Billeder på siden

common land from time immemorial-meant starvation to the majority of the peasants of Tipperary and Waterford. They accordingly resisted the enclosures, and, collecting in bands, marched through these counties, pulling down the fences, often maltreating those engaged in putting them up. These desultory attacks being made in the open day, the chief actors were easily recognised and often punished savagely. An oath-bound secret society was accordingly organised, the members of which were known for some time as Levellers. These soon enlarged the scope of their operations by including the redress of their many other grievances-especially exorbitant rents and tithes; and, from the custom of disguising themselves on their nocturnal visits by wearing a white shirt over their clothes, they were known as Whiteboys.

The payment of tithes was naturally considered a great grievance by the Catholics and Presbyterians, not only because they were paid to a hostile Church, but because, the tax being levied only on corn, potatoes, flax, and meadow, it fell chiefly on the poor. But the greatest grievance was not so much the tithe itself as the usual mode of collecting it, which often inflicted great hardships on the peasantry, although the parsons "seldom received more than one-third of their legal property, and sometimes not one-fourth,, or even one-fifth." 2 The clergy of the Established Church rarely collected their tithes themselves; three classes of persons were engaged in this operation the proctor, the tithe-farmer, and the canter. The proctor viewed and valued the crops of the parishioner, and afterwards chaffered with him about the price of the tithe; the tithe-farmer was a person who rented the tithe from the incumbent; and the canter was a person who bid for his neighbour's tithe. The canting of tithes was only resorted

1 On March 18, 1735, the subject of tithe was under discussion in the Irish House of Commons, when a resolution was carried by 110 to 50, declar. ing the impost to be "grievous, burdensome, and INJURIOUS TO THE PROTESTANT INTEREST."

2 "Considerations on the present disturbances in the Province of Munster, their causes, extent, probable consequences, and remedies," by Dominick Trant, Esq. Dublin, 1787.




to when the tithe-farmer considered the offer of the farmer more than commonly unreasonable. The canters were usually cottiers and labourers who had no tillage land of their own, and were able in this way to get supply of potatoes which they might find difficult to procure otherwise. It was the tithe-farmer who chiefly oppressed the peasantry. When the tenant, from one cause or another, was unable to pay the tithe, the tithe-farmer gave him credit, often at high interest, and if he failed to pay the interest, it was added to the principal, and ultimately his goods were perhaps distrained, even to his miserable furniture. Again, if a cottier or farmer, " or his half-naked wife or children, should inadvertently dig two or three beds of their early potatoes without leaving the tithe or tenth spade undug, the tithe-farmers immediately threatened to sue him for subtraction of tithe, to avoid which they were frequently obliged to take their tithes at his valuation. The tithe-farmer frequently left his tenth part of the potato garden undug until very late in the season, in order to prevent the farmer sowing his winter corn in time, and thereby force him to take his tithe; for there was no specific time allowed for removing the tithe of potatoes, and a reasonable time (an expression often made use of) is vague and uncertain. Again, if the poor farmer should fail to take up his bond on the day it became due, he was obliged to give the tithe-farmer his own price for that year's tithe.

The tithe-farmer often kept the peasants bound from year to year in this manner for several years successively, and obliged them to give for their tithes whatever he thought proper to ask.” ?

With the exception, perhaps, of the tyranny of the tithe-farmers, most of the grievances which maddened the Irish peasant into insurrection and crime were either of recent origin or had become intensified beyond endurance

i "The Present State of the Church of Ireland, containing a Description of its Precarious Situation, and the consequent Danger to the Public,” etc., by Richard (Woodward), Lord Bishop of Cloyne (author of the Charter School Catechism). Dublin, 1787.

2 " A Letter from a Munster Layman of the Established Church to his Friend in Dublin on the Disturbances in the South.” Dublin, 1787.


