The Felons Track (Book)
The appearance of this narrative will surprise no one. For apology, if any be needed, the writer may trust to his own share in the transactions with which it deals; and still more so perhaps to the misrepresentation to which, during their progress, he had been personally subjected. But personal vindication imparts neither interest nor importance to history, while it necessarily detracts from its dignity and good faith. Besides, time with the disastrous events marking its more recent course, have silenced the voice of calumny; and the writer undertakes his task with no personal feeling to gratify or even to consult. The character of others, now unable to be heard, is far dearer to him than his own: and while he aspires to justify, before the world, their singular career, distinguished throughout by generous and lofty passions, surpassing intellect and measureless love of their country and countrymen—a career so brilliant and instructive even in the last hours of gloom—he will endeavour to infuse into the history of their struggles and their fate, that generous tenderness toward others, that spirit of self-sacrifice and supreme love of truth, which were among their noblest characteristics.
The undertaking suggests but one painful consideration—the impossibility of treating the subject fully and fairly without investigating facts far anterior to the late struggle, but coincident in their effect with its progress and development, and stamping their pernicious and fatal influence upon the spirit and conduct that led to a final overthrow. This will necessarily involve an inquiry into the late conduct and teaching of Mr. O’Connell, which the writer would most willingly avoid. Mr. O’Connell’s name and character fill a mighty space in history. They are the most cherished recollections in his country’s memory; and she clings to them with loving pride in this her hour of utter desolation. The hand that traces these recollections would be the last to aim a blow at the object of her sacred affections; and if in obedience to a more binding obligation, Mr. O’Connell’s policy be questioned and condemned, his influencing motive shall be unchallenged and unarraigned. What his final purpose was, and how he had determined to effect it, had his life been spared, and his course left unimpeded, now rest with him in his grave. It is for others to write his history and vindicate his career. By me even his mistakes shall be treated with forbearance.
A brief reference to the struggle for Catholic Emancipation becomes here imperative. That struggle has had no equal in history—nor for its moral grandeur, nor for its triumph—but for the singular difficulties which the position of the Irish Catholic imposed on those who engaged in it. It is an error to call it emancipation. It was neither the first nor the last, nor even the most important in the train of concessions, which are entitled to the name of emancipation. The pains and penalties of the “penal laws” had been long abolished, and that barbarous code had been compressed into cold and stolid exclusiveness. But the vices which a long and unrelenting slavery had burned into the character of the country, remained. The lie of law, which assumed the non-existence of the Catholic had infused itself into his nature, and while it was erased from the statute book, it was legible on his heart. That terrible necessity of denying his feelings, his property, his religion and his very being, had stamped its degrading influence on his nature. In a moral sense the law had become a truth—there was no people. The Catholic gentry, giddy by their recent elevation, had only changed for that semblance of liberty their old stern spirit of resistance and revenge. Their new concessions hung gracefully around them, but they were like grafts on an ash stock—their growth was downward, and they wanted the stature and dignity of the native tree. Such were the means at Mr. O’Connell’s disposal. His enemies on the other hand were false, powerful, dexterous and unscrupulous. His efforts necessarily partook of the character both of the weapons he was obliged to wield and the foes he struck down. As he advanced to eminence and strength, means, the most crafty and cruel, were taken to overthrow him, every one of which he foiled by a sagacity infinitely above that of his oppressors. So successful had he been in deceiving the champions of intolerance, that of all the great qualities displayed in that wonderful struggle, that which was most prized was the cunning of evasion. It left behind it an enduring and destructive influence. Dissimulation in political action began to be regarded as a public virtue, and long afterwards, when men sought to assert the dignity of truth, their candour was charged against them as a heinous crime. It will be seen hereafter how fatally this fact operated against their efforts.
The very character of Emancipation has assumed an exaggerated and false guise. The joy of the nation was boundless—its gratitude immeasurable. In the shout that hailed the deliverer, earlier deliverers were forgotten. No one remembered the men whose stupendous exertions wrung from the reluctant spirit of a far darker time the right of living, of worship, of enjoying property, and exercising the franchise. All these, and more, which were once, and not very remotely, denied to the Catholics had been before this accorded to them. Yet the interest and importance of winning access to Parliament, to the higher ranks of the army, and, perhaps a stray seat at the Privy Council, acquired the name of Emancipation, and Mr. O’Connell monopolised its entire renown. He was styled the “Liberator,” and his achievement designated as “striking the fetters from the limbs of the slave, and liberating the altar.” In truth, the import of Emancipation was so exaggerated, and its history so warped, that even now at a distance of more than twenty years, both the act and the actors are so misunderstood that it requires no little daring to approach a question involving the sensibilities, prejudices and passions of an entire generation.
A truer appreciation might have given Mr. O’Connell a different and higher destiny. Not alone the boundless exultation of the Catholic but the mortified pride of the baffled Protestant also stamped its influence on his fortunes, prospects and career. In proportion as he was to the former an object of adulation and pride did the latter hoard up in his heart for him enduring envy and insatiable hate. Another circumstance, too, which Mr. O’Connell did not create and could not in the beginning control, contributed to mar his future glory. This was the pecuniary compensation which the emancipated Catholics kneeled to present him. It is far from being intended here to disparage the offering or decry its acceptance. On the contrary, if this were the proper place, both would be vindicated with zealous pride. But the effect of the continued collection, on Mr. O’Connell’s conduct and efficiency was baneful in the extreme. And it was among the most prominent circumstances in shaping his career.
Mr. O’Connell entered the House of Commons under auspices more flattering and encouraging than ever smiled on the advent to that assembly of any other man. In whatever light he was regarded, he was far the foremost personage of his time. How his subsequent career might justify the hushed awe with which a proud senate received him if he had devoted himself to the broad and comprehensive questions of imperial jurisprudence, for which he seemed so eminently fitted, it would be idle now to conjecture. Certain it is that no act of his after life, varied and wonderful as it was, realised the promise of that glad and glorious morning.
Lord Anglesea, who had been removed from the viceroyalty for suspected treachery to the cause of intolerance, was restored to his office, by more distinguished converts, and was received by the people with tumultuous acclaim. His popularity was short-lived. The present Chief Justice, Doherty, was then Attorney-General. He incurred the wrath of Mr. O’Connell in consequence of treachery which he had exhibited in conducting a trial at Clonmel. This led to a fierce encounter in the House of Commons—the first great trial of Mr. O’Connell’s powers—in which Doherty’s friends claimed for their champion a decisive victory. However unjust may be that judgment, Mr. O’Connell’s admirers were compelled to admit that he failed in his impeachment and principally in consequence of a letter written by Mr. Shiel, then second to no other Irishman. Mr. Shiel had been associated with the Attorney-General in the prosecution at Clonmel, and his letter boldly justified the conduct which the great popular tribune vehemently and indignantly impugned. This was quite unexpected, and greatly affected Mr. O’Connell’s cause. But whether Mr. Doherty failed or succeeded, he was rewarded, and almost avowedly, by the Chief Justiceship of the Common Pleas. The appointment was a direct insult to Mr. O’Connell, and scarcely a less direct insult to the Irish bar, and the Irish nation. Mr. Doherty was regarded as a man of great forensic ability, but no legal attainments. He had scarcely acquired any practice, and no distinction whatever: so that his elevation to a post he was so inadequate to fill gave universal dissatisfaction, and was read as evidence that the Government of Ireland was subservient to an unscrupulous and audacious faction.
Soon after the date of this appointment the first Repeal Association was established by Mr. O’Connell. His motives were at once bitterly assailed. By some he was charged with being influenced by personal mortification. By some his conduct was attributed to a love of turbulence and money. By some it was said he only intended the agitation as a threat, by means of which he could enforce a wiser, more liberal, and just administration of the law and government in Ireland. Few, if any, believed him to be in earnest and sincere. But the condition of the country and the principles of Mr. O’Connell’s early life would suggest higher motives; and the perseverance and intensity of feeling and purpose, with which he urged the deliverance of his country in after times, proves that he was a stranger to the sordid considerations which envy or fear coupled with his first labours in that direction. Certain it is that, whatever were his motives, it could be no tempting ambition that determined him to transfer the exercise of his abilities to the tribune of angry agitation from that more legitimate and loftier arena which, with unsurpassed energy, he had won.
The agitation succeeded rapidly. The Government became at once intolerant and impotent. They proclaimed down the agitation; but this only imparted to it activity, energy and strength. The Government gave way to a furious storm which had been long gathering elsewhere. The great Reform Ministry succeeded with Earl Grey at its head; and in the struggle for Imperial parliamentary Reform, Ireland and her independence were forgotten.
During the intellectual conflict that followed, Mr. O’Connell asserted his pre-eminence, and won a lofty name. He made far the most successful speech on the question of Reform. It not only exceeded the ablest orations of the British leaders, but was, perhaps, the most triumphant he himself had ever delivered. But his position soon changed. From being the unanswerable champion of the ministerial majority in the House of Commons, he took the lead of a small opposition which resisted the Government on the Irish Bill. Although the minister was the exponent and stern advocate of the widest liberality, in applying the reform to England, he undertook to defend, on the very opposite principle, the niggard liberty he was prepared in the same measure to extend to Ireland. In this unnatural and unexpected turn of affairs, Mr. O’Connell took a proud and bold stand, against the Government, and for his country. The ministry succeeded, but he had more than ever acquired the confidence and unbounded gratitude of his countrymen. Thenceforward, he was their acknowledged chief, and his words expressed not more his own than the public will.
His remonstrances were vehement and angry, but they were vain. The ministry disregarded the claims of justice, as well as the voice of the orator. The quarrel became personal and vindictive to so great an extent, that Mr. O’Connell’s support would almost ensure the defeat of any measure at the hands of the English Whig faction.
While this was his position in the House of Commons, he was preparing the elements of an organisation which was destined to embrace the whole island. He started the first great Repeal Association, which was at once attended with marvellous success. Forty-four members of Parliament were under its control if not in its ranks. A discussion of the merits of Repeal was forced in the House of Commons by the intemperate zeal of the member for Cork. The motion was resisted by the whole weight and influence of the Ministry. But in a resolution proposed as an amendment, both Houses concurred in acknowledging that Ireland’s complaint was founded in justice, and in solemnly pledging themselves to the practical redress of her grievances. The resolution was carried to the foot of the throne, and there received the sanction of royalty.
But that resolution remained and remains unfulfilled. The ministry which proposed it, redeemed their promise by an Algerine measure of coercion, which Mr. O’Connell denounced as “base, bloody and brutal.” His opposition, and their own recreancy of principle, tended rapidly to their overthrow. Lord Stanley, in hatred to Mr. O’Connell and his country, abandoned the Government, which he charged with truckling to the great demagogue’s will. The country, on the other hand, withdrew its confidence from them on the ground that they truckled to their hereditary foes, and allowed the principles of the Tories to influence Parliament in the name and through the agency of the Whigs. Division and weakness followed; and the result was a break-up of the administration, which was remodelled, with Lord Melbourne for its chief, on the understanding that more liberal views should govern its future course. An alliance was entered into with Mr. O’Connell, whose support the Prime Minister openly claimed and as openly boasted of. Then was formed what was known as the “Litchfield House Compact.” This compact, if such the understanding that existed can be called, was based upon the assurance that the most liberal measures of justice should be extended to Ireland, and that in the administrative department, the Government should apply itself diligently to the reform and purifying of all public functions and functionaries. What was the nature or extent of Mr. O’Connell’s engagement, I do not pretend to know. But whether he pledged himself to abandon for ever the struggle for independence, or only to place it in abeyance for a season to facilitate the action of the Government in reference to their good intentions and favourable promises, he so far fulfilled his engagement as to dissolve the Association.
That Association was composed of various and very conflicting elements. The motives which influenced many of its leaders were equally varied. Many joined it merely because Mr. O’Connell was its founder and its guide. Many among the middle ranks of society had acquired a sort of interest in agitation they could not easily surrender. It had gained them local distinction, and gratified a morbid vanity. Profuse votes of thanks were their incentive and reward. To correspond with Mr. Ray, or perhaps the Liberator, consummated their ambition, and for aught beyond that they felt no concern. Others there were, corrupt by nature and cunning in design, whose political exertions had personal advancement for their sole aim; and others still who never believed Mr. O’Connell sincere, but joined the Association and shouted their approval, because too contemptible and feeble to acquire distinction except through the echo of his voice or under shelter of his fame. To the false and the sordid and the indifferent, the dissolution of the confederacy was a welcome event: but the people, yet uncorrupted, looked on passively with agonised hearts.
Physical contagion generally begins at the bases of society, and trails its way slowly to the upper ranks, occasionally dealing doom to some hard hearts that mocked, it may be, its first uncared-for victims. But moral corruption begins with the highest, and embraces the whole circle of society in its descent. So it was in this instance. Members of Parliament who had solemnly pledged themselves to the disenthrallment of their country, accepted the wages, and entered into the service of the Government who had one and all vowed they would prevent the fulfilment of the hustings pledge, even at the risk of a civil war. Among them was Mr. O’Connell’s son, who had taken that pledge before the assembled people of Meath, his son-in-law, Mr. Fitzsimon, who had sworn it to the freeholders of the metropolitan county, Mr. Carew O’Dwyer who, in virtue of the same pledge, obtained the unanimous suffrage of Drogheda, and several others. Many relatives and friends of Mr. O’Connell obtained rewards adequate to their services. Agents who had been successful against Whig candidates now retired into Whig places. The corporate towns were made over to the Whigs, who held out the understanding that the sons, nephews and kindred of the leading and deserving citizens would be provided for in the departments suited to their different capacities, and varying from the post of tide-waiter, to that of stipendiary magistrate. Fierce was the struggle which followed, and sore the disappointment, and many a scalding tear of baffled ambition watered the way to the aspirant’s ruin.
This is not said for the purpose of disparaging the legitimate ambition of those who sought advancement in the altered circumstances and sentiments of the time. But the effect of such a state of things on the morality of the nation was incalculably injurious. The most solemn resolution was openly violated, and that by the very men who were foremost in recommending the national vow. Nor would its tendency be less fatal, assuming that Mr. O’Connell was correct in supposing that the experiment would be vain, and that its failure could not fail to supply new and more urgent reasons for the nation’s independence. The compact, if even entered into with that view, would shake all faith in public men; because it would only change the parties with whom a false obligation was contracted, leaving the obligation itself and its violation exactly where they were.
Mr. O’Connell’s support was doomed to be as fatal to the Whigs as his opposition. He unhappily assisted them during his period to carry one measure, against which they had recorded several solemn decisions in Parliament, namely, the Tithe Bill, without an appropriation clause, which was a direct falsification of their own resolution, whereby they defeated Sir Robert Peel’s short-lived administration, in 1835. And what was still more lamentable, he supported them in renewing in a modified form the very Coercion Act for the introduction of which he designated them as “base, bloody and brutal.”
But other elements were secretly sapping the influences for which he made these sacrifices. The storm of disaffection, a long while gathering among open foes and disappointed retainers, was about to burst on the devoted heads of the Whigs. With their accustomed fickleness and treachery of character they prepared to sacrifice, for the sake of power, the man whom they conciliated and deceived in the same hope of retaining it. If he foresaw that this would be the result of his experiment, never was augury more fully realised. Whatever may be the exact engagements of the Whigs, he was able to allege that not one was fulfilled, while he was in a position to prove that he more than kept his own: unless indeed, it could be assumed that for the few places obtained by his friends, and others, some of them honourable men, he surrendered the lofty and nearly impregnable position he occupied in 1834, and which, in one sense at least, he never afterwards attained.
From whatever cause, his influence over the Whigs visibly declined, and his counsels no longer swayed their Irish policy. Once more they relied on the false expedient of yielding to their enemies and allowing them to wield the power, while they were themselves content with the spoils of the country. Again the quarrel with Mr. O’Connell became bitter and personal, and again had he recourse to Repeal.
From the time of the first Repeal Association to that of the Precursor Society several other associations or societies were established, which have left behind them scarcely the memory of their very names—that of the second association alone excepted. Yet each had an ample treasury, and was composed of the same or nearly the same elements, and the same members. There is many an honest man and many a fool, whose boast it is that they contributed a pound to each of them, and had their respective cards.
At last the late Repeal Association was formed. Its birth was received with sneers. Mr. O’Connell’s sincerity was questioned, and his motives canvassed with vindictive vigilance. The warmest Nationalists looked on with doubt and coldness. Not one man of rank, outside the members of the defunct society, joined its ranks. The routine of business, the receipt of money, the resolutions, the speeches, were exactly identical with those of its predecessors. The Government seemed neither to dread it nor care for it. It lingered on, unsustained by the country and despised by its enslavers. The contributions of the members did not suffice to pay half the ordinary expenses of its machinery. Debts accumulated, and the revenue did not increase. While the body was thus situated, Mr. O’Connell had recourse to an expedient at once singular and decisive. It was to build Conciliation Hall. The Association was at the time seriously in debt, and he proposed to multiply that debt four-fold by engaging in this costly undertaking.
While persons who affected to be in his confidence were amazed at this step, the Government regarded it as an evidence of purpose which it was indispensable at once to check. They saw that their opponents had formerly menaced and coerced in vain, and they determined to proscribe. Accordingly the newly appointed viceroy, Lord Ebrington, being waited on by the Dublin Corporation with some address of congratulation, delivered them a lecture on the disloyalty of the Corn Exchange, and announced his purpose never to employ in the service of the Government any one who frequented that pestilent locality. The corporation returned abashed to their council-rooms to record the viceregal threat. But from end to end of the land rose one shout of indignant defiance. Suspicion, doubt and hesitation gave way to the taunt involved in the insolent challenge. The ranks of the Association were filled, and its treasury replenished; and the viceroy soon discovered how little was to be gained by a vulgar appeal to the meanest passion when it was addressed to the Irish people.
 Mr. Feargus O’Connor, afterwards leader of the English Chartists.—Ed
THOMAS DAVIS, HIS EARLY LABOURS. — THE “NATION” NEWSPAPER. — PROGRESS OF THE ASSOCIATION. — CLONTARF MEETING. — THE STATE TRIALS. — THE YOUNG IRELAND PARTY. — SMITH O’BRIEN. — FEDERALISM. — THE BEQUEST ACT.
Even before this great occasion, gifted spirits were insensibly moulding the character and destiny of the Association. The hurried but firm step of a pale student of Trinity College might be daily seen pacing the unfrequented flagways that led to the Corn Exchange. His penetrating glance, half shrouded by its own shyness, his face averted from the crowd, and his mind turned within, he would come, and sit, and hear, and suppress the emotions that swelled his proud young heart as he caught glimpses of a bright future for his country. He had the richest store of practical knowledge, an imagination fruitful as a sunny clime: faith, hope and courage boundless as immortal love. That he could realise all things which came within the scope of his own fond yearnings, he had no doubt. But most of the men with whom he took his place were stinted in acquirements, and not over-gifted in intellect, and had no conception or ambition beyond admiring or applauding the behests of one predominant and controlling will. With the passionate aspirations of the young student they felt no kindred sympathies. In their hands, political action, for whatever end, sank into a traffic or parade. Even with such materials he determined to work out his country’s redemption, though already satisfied that before such a thing were possible, their habits, feelings, passions and hearts should be entirely changed. In order to do this, it was necessary he should stoop to the level of their conceptions and capacities. Thus for many weary months, with his energies, as it were, chained down to a cold stone, toiled and strove Thomas Davis. His influence first began to be felt as chairman of a sub-committee on the registers. This position afforded him an opportunity of entering into correspondence with the leading politicians of the party, and whenever he saw in any man’s replies evidence of depth, capacity or earnestness, he at once entered into friendly and unreserved communication, exhorting him in language full of passionate entreaty. In these, his early efforts, John Dillon shared his labours, his ambition and his heart.
About this time Mr. Stanton, proprietor of the Morning Register, committed to the two young graduates the writing of his journal. His preference was not so much owing to their character as politicians as it was to their pre-eminence in literary attainments. The press of Dublin had then sunk to the lowest level. Newspaper literature had even fallen, too. It was divided into three sections, each of which was the whining slave of one or other of the great predominating factions of the country. The Register was generally regarded as ranking among the mercenaries of the Castle. But no sooner did it fall into the hands of the college friends than all Dublin was startled by the originality, vigour and brilliancy of its articles. When the Whigs were about retiring they determined on a gross and scandalous abuse of power for the purpose of rewarding an unscrupulous partisan, even though it involved an affront to one of their oldest and ablest friends, the then Irish Chancellor. That man was Lord Plunket, who had served the Whigs so faithfully, honourably and fearlessly. He was commanded to retire in order to make room for Sir John Campbell, who was thereby to be qualified for the English peerage.
The stipendiaried journals of the Castle exhausted their adulation, and had received their last reward for upholding the appointment. The Tory press, hungry for the spoil which it maddened the others to lose, paid back the compliments by intense vituperation. The slang of party warfare was bandied in the usual fashion, without thought or a care beyond the interest of party. The Register, to everybody’s astonishment, took up the one cause not represented, namely, that of the country. Davis denounced the appointment as an insult to that country, and with a bold hand vindicated the superiority of its Bar, without any reference to party, above the adventurers whom each faction placed over it in turn.
Soon after he and his friend ceased to write for that paper; but not until satisfied by the experiment that a journal devoted to Ireland, guided by truth, and sustained with earnest ability, would supersede the whole jaundiced literature of the metropolis, and create a new era in the progress of the country’s civilisation and ambition. They immediately busied themselves to establish such an organ. Charles Gavan Duffy, late editor of the Belfast Vindicator, entered into the spirit of the enterprise, and after an evening’s ramble in the Park, during which the terms and the principles of the paper and the spirit in which it should be conducted were canvassed, the publication of the Nation was determined on. Mr. Duffy was convicted for having written a libel in the Vindicator, and his friends earnestly advised him to compromise the matter with a view of bringing more powerful energies to the same task in a wider field.
The first number of the new journal appeared on the 12th of October, 1842. It had been announced under auspices calculated to ensure its success, but its unexpected ability, the ground it broke in the national policy, and the vast intellectual resources it developed eclipsed the prestige under which it was deemed necessary to usher it into existence. It was at once a proof of greater powers than the country had yet witnessed, and a prophecy of a different fate from what she hoped for. The aims, the logic, the very language of factious diplomacy were eschewed. It seemed as if a light had streamed down from heaven, fresh from God, to give the people hope, comfort and assurance. The genius of Davis seized the opportunity as though he were His deputed messenger in the great work of regeneration. For the first time men awoke to the consciousness of what they were or might be. Harnessed to the triumphant car of one gigantic intellect, they had forgotten the dignity of their own nature, and were astonished to find how transcendant its resources and sufficient its strength. The publication of the Nation was really an epoch which marked a wonderful change, and from that day forth self-reliance and self-respect began to take the place of grateful but stultified obedience and blind trust.
The change became more marked as the publication proceeded. In speech, article, song and essay, the spell of Davis’s extraordinary genius and embracing love was felt. Historic memories, forgotten stories, fragments of tradition, the cromlech on the mountain and the fossil in the bog supplied him substance and spirit wherewith to mould and animate nationality. Native art, valour, virtue and glory seemed to grow under his pen. All that had a tendency to elevate and ennoble, he rescued from the past to infuse into the future. His songs, so soft and tender, and yet so redolent of manliness and hope, inspired the ambition to compose a minstrelsy as wild and vigorous as themselves. They were read and learned and sung with an avidity and pride heretofore unknown.
The monster meetings were long a design of Thomas Davis, John Dillon and the present writer. One great object with them was to train the country people to military movements and a martial tread. This object it would be unsafe to announce, and it was to be effected through other agencies than drill. The people should necessarily come to such rendezvous in baronial, parochial or town processions, and under the guidance of local leaders. Order is a law of nature; and, without much trouble on the part of those leaders, it would establish itself. The present writer left Dublin early in the spring of 1843 to carry this design into effect. Sir Robert Peel, then Prime Minister of England, alluding to the fact in the House of Commons, said that the first Monster Meeting was purposely held on the anniversary of the very day, the 22nd of May, destined for the rising of ’98. Sir Robert was wrong in his inference, though it was a natural and nearly justifiable one; for at that Cashel meeting were offered unmistakable evidences of the tendency of the agitation. Upwards of £1,100 were handed to Mr. O’Connell. Each parish came in procession, headed by a band and commanded by some local leader; and those who took part in the public procession marched in excellent order for upwards of eight miles. A military and magisterial meeting had been previously held in the barracks of Cashel to consider whether the people should not be routed at the point of the bayonet. But though the committee were fully aware of this consultation, they decided unanimously that the meeting should go on. The meeting itself passed the strongest resolutions, and adopted a petition to the Legislature, consisting of a single line, something to this effect: “You have robbed us of our Parliament by fraud and blood; pray restore it, or ——.” And finally, Mr. O’Connell said at the dinner that evening, alluding to an armed strife; “Give me Tipperary for half a day.” This simple wish, enunciated in accents familiar to that great ruler of men, elicited a cheer, a shout, a wild burst of enthusiasm, so long and loud as almost to suggest the idea that it would be seconded by naked steel and a deadly blow. One would think it had a significant meaning, and yet there was no wrathful ban. Not one pronounced that terrible anathema against shedding a single drop of blood, which afterwards became the canon of peaceful men. Nay, if memory be not very treacherous, amidst that roar was loudly distinguishable the voice of him who on an after day, yet to be spoken of, cursed from God’s altar those who wished to realise his simulated aspirations and in the endeavour had forfeited their lives. A doggerel ballad had been written for the occasion by Thomas Davis, to the air of the “Gallant Tipperary,” over which himself and his friends afterwards indulged in many a hearty laugh. One verse runs as follows:—
Step together left, right, left, right,
We carry no gun,
Yet devil a one
But knows how to march in Tipperary O!
By twelves and sixteens on we go,
Rank’d four deep in close order O!
For order’s the way
To carry the day,
March steadily, men of Tipperary O!
It is here introduced as a proof and a justification of what has been stated in reference to one great object of the projectors of the monster meetings. Possibly it will be said that this is an admission of the truth of a charge frequently urged by Mr. O’Connell against the Nation and its writers, namely, that they having intentions of which he knew nothing, had committed him to breaches of the law, of which he was not only not guilty but not cognisant, but which by a perversion of judgment were given in proof against him at the celebrated State Trials. It is quite true that they did entertain the intentions which he afterwards so vehemently repudiated. But they never once concealed them. In the Association, and where Mr. O’Connell was committed with them, they abstained from giving them utterance; but they did so because they felt bound to act in accordance with the resolution of that body. And with respect to the proceedings of the Cashel meeting and the more wonderful and significant meetings that followed, they always submitted to him and had his entire sanction for every act done at and every line written for these meetings. In fact, if he were in any way mistaken as to them, they were still more grievously deceived as to him. All their acts and speeches were in the direction of their intentions; all his acts and speeches were in the same direction, and went further. In truth, they believed that he fully concurred in the sentiments which they cared not to conceal, but which he had the cunning or caution not to avow. One justification of this belief has been already given; another and a more pregnant one was the Mallow defiance which the greatest poet and the greatest sculptor of our time and nation have immortalised. In reference to proofs not published, however conclusive, this history shall be silent.
Succeeding events shall be briefly glanced at only. Some of them have already attained a place in history; and the scope of my narrative only embraces the facts, incidents and tendencies which led to an armed crisis and governed its explosion. Meeting followed meeting in rapid succession, and each was marked by some signal manifestation of a healthier, holier and more resolute national purpose. Numbers, calmness, order, obedience, bespoke an advanced discipline, and prefigured future victory. The crowds that attended the Halls of the Association no longer consisted of idle brawlers; they were listening, thoughtful mechanics, conscious of the toil and danger that lay before them, and braced for the encounter. Dignitaries of the church and the ablest men among the second order of the clergy appeared on the platform, and added sanctity and dignity to the proceedings. Members of Corporations through the country, and private gentlemen of rank brought to the imposing confederacy the weight of their office, rank and name. The existing Government in a splenetic attempt to crush it, had dismissed certain magistrates for having their names enrolled on its books. This new aggression gave a fresh impetus to its progress. Men who had previously looked on it with doubt or fear, now embraced it as the only safeguard for the remaining liberties of the island. The parliamentary committee which had been instituted by Mr. O’Brien, had exhausted every source of information within the reach of industry in developing the resources and capacities of the country. The committee of the Association counted within its members one hundred lawyers who preferred the fortunes of Ireland to professional or political advancement. Many of these and others who were not of the party brought to the popular tribune rare endowments, the most generous passions, and the noblest eloquence. Poetry, fresh, vigorous and full of heart, shed her harmonising and ennobling influence upon the whole, and imparted to patriotism the last pre-requisite of success. Amidst this grand movement stood Mr. O’Connell, erect, alone, its centre and its heart. He was not its guide, but its god, until he slept within a prison, and came forth less than man.
During this period two events occurred deserving particular notice—the only facts upon which Mr. O’Connell’s supremacy was questioned, or his advice audibly condemned. These were, first, his refusal of French contributions and French sympathy, of which M. Ledru Rollin, since so celebrated, was to be the bearer; and secondly, his acceptance of contributions from America under protest, against the “infamous institution” of slavery. He rejected the first with indignant scorn, because it was the offering of “republicans,” and spoke of the latter with contempt, as “smelling of blood.”
These two acts alienated from his cause the only foreigners in the world who were willing to espouse it. His wisdom was questioned and condemned. It was urged upon him that he should not intermeddle with foreign institutions or with the political predilections of individuals. Enough for Ireland, he was told, to find that Frenchmen and Americans were ready to do battle in her cause, and it ill became her to spurn their advances with indignity and a sneer. The argument failed, his hatred of slavery and republicanism out-weighed all other considerations.
I have fixed upon the State Trials as an epoch in this history, marking a distinct phase in the character of the Repeal Association. The proceedings of that extraordinary inquest are familiar to most men. It is not my intention to refer to them, except as a sort of pivot upon which public sentiment veered. When they were commenced there was untold wealth in the coffers of the Association. There was still a greater store of public purpose in the country. Threats, hot and violent, had been uttered. Pledges had been made which could only be violated in shame and death. A challenge had been given from which it would be baseness to shrink. The world looked on in wonder and awe. Each successive act was more and more gigantic; each resolution bolder. When the meeting at Clontarf was projected, the heart of the nation beat quick and hotly. Yet no man was surprised; none condemned. The associations of the spot suggested a perilous future. Still the hazards it prefigured created no alarm; the directions of a sub-committee respecting the military order of the processions towards the place of meeting was but the expression of the public hope that lay at every heart.
While the bustle of preparation was at its height; while the flushed capital was dizzy with wild excitement, a proclamation appeared on the walls—’twas nearly evening’s dusk—forbidding the proposed demonstration. For that proclamation there was no law; scarcely any object. It could not render the meeting illegal. It would not entitle the chief magistrate to disperse it; for if it were proved to be constitutional, he would be answerable before the laws of his country. It was simply a warning utterly inefficient for good or ill in any trial that may follow. In this state of things, a responsibility of the greatest magnitude devolved on the Association, or its committee. They were hastily summoned or came together spontaneously. Alarm, surprise, disappointment, chagrin, swayed their hurried consultation. The decision was weak, and it was fatal. It was only carried by a small majority, but in that majority was the great spirit of the confederacy. Never after did he stand on equal terms with his adversary. He was driven before him amidst broken hopes, and broken promises—his challenge, a boast unfulfilled, his prestige withered.
What the issue might have been if the decision were different, it would be rash to conjecture. It might have been carnage; it might have been a triumph. The historian has nothing to do with conjecture. But in this case was involved a mighty question, palpable, self-created and conclusive. The wisest forethought may fail to arrive at a sound conclusion as to the result of holding the meeting. The risk existed, no doubt, that some ill-disposed or hired villains, or even rash enthusiasts may provoke the troops, and thus afford a pretext for carnage. But opposed to that were the dictates of prudence, honour and fear on the part of those in command of the army; and it seemed a more probable result that either the meeting would be allowed to proceed, or it would be illegally dispersed in the usual way by reading the Riot Act. Even if the weight of conjecture were the other way, the consequences should be risked rather than falsify the national pledge. To recede was cowardice; not the vulgar cowardice arising from personal weakness, but the moral cowardice which shrinks from an imperious obligation, because it is perilous. The meeting should be held; every possible precaution should be taken to prevent an armed conflict. If Power, drunk with its own advantage, risked an outrage, the people should be taught to yield; but only to yield with the purpose of entering a court of law, as prosecutors and avengers. Even if worse consequences ensued after every effort to prevent them had been exhausted, the issue should be left to God. Recriminations, painfully petty in their nature, followed. The Government were charged with a premeditated design to commit wide and indiscriminate slaughter, and the weakness, in which were shrouded deep national shame and guilt, was made matter of indecent boast. The Government, aware of the unexpected advantage, followed up the blow. Mr. O’Connell took shelter in the sacredness of the Hall, which, he imagined, he had guarded against the encroachments of arbitrary power, and thither they followed him. Having abandoned a position where he could act on the offensive, he was forced to contend against the aggressive attacks of Government flushed with its first success.
The trial that followed already occupies a large space in history. Its effects were immediate and disastrous. The personnel of the accused assumed the nation’s place. Exhortations full of intense eloquence were addressed to the people from which the question of the country’s deliverance was entirely excluded. Technicalities of law absorbed the attention which was due to Liberty. A demurrer, a motion in abatement, or in arrest of judgment, was canvassed with a deeper interest by the people of the provinces than by even the distinguished Bar, which were arrayed on either side. Mr. O’Connell’s infallibility in law engaged the anxious solicitude, the pride, the passions of Ireland. Yet throughout that long trial the question which would test it was not mooted. The indictment was a subtle net-work, which excluded such argument. The objections to the indictment also were objections of form merely, and the final issue upon which the judgment was reversed was not even remotely connected with the main enquiry, whether or not the charge of conspiracy was sustainable in point of constitutional law. During the progress of the trial, a fraud, a swindle, a petty theft, was perpetrated by the officers of government, which more than one man, high in office, had a hand in suborning. This fact had supreme influence on the decision of the House of Lords. But the plain truth is, the judgment was reversed as an essential move in a great party game.
But her exultation was on a fallacious basis. She believed Mr. O’Connell’s infallibility was re-established. No one cared, or perhaps dared to correct the error. In itself it seemed little worthy of notice, yet it had its share of evil influence. First, it diverted men’s minds from the one question; secondly, it left behind it the demoralising effect inseparable from untruth. Were it even what the public eagerness chose to shape it, its relative value, weighed against the triumph of courage and virtue, would be contemptible.
Mr. O’Connell himself did not seem to share in the nation’s pride. His spirit was broken. He anticipated the glad wishes of the metropolis, and walked home from the penitentiary clouded and gloomy. It was evident something within him had died. However, he went back the next day, and left the prison the second time in the midst of public rejoicings never surpassed on any occasion in his life. His addresses on that day, and subsequently while in town, were not such as they were wont to be; and he soon retired to his wild mountain home to invigorate a mind and body, borne down by gigantic labours, fearful responsibilities, some alarms, and perhaps a chilling sense of defeat and weakness. His health was soon restored, but his political vigour never. The first time his voice was heard from that retreat, it was to recommend a compromise; and, for the first time, his advice was openly opposed. Charles Duffy answered his letter, which recommended to fall back on Federalism—a question in the mouths of many, but in the brain of none—respectfully and firmly remonstrating against such a course. In a great many circles, Mr. Duffy could not be looked at with more wonder if he had recommended to cut off Mr. O’Connell’s head.
Hitherto, this condensed retrospect has been almost exclusively confined to the name and fortunes of O’Connell. It is time now to revert to other actors in the scene. Even before the trial, elements of antagonism had begun to manifest themselves. With the party since called “Young Ireland,” every consideration was subordinate to the great question of national deliverance. They laboured incessantly to elevate the morals, the literature, the taste, passions, genius, intellect and heart of the country to the sublime eminence of a free destiny. Far the foremost man in urging and encouraging this glorious endeavour was Thomas Davis. From sources the most extraordinary, and the least known, there welled forth abundant and seductive inspiration. He struck living fire from inert wayside stones. To him the meanest rill, the rugged mountain, the barren waste, the rudest fragment of barbaric history, spoke the language of elevation, harmony and hope. The circle, of which he was the beloved centre, was composed of men equally sincere, resolute and hopeful; there was not one of them undistinguished. Some of them had now the first literary distinction. The character of each was remarkable for some distinctive and bold feature of originality. I, of course, exclude myself from this description. I know not to what circumstance I owe the happiness of their trust and friendship. My habits, my education, my former political connections, disqualified me for such association. Since first I took my place among them, seven or eight years have now rolled by. They have been years of severest trial, years of suffering and sorrow, years of passion and prejudice and calumny, years of rude and bitter conflict, years of suspicion and acrimony, and finally of defeat and shame; still, in that eventful course of time, to me at least, there has occurred no moment wherein I would exchange the faintest memory of our mutual trust, unreserved enjoyment and glad hope for the hoarse approval of an unthinking world. There was no subject we did not discuss together; revolution, literature, religion, history, the arts, the sciences—every topic, and never yet was there spoken among us one reproachful word, never felt one distrustful sentiment. Our confidence in one another was precisely that of each in himself; our love of one another deeper than brotherly. When we met, which was at least weekly, and felt alone, shut in from the rude intrusion of the world, how we used to people the future with beauty and happiness and love. Little did we dream that those for whom we toiled, and thought, and wove such visions of glory, would shun and scorn, and curse us. But had that bitter cup, which afterwards we were forced to empty to the dregs, been then presented to us, there was not one of us who would not have drunk it to the last drop; drunk it willingly and cheerfully, without further hope or purpose than our own deep conviction that we owed the sacrifice to truth.
Those who took immediate part in the proceedings of our circle before the State Trials, were Thomas Davis, John Dillon, Thomas MacNevin, Michael Joseph Barry, Charles Duffy, David Cangley, John O’Hagan, Denis F. MacCarthy, Denny Lane, Richard Dalton Williams, with one or two others whose names I cannot mention. To this list was afterwards added Thomas Francis Meagher, Richard O’Gorman, John Mitchel, Thomas Devin Reilly, and Thomas Darcy M’Gee. I do not include several distinguished men who lived in the provinces with whom we communicated, and from whom we received sympathy and sustainment; and I omit others who took a leading part, in deference to the position they are now placed in.
With the first section above named, originated the idea of publishing the Library of Ireland. It was proposed, discussed, and determined on one evening, at the house of Thomas MacNevin, while some one sat at the piano, playing the lovely Irish airs, of which the soft strains of Davis suggested the conception to William Elliot Hudson. The music was as true to the Celtic genius as the lays of Davis to its character and hopes; and amidst the entrancing seductiveness of their association, was born the generous resolution of rescuing the country’s literature from the darkness in which it had long lain. The Library of Ireland was proposed as a beginning, and so diffident did its promoters feel, that they deemed it indispensable to engage the recognised genius of William Carleton, whose name and abilities they pledged to the public, as an assurance for the undertaking. Mr. Carleton promptly undertook his share of the task, and James Duffy, the enterprising bookseller, assumed all the risk and responsibility of the enterprise.
John Mitchel, then known to few, and appreciated only by Thomas Davis, was by him associated with those who were willing to engage in the new and difficult labour. He pledged himself for him, and selected his subject. Most nobly was that pledge redeemed; but its fulfilment dawned on the fresh grave of him who made it. Other men, and first in order, as well as eminent in ability, was Thomas MacNevin, who has also sunk into a too early grave, more than realised the most sanguine hopes of an exulting country. Death first interrupted this new current of life, even in its day of most sparkling promise. Disunion haunted the petty jealousies of little and narrow minds; famine, pestilence and defeat have done the rest. The labourers are dead, exiled, immured in dungeons, or scattered over the face of the earth as fugitives; and how far they had capacity to fulfil their inspiring promise, can never be tested more. A few, however, remained, and amid greater gloom, and nearer to utter death, they stand out redeeming beacons to the future.
I have not mentioned the name of Mr. O’Brien, as associated with us at this early stage. He joined the Association in a time of great excitement. The Nation hailed the accession with the fondest joy. The consistency of his politics, the purity of his intentions, and the unvarying rectitude of his life gave abundant assurance, not alone that he was deeply sincere, but that his purpose could only be changed by death. But to those who looked beyond the expediency of the hour, those who had cherished fervently the passionate aspirations for true liberty his name and character became an augury of success: nor would they intrude for any consideration on the attitude of lofty dignity he assumed.
It has already been stated that elements of antagonism between Mr. O’Connell and the Young Ireland Party had at this time (the period of the State Trials) manifested themselves. It will be remembered that this period embraced a space of nine months, from the date of Mr. O’Connell’s being held to bail in September, 1843, to that of his sentence the 30th of May, 1844. As the events of this or the previous year do not, properly speaking, range within the historical scope of my narrative, I have excluded chronological and historical order. My object has been to group together the great features of the confederacy without other reference than that of pointing out their moral influence, operating through a long space of time. Thus I have referred to the Parliamentary Committee instituted by Mr. O’Brien among incidents which belong to an anterior period, because the vigour of these incidents, which left moral seeds in their track, continued to co-exist and blend with the powerful agencies of that Committee. As I now approach the period when the differences with Mr. O’Connell, which hitherto developed themselves in the distinctive characteristics of the respective opinions of both parties rather than in any direct collision, became tangible, it is necessary to observe strict historical and chronological accuracy.
Before proceeding to details of succeeding events, a brief recapitulation of important facts, with the dates of their occurrences, become necessary. A few others, not heretofore alluded to, must needs be added.
About the close of August was passed the Charitable Bequest Act, against the indignant remonstrances of the priesthood and Catholic population of Ireland. This Bill was obnoxious in all it’s provisions, but the enactment which was received with most scorn was the clause that annulled a Catholic charitable bequest, unless it had been duly made six months at least before the decease of the testator. The prohibition was attributed to an insulting assumption that the Catholic clergymen abused their influence over dying penitents, for sacerdotal or religious, if not for personal aggrandisement, and the impeachment was repelled with bitter execrations. Others objected to the Bill on grounds involving more alarming considerations. They regarded it as the first infringement on the liberty of the Catholic Church—the first criminal attempt to fetter her free action and sow dissent among her prelates and priests. The Repeal Association offered, from the beginning, its undivided, unqualified and indeed vehement opposition. But amidst the storm and rage of the nation, it became the law, and three Roman Catholic prelates of the highest reputation undertook the duty of its administration.
One party there was who regretted the Bill still more deeply, but in a different point of view. At the head of these was Thomas Davis. He regarded it as an instrument of dissension and weakness, cunningly adapted to that end by Sir Robert Peel, and he deplored the diversion of the public mind and energy from the grand national object. Mr. O’Brien, to a certain extent, shared this feeling, but never obtruded the opinion or ventured to check the Association, while Mr. Davis confined his efforts to passionate warnings addressed through the columns of the Nation.
This question is introduced here because it was important and fatal in its consequences. A still more important one taken in the same light must interrupt its discussion for a moment: Mr. O’Connell’s Federal letter, already referred to. The leading sentiments of that letter are subjoined. It is dated the 2nd of October, 1844.
“The Federalists, on the contrary, appear to me to require more for the people of Ireland than the Simple Repealers do; for besides the local parliament in Ireland having full and perfect authority, the Federalists require that there should be, for questions of imperial concern, colonial, naval and military, and of foreign alliance and policy, a Congressional or Federal Parliament, in which Ireland should have her fair share and proportion of representatives and power.
“It is but just and right to confess that in this respect the Federalists would give Ireland more weight and importance in imperial concerns than she could acquire by means of the plan of Simple Repealers.
“For my own part, I will own that since I have come to contemplate the specific differences such as they are, between Simple Repeal and Federalism, I do at present feel a preference for the Federative plan, as tending more to the utility of Ireland and the maintenance of the connection with England than the plan of Simple Repeal.
I have only extracted from Mr. O’Connell’s most elaborate letter, his distinctly expressed preference for Federalism, and the single reason upon which the preference is founded. The remainder consists for the most part of a sort of logical equation, balancing the component elements of both plans, from which is deduced the above conclusion.
Charles Duffy’s answer, dated October the 18th, was triumphant and conclusive, at least in Mr. O’Connell’s own mind, for he did not afterwards repeat the same sentiments. But a blow had been given the Association from which it never recovered. The newspaper press, taken under three distinct heads, first the blind and heedless echoers of Mr. O’Connell’s doctrines, secondly the Whig organs in Ireland, and thirdly the papers in the English interest, gave way to unrestrained exultation. The wisdom, the prudence, the holiness of the “great Liberator,” were extolled as unmatched in the annals of statesmanship. A few whose self-interest constrained their subserviency, shrugged wisely and said nothing, while several provincial journals stoutly maintained the undoubted and enduring supremacy of the great national aim over every weak expedient.
Whatever hopes may be entertained by Mr. O’Connell, his suggestions met with no sustainment and no response, save the empty echoes of an adulating press. Among the great party to whom he appealed, not one voice was heard to suggest a practical step in the direction intimated. The project fell, if indeed it were ever seriously entertained, leaving no memory and no regret. The first place Mr. O’Connell afterwards appeared in a public capacity, was at the Limerick banquet, given on’ the 20th of November. His speech on that occasion contained scarcely a reference to Federalism, and both his sentiments and those of the other speakers, including John, Archbishop of Tuam, as well as the Toasts and Mottoes, were distinguished for loftiness of tone, unflinching purpose and highest enthusiasm. But other elements were at work furtively sapping that purpose and dimming that enthusiasm.
At and after the period when the Roman Catholic prelates accepted the functions of administering a law insulting and obnoxious to the Catholics generally, much angry controversy prevailed. A report was rife that the Government not alone succeeded in deluding the Irish Bishops, but had accredited a minister plenipotentiary, whose mission was to conciliate the Court of Rome to a “Concordat” with England. A rescript said to be received by the Most Reverend Doctor Crolly, the Primate, was adduced to prove not alone the existence of the intrigue, but its partial success. The rescript contained an admonition to restrain the intemperate violence of political priests, and an advice to confine themselves more generally to the sacred functions of their holy office. The English press magnified the advice into a command, and exulted over the failure of the Repeal movement whose extinction they augured from the withdrawal of the Catholic priesthood.
Mr. O’Connell, alarmed at the import of a command so fatal, pronounced the rescript “uncanonical.” This led to greater dissensions and bitterer recriminations. The prelates who condemned the Bequest Act, denounced those who accepted the task of administering it. One of the body thus writes:—
“The resolution [referring to one passed at a meeting of the prelates, which was pronounced by the ministerial press a vote of unanimous approval of the bishops’ acceptance of the office of Commissioners] did not meet the approval of all the Bishops, neither could it convey to any one of the Episcopal Commissioners the most distant notion that in accepting the office he did not oppose the views and wishes of many of his Episcopal brethren. When the resolution was moved, there were six of the protesting Bishops absent, and a moment was not allowed to pass after it was seconded, when it was denounced in the strongest manner by two of the Bishops present. They solemnly declared before the assembled prelates that, in the event of any prelate accepting the odious office, they would never willingly hold any communication with him in his capacity as Commissioner.”
But, while disunion reigned at the council board of the Catholic Hierarchy, the Government plied their task of seducing, dividing and misrepresenting bishops, priests, people and nation. Out of all the elements of disunion, distraction and disaster over which they in turn gloated, the British newspapers, with wonderful accord, predicted and boasted of the complete overthrow of the Repeal Party. It was amidst these circumstances of gloom and evil augury the year 1844, a year within which range the most startling, extraordinary and trying events of Ireland’s recent history, came to a close.
Before I conclude this chapter, I must revert to a fact which, although unimportant in relation to the view of the question under consideration, deserves to be remembered in connection with future events. The date I cannot fix, as it was confined to the private circle of the Association Committee, and no record of it remains. Immediately after the close of the State trials, as well as I can remember, Mr. O’Connell proposed the dissolution of the Association, with a view of establishing a new body, from which should be excluded all the “illegal” attributes and accidents of the old. The suggestion was resisted by Mr. O’Brien, and all those understood to belong to what was called the Young Ireland Party. They protested against such a course as false, craven and fatal, and Mr. O’Connell at once yielded to their vehement remonstrances.
 Doctor Cantwell to Mr. O’Connell. Given in the Nation, Vol. III., No. 119.
FURTHER EMBARRASSMENT CAUSED BY THE RESCRIPT—DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MR. O’CONNELL AND THE PRIMATE. — FINANCIAL REFORMS IN THE COMMITTEE OF THE ASSOCIATION, AND CONSEQUENT DISSENSION.—’82 CLUB. — THE COLLEGES BILL. — DIFFERENCES AND CALUMNIES CONSEQUENT UPON IT. QUARREL WITH MR. DAVIS. — THE GREAT LEVEE AT THE ROTUNDA. — DECLINE OF THE AGITATION. — CLOSING LABOURS AND DEATH OF THOMAS DAVIS.
“Hitherto our dangers have been few and transient. The product of mistake or enthusiasm, they were remedied by explanation and kindliness. There are dangers threatened now, and against them we shall try the same prompt and frank policy which never failed us yet. Already the English press are quarrelling for the spoils of the routed Repealers. They are almost unanimous in describing the people as disgusted, the leaders as exhausted, and the policy of the ministers as rapidly levelling the defences of the once great party.
“We do not quail. We remember that whenever the rent has fallen, the same press cried out the people are sick of the agitation. Whenever righteous discussion took place in our councils, they exulted over our ‘fatal divisions,’ and at the beginning of each new blunder of the cabinet, they sang victory.
“If the Irish be a hot or capricious race, who plunge into a new policy because it is new, and abandon their dearest interests and most solemn vows because their success needs time, then indeed Repeal was hopeless and was always so. If the leaders have not sagacity enough to embrace the business of an empire and pierce through time, unwearied industry, pure hands and resolute spirits, then to repeal is hopeless until a new race of chiefs appears.”
Almost contemporaneously with this article, the Catholic Primate contradicted Mr. O’Connell’s assertion respecting the rescript, and laid rescript and contradiction before the public. “I was surprised and sorry,” he writes, “to find that you had ventured to assert that a letter sent to me some time past from the Propaganda was not a canonical document.” He adds that he laid the document before the assembled prelates, and appends the resolution in which they acknowledged its authenticity and approval of its counsel.
Mr. O’Connell at once expressed his entire acquiescence and deep contrition. He bowed reverentially to the resolution of the prelates, retracted the hasty opinion, and apologised for his error, which, he said, resulted from his great anxiety of mind, caused by the avowal of the Morning Chronicle that the Whigs had a secret agent in Rome.
But the prelates were far from unanimous in their construction of the rescript which they promised unanimously to obey. With the resolution among his papers, the Archbishop of Tuam proceeded directly from the Episcopal meeting to the Repeal banquet at Limerick, where he delivered a speech stronger in language and more violent in character than any he had ever uttered. Some passages in that speech, wherein he eulogised the heroism of the women of Limerick who cut their long hair to supply the defenders of the city with strings for their bows, excited the wildest enthusiasm and most rapturous applause. Doctor Cantwell, in the letter already referred to, gives his construction, which he says was that of the majority.
“The Cardinal only evidently censures violent and intemperate language, in either priest or bishop, whether they address their flocks in their temples, or mix with their fellow-countrymen in banquets or public meetings. We inferred, and I think we were justified in the inference, that conduct and language at all times unbecoming our sacred character, and not our presence on such legitimate occasions, were the object of this salutary caution.”
His construction was sustained more clearly and forcibly by Thomas Davis. “It [the rescript] announces the undoubted truth that the main duty of a Christian priest is to care for the souls of his flock, and both by precept and example to teach mildness, piety and peace. It does not denounce a Catholic clergyman for aiding the Repeal movement in all ways becoming a minister of peace. Nowhere in the rescript is the agitation as a system, or repeal as a demand, censured; but some reported violence of speech is disapproved.”
The coincidence seems a strange one, that in the same paper, which thus disposes of the rescript, the same paper wherein appear the letters of Doctor Crolly, Doctor Cantwell, and Mr. O’Connell, the same paper in which is published the official denial of a Concordat with the Pope, under the viceregal seal, are also published the proceedings of the Repeal Association, which consisted, to a great extent, of a violent attack on the exploded Concordat. At the meeting held on the 13th of January, it was denounced especially by two of Mr. O’Connell’s friends, Mr. O’Neill Daunt and Mr. John Reilly, in terms the most vehement and indignant. Mr. Daunt used these words. “On that day fortnight he had proclaimed from the chair of the Association, that if a rescript should emanate from Rome denouncing the national movement, the Catholics of Ireland would treat it as so much waste paper.” This statement was made on the 13th, Doctor Crolly’s letter is dated on the 11th, Mr. O’Connell’s on the 14th, and Lord Heytesbury’s denial of the Concordat on the 15th of January. Contemporaneously with all these was also published an address of his clergy to the Archbishop of Dublin, deprecating in the strongest language certain calumnies against him, which they attribute to priests and people, Protestant and Catholic.
From these proceedings one inference is inevitable, namely, that they who have so strongly inculcated obedience to the Holy See, and denounced as an infidel any Catholic who refused blind obedience to its decisions, in reference to secular education, were not then troubled with the same sensitiveness or scrupulousness of conscience in regard to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. But of that one word hereafter. I here reproduce the historical facts connected with these letters, for another object. Although the excitement about the threatened Concordat was allayed, and the invectives against the Archbishop of Dublin abated in intemperance, the bitterness of feeling which swept over the country like an avenging scourge, left behind it germs of discord and weakness.
Publicly or privately the Seceders did not interfere. At the meeting of the Association already alluded to, Mr. O’Brien made a most noble speech, inculcating education, self-reliance, organisation and progress, without stooping to refer to the perplexed question, which filled his audience with angry passions, and supplied the other speakers with intemperate enthusiasm.
The whole endeavours of the Seceders were at this time devoted to the organisation of clubs or reading rooms on an educational basis. Connected with this object was the augmentation of the Repeal revenue, which was anticipated from the extended action of these political and social schools. The funds were greatly diminished, and the weekly collections had fallen to an average of about £150. It became necessary, as much as possible, to curtail the expenses, and a reduction of a very serious amount was effected during Mr. O’Connell’s absence at Derrynane. The effort was continued after his arrival in town, which led to differences of opinion with him, in committee. Sinecure situations, created by him, were abolished, and inquiries were instituted which gave him great annoyance. He particularly resented and resisted the removal from one of those offices of Doctor Nagle. Doctor Nagle was appointed to be “curator of manuscripts”, the ostensible duty of which was to superintend the reports (then daily issuing from the press, and written for the most part by the Seceders) for the purpose of preventing the publication of anything illegal or dangerous. In effect, he was nominally, literary, legal and moral censor. But the unanimous and loud indignation of the essayists rendered his task a light one. He was content to accept the salary and leave those gentlemen the guardians of their own safety, their character and literary fame. Doctor Nagle continued to act as librarian and, weekly, delivered to the secretary certain lists of contributions that had been previously furnished him by that gentleman. His salary and certain fees given to other “patriots,” came under the cognisance of a sub-committee consisting, as well as I remember, of the present member for Dublin, a Mr. O’Meara and someone whose name I now forget. Their report adjudged the office useless, and recommended its immediate abolition. A motion was accordingly made in committee for Doctor Nagle’s dismissal. Mr. O’Connell was in the chair. All his sons were present, one of whom, I think, moved an amendment to the effect that he be continued at his then salary. A division took place, when the majority against the amendment was considerably over two to one. Mr.
O’Connell expressed himself deeply mortified at this result. Another amendment to the same effect was then proposed and negatived by a majority numerically somewhat less, when Sir Colman O’Loghlen moved, and John Loyd Fitzgerald seconded, an amendment to the effect that he be continued as clerk of the library at half his salary, that is £50 a year. The result would have been the same as before but that many of the majority had withdrawn under the impression that the question was disposed of; the number for the amendment was twenty-two, and the number against only twenty-three. Mr. O’Connell assumed the right to give two votes, one as member, which made the numbers equal, and a casting vote as chairman. It was then proposed and carried that every chairman should in future have two votes, and Sir Colman’s amendment was allowed to pass in the affirmative. Doctor Nagle continued to fill his office until his appointment to a more lucrative one under the Whig Government.
The Eighty-Two Club which was projected in prison was finally organised in January, 1845. The differences which manifested themselves in Conciliation Hall imperceptibly extended to this body. The original members constituted the committee and were self-appointed. The others had to submit to a ballot. Some few were rejected, at which Mr. O’Connell’s friends took umbrage, and the rejected aspirants were sure to attribute their decision to their devotion to the “Liberator.” Thus it happened that most objectionable candidates could not be resisted without incurring the imputation of opposing and thwarting the “saviour of his country.”
Mr. O’Connell himself, although he warmly approved of the club in the commencement, soon ceased to feel an interest in its proceedings. For the first year, its action was confined to some routine dinners, which attracted a very fashionable attendance, and furnished an occasion for some brilliant speaking. Yet the fame and respectability of such a body were seductions which few of the leading men in the confederacy could resist. The Eighty-Two Club became a standard toast at public dinners, and its members were received as distinguished guests or visitors wherever they appeared. Without having yet performed any distinct service, or realised the promise involved in its establishment, the club became a very important and imposing body.
Mr. O’Connell was its president, and Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Grattan, Sir Colman O’Loghlen and others, vice-presidents. The first committee was composed of the Members of Parliament, Mayors of cities, and men eminent in the different professions and literary pursuits. Complaints of inattention were made against some of its members, and at the election for officers after the expiration of the first year, others were substituted for the inattentive and inefficient. The change for the most part was made by unanimous consent; but when a ballot was called for, other names were substituted for those on the house list, recommended by the former committee, and the contest resulted in the rejection of Richard Barrett and one or two others. This was taken as an affront to Mr. O’Connell, though personally he neither took part in, nor was present at, the meeting. Whether it was owing to Mr. O’Connell’s aversion to the green-and-gold uniform, to which hesometimes expressed his dislike, or his objection to the rejection of his soi-disant friends, or to his consciousness that the club was not subservient to his control, he took very little interest in its progress, and frequently spoke of it in terms of derision.
But that which produced the first sensible and vital difference between Mr. O’Connell and the Seceders was the Colleges Bill. Education had long been a subject of anxious solicitude with Mr. Davis, and he was in continual communication with Mr. Wyse, its great parliamentary champion. He had repeatedly urged upon him the indispensable necessity of the principle of mixed education, as the basis of any collegiate system for Ireland. That basis was recognised in the system of national education which was accepted and approved of by the whole Catholic Hierarchy, with one exception, and most warmly sanctioned by the Catholic priesthood and laity. Extreme bigots of the Protestant school opposed and denounced it as unscriptural and Godless, and one extreme bigot of the Catholic school echoed the objurgation. It was not to be supposed that a principle thus sanctioned, tried, and efficient as applicable to the children of the poor, would be objected to when applied to those who were higher in station and older in years. When, therefore, the Bill was introduced and its principal provisions announced, it was received with the utmost delight and, even, triumph. Mr. O’Connell proclaimed in a meeting of the committee his emphatic approval of the principle of the Bill.
As soon as its details were published, it was submitted to the parliamentary committee, and, during its discussion there, he expressed for the first time some doubts as to the practicability of a mixed system of education. Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Davis and others expostulated, and deprecated in unmistakable terms the fatality of engaging the Association to a principle so sectarian, narrow and illiberal. He said he would take time to consider, and would meantime consult with Doctor MacHale. He was reminded that Doctor MacHale could not approve of the system without gross inconsistency, and requested to take the opinion of all the other Bishops as well. How far he was governed by this advice is unimportant and impossible to tell. But the bishops met in solemn synod and published the result of their deliberations in the following memorial:—
“That memorialists are disposed to co-operate on fair and reasonable terms with her majesty’s government and the legislature, in establishing a system for the further extension of academical education in Ireland.
“That a fair proportion