« ForrigeFortsæt »
of an open country was glorious as exhilarating. The peasantry were comfortable and contented,--the farm-yards frequent and profusely filled with corn,-and, as she viewed the peace and plenty which surrounded her, she rapturously exclaimed,--" Oh! who, for the bubble reputation, would leave the blessings of a British hearth?” Her husband sighed, as he folded up the newspaper he had been perusing. There the state of Ireland was rather mysteriously slurred over.
It was a ministerial print, and, from the slovenly manner certain political circumstances were passed by, O'Hara augured that the tranquillity of his native land was not unbroken; but, feeling the spell must of necessity be soon dissolved, he forbore to cloud the sunny moment of return, by breathing the probability of a doubtful future. On landing in Dublin, he found his fears confirmed : he had only left one land of civil commotion for another. Ireland was wretchedly agitated. A heavy and portentous storm had been long collecting, and none could say when or where it would burst.
We shall pass over for some years the common-place detail of the life of O'Hara, and the infancy of his son, to give a rapid sketch of the history and politics of the country. This was, indeed, a 'stormy period, and the eventful year of 1799 will be long remembered,
England found herself engaged in a triple conflict,-America, France, and Spain, were united against her. The combined fleets of the two latter powers, unawed by the Channel fleet, inferior to them in strength and number, threatened the coasts of Great Britain with invasion, while the remote and unguarded parts of Ireland and Scotland remained in momentary apprehension of descents from numerous privateers, which, having almost annihilated a declining commerce, followed and destroyed the shipping in the harbours, or landed openly on the coast to plunder the houses of the wealthy. The existence of the Government was a subject of critical apprehension, and could be continued only by a mighty resistance; and in order to prevent the country from becoming the theatre of a doubt
ful conflict, it was deemed imperative by the Ministry of the day to endeavour to keep the battle at a distance. The exertions necessary to effect this indispensable measure drained the kingdom of its soldiery, and thus no alternative was left to the Parliament but to remove the military force so requisite at the time for its defence, and abandon the country to its fate. The maritime towns, fearful of plunder and destruction, called on the Government to assist them, but were answered that no troops could be spared, and their protection must be confided to themselves. In consequence of this communication, a numerous and respectable body of citizens were embodied, and, aware that the public finances were in a state of bankruptcy, they at individual expense clothed and armed themselves; while the Executive, delighted at the spirit of determined resistance then happily pervading the Irish people, encouraged it by their approval, and, to give it effect, dispensed an immense quantity of arms and military stores throughout the kingdom.
Here was the origin of the volunteers of
Ireland ; and be it remembered, to their immortal honour, that although organized and disciplined by themselves, they not only paid profound deference to the laws, but frequently and zealously interfered in having them impartially and faithfully executed.
The advantages and defects of this once celebrated institution have been frequently canvassed, and very differently decided on. Their day has long passed by, but they will not soon be forgotten. It will be sufficient to observe generally, that as a military association they deterred their Gallic neighbours from an invasion ; while the internal peace and tranquillity of the country was in an eminent degree preserved by their vigorous exertions, and the willing co-operation given by this body to the unbiassed administration of justice.
The utility of the volunteers has been universally acknowledged ; few have doubted the purity, none the patriotism of the system; but as their numbers were imposing, and their influence unbounded, the Government soon had cause to view them with apprehension and
distrust. The members of this popular institution speculated loosely in the politics of the times, and, as their enemies alleged, deviated from their original object by forming provincial meetings for the avowed purpose of discussing questions of parliamentary reform; and whilst protesting against the abuses of the Constitution, they pressed, and probably too strongly, upon Ministers the necessity of restoring it to its pristine purity. In furtherance of these principles, the Dungannon Convention assembled on the 15th February, 1782. Their resolutions were most determined in demanding a speedy reform, and a more general diffusion of the rights of civil liberty. No wonder the Government felt that there was more of dictation than prayer in the petition, for their opinions were delivered with the boldness of delegates, the representatives of one -Irundred thousand men in arms.
The example of the volunteers of the North was followed by the meeting of the delegates of Leinster, in the month of the ensuing October ; and, as a finale, the grand National Convention, comprising delegates from every