[ocr errors]

by the circumstances of the time. But to form a true idea of the sad lot of the Irish peasant, we must see him as he emerges from the slough of misery in the first half of the eighteenth century, just before the outbreak in Munster in 1762. He was rack-rented by his landlord; persecuted by the tithe-farmer; obliged to work on a holy day of his Church under a fine of 25. or a whipping;1 forbidden any pastimes, such as hurling or football, on a Sunday, the only day the poor wretch could indulge in pastimes, under pain of rad. or two hours in the stocks ;? forbidden to attend a "pattern" under a penalty of ios., half to the informer, or in default to be publicly whipped. If found with a switch or walking-stick, perhaps cut from a tree planted by himself-for planting a tree did not give a tenant any claim to it—he was liable to a penalty of ios., and in default a month's imprisonment or a whipping; 4 he was liable to nocturnal visits in search of arms, game, “gadds,” or “wyths.” Scarcely a market-day passed in some Irish towns without the brutal spectacle of the whipping of

poor peasants, tied to a cart and dragged through the town, between the hours of ten o'clock and noon, so as to secure the greatest number of witnesses of the punishment.

The whipping of women in Russia, and of female slaves in slave states, has always excited horror and disgust; yet the Ascendency, in the interest of their class, passed a law to punish any woman who hired herself to be a nurse, knowing herself to be with child, or continued to nurse a child under the same circumstances without informing the parents, or who had any foul or infectious disease; the penalty being that the offender should forfeit her wages and suffer three months' hard labour, and be publicly whipped on some market-day, between the hours of eleven and twelve in the morning, through the streets of the town where the house of correction stands. There was, however, a saving clause which scarcely lessens the infamy: "Provided that no nurse who is with child shall be whipped



7 Will. III. c. 14, s. I.

7 Will. III. c. 17, s. 3.
2 Anne c. 6, ss. 26, 27 (the first Popery Act).
4 Anne c. 9 s. 12.

2 Geo. I. c. 16, s. 7.

[ocr errors]





for offending this law till two months after her delivery.” Whiteboyism was the outcome of all these grievances. Instead, however, of attributing the outbursts of violence and outrage to the true cause, the Ascendency party chose to believe them the work of a Papist conspiracy, inspired and subsidised by priests and foreign agents. This view was industriously spread by rack-renting landlords, who wished to divert attention from their own injustice.

In all insurrectionary movements many outrages and bloody deeds are perpetrated on both sides from a spirit of remorseless hatred; and the successive Whiteboy risings in the south of Ireland were unhappily no exception to the rule. But, however much we may abhor, and ought to abhor, the savage outrages of a desperate starving peasantry, we should still more abhor the merciless punishments, dictated by revenge and fear, inflicted upon them by their oppressors. That equally observant and honest English tourist, Arthur Young, speaking of the passing grievances of the Oak and Steel Boys of Ulster, says, “The case was, however, different with the Whiteboys, who, being labouring Catholics, met with all those oppressions I have described, and would probably have continued in full submission had not very severe treatment in respect of tithes, united with a great speculative rise of rents about the same time, blown up the flame of resistance. The atrocious acts they were guilty of made them the object of general indignation; Acts were passed for their punishment which seemed calculated for the meridian of Barbary. This arose to such a height that by one Act they were to be hanged under circumstances without the common formalities of a trial, which, though repealed by the following session, marks the spirit of punishment; while others remain yet the law of the land, that would, if executed, tend more to raise than quell an insurrection. From all which it is manifest that the gentlemen of Ireland never thought of a radical cure from overlooking the real cause of disease, which in fact lay in themselves, and not in the wretches they doomed to the gallows. Let them change their own conduct entirely, and the poor will not long riot,"




WHEN the colonial Parliament undertook the office of gaolers of the majority of the people of Ireland, they aimed at exercising supreme control over their own legislation. This spirit of colonial independence was so much in the air in the first Irish Parliament after the Revolution, that one of the members for the University of Dublin, William Molyneux, wrote, in 1698, a work in defence of the principle which has since served as a text-book. Molyneux was a friend and disciple of John Locke; and the essay of the latter, “On the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government," served as a basis for Molyneux's treatise. The essay was dedicated to the king, and in his dedication and preface the author leaves no room for doubt that the Ascendency was for him the Irish nation, and that the majority of the Irish people had no place in his scheme. Yet, strange to say, his fundamental thesis is that the right to which England may pretend of binding Ireland by Acts of Parliament can be founded only on the imaginary title of conquest, or purchase, or on precedents and matters of record; and he proceeds to show that Henry II. made no conquest, but received the voluntary submission of all the ecclesiastical and civil estates of Ireland. Henry having acquired the dominion in this way, Molyneux once for all disposes of the whole Irish people who bestowed it, and puts in their place the handful of Anglo-Norman adventurers who had crept into the country.

It is of no practical importance now whether the English

« ForrigeFortsæt »