic merchant of Dublin, soon proved. A Miss O'Toole, a Catholic girl, who appears to have had some fortune, was pressed by her Protestant relations to conform to the Established Church. To avoid these importunities, she took refuge with her Catholic relation, Mr. Saul, who was prosecuted, in the name of a Protestant relation, for harbouring her, convicted, and told, from the bench, that as a Papist he had no right, inasmuch as the law did not presume a Papist to exist in the kingdom; nor could they so much as breathe there without the connivance of Government. Another symptom that the old spirit had revived was a Bill for the registration of priests pursuant to the second of Anne, promoted by Lord Clanbrassil, afterwards Earl of Limerick, the object of which was to put an effectual stop, if possible, to the clandestine ordination of priests. The Bill was defeated in the House of Lords by the bishops. In 1757 Lord Clanbrassil succeeded in passing the Bill through both Houses of Parliament, but it was quashed in the Privy Council, that body having had peculiar powers under the Irish Constitution. The case of Mr. Saul, and the threatened Bill of Lord Clanbrassil, had most important consequences, for they led to the formation of the first Catholic committee, and to the initiation of the method of attaining religious and political freedom and social reformation by peaceful constitutional means.

Passing over the struggles of the patriots in Parliament, and the increasing corruption-the chief instrument of Government employed by the English interest—and also the early efforts of the native race to secure religious freedom, we come to an important period when the poorer classes, native and colonial, unable to bear any longer the grinding tyranny under which they laboured, made spasmodic efforts by a war of outrages, conducted by secret oath-bound associations, to relieve themselves. These organisations were in most cases defensive, but there were some propagandist or offensive bodies. The colonial organisations were practically confined to Ulster, and were formed among the weaving or manufacturing small farmers, though they embraced many workmen who held no land, and some small farmers unconnected with the linen trade. The Presbyterians, as we have seen, suffered several religious disabilities, and, like the Catholics, paid excessive rents and oppressive tithes, though not to the same extent. The scarcity of money, not only as capital, but also as coin in circulation; the heavy taxation, caused by war, and the consequent interruption of trade, and especially the high price of bread, produced dire misery nearly always verging on, and sometimes becoming, a partial or general famine, with its attendant hunger-fever. A society where this state of things represented the normal

61

1761] THE OAK BOYS AND STEEL BOYS condition of existence formed an excellent soil for the growth of lawlessness and crime, whenever the necessary impulse was given by some extreme acts of tyranny or injustice.

The injustice which led to the formation of the “Oak Boys," one of the best known of the colonial societies, was duty work on roads. Every householder was bound to give six days' labour in making and repairing the public roads; and if he had a horse, six days' labour of his horse. It was complained that this duty work was only levied on the poor, and that they were compelled to work on private job roads, and even upon what were the avenues and farm roads of the gentry. The name Oak Boys, or Hearts of Oak Boys, was derived from the members in their raids wearing an oak branch in their hats. The organisation spread rapidly over the greater part of Ulster. Although the grievances were common to Protestant and Catholic workmen, and there was nothing religious in the objects or constitution of the Oak Boys, the society was an exclusively Protestant body, owing to the total absence at the period of any association between the Protestants and Catholics. A Protestant workman or farmer who associated with a Papist was looked upon as an abettor of treason, and shunned accordingly.

The Steel Boys, or Hearts of Steel Boys, followed the Oak Boys. They also were exclusively Protestant; the origin of this organisation was the extravagance and profligacy of a bad landlord, the representative of the great land thief, Chichester, of the Plantation of King James I. This worthy descendant, wanting to raise money wherewith to supply his extravagance, levied enormous fines for renewals of leases, thereby introducing into his part of Ulster an unjust and bad custom. The greater part of his tenantry, being unable to pay the fines, were evicted. This inhuman oppression called the Steel Boys into existence. At all times, and in all countries, the oppressed, especially when the hope of relief dies, and is replaced by a spirit of revenge, have recourse to combi

1 The Oak Boys movement took place about 1761-2; the Steel Boys about nations for mutual protection. At first the sole object is defence from arbitrary acts; by-and-by the scope of such a society widens—it usurps the functions of the Government, issues decrees, holds its courts, tries, passes sentence, and even executes its enemies. In the smaller, ruder, and isolated societies, the second stage is marked by barbarous outrages. The Oak Boys and Steel Boys followed the usual course and became general reformers; they resisted the payment of tithes, and showed a certain republican spirit. Both societies had good reasons for combination, and they were free from religious intolerance and hatred. They committed many outrages, however, especially the Steel Boys. The Oak Boys and Steel Boys did not last long, and, when put down, did not revive, because the great emigration to America carried off all those who were most energetic and intolerant of oppression, and at the same time relieved the labour market to some extent; but chiefly because the grievances were redressed, and in any case were neither so heavy nor deep seated as in the case of the native Irish of the south.

In the south the same jobbing grand juries and road contractors, the same gambling spendthrift landlords, exacting even more grinding rack-rents, the same harsh and unfeeling tithe-farmers abounded as in Ulster. But in addition to all these causes that excited the opposition of the Oak Boys and the Steel Boys, we should remember that the southern farmers and labourers could hold no estate in the land; that the fruit of their toil was the property of their landlord, unprotected by even the custom of tenant-right; that they were thrown upon the land exclusively, without the help of any manufacturing industry to relieve the pressure on the land; that they were forbidden to read and write unless they conformed; that they were shut out from learning or practising most skilled trades; that every person connected with the administration of the law, from the judge to the turnkey, was a Protestant who looked upon Papists as the common enemy; and that the feeling was mutual, for the peasant believed that the law was intended to oppress and inflict

1771] CONDITION OF THE SOUTH OF IRELAND

63 wrong upon him, and events too frequently justified his opinion. At this time, too, the country was in a bad way. “The lower class of the people," as Mr. Hely Hutchinson said, “wanted food; there had been two serious famines during the reign of George II. ; the increased taxes and loans had ruined the finances of the country; little as the trade of the country was, there was not money enough to carry it on." Already, in the time of Primate Boulter, the tillage was insufficient to raise enough corn for the wants of the country, and a Bill for the compulsory tillage of five per cent. of the arable land was brought into Parliament. In the early part of the century, a malignant epidemic murrain, originating perhaps in the steppes of Russia, found its way through Holstein and Holland into the north of France, which it ravaged in 1731 ; and again, with increased virulence, in 1742 and 1744, when it also extended to a great part of Germany. In 1745 it laid waste Holland a second time, and thence found its way into England, which it ravaged for more than twelve years. It is impossible to give the exact number of animals destroyed, even if it were within the scope of this book; but it may be stated, in order to show the influence which this cause exerted on Irish affairs, that in one large district of England 80,000 cattle were slaughtered, and 150,000 died in the third year of the plague. The price of beef, butter, and cheese rose enormously, and the whole tillage of the south of Ireland was supplanted by pasturage. The numerous labourers employed in tillage were turned adrift without any means of earning food. The cottiers and small farmers, being tenants at will, were evicted, and their holdings consolidated. The idle labourers and dispossessed farmers crowded into the towns to beg food from the impoverished shopkeepers; many emigrated to America; many perished from hunger or fever.

Land which had previously been used as commonage was now enclosed, and let to graziers. This enclosure of the common land- most of which constituted the markland of the ancient tribes, and had consequently been

« ForrigeFortsæt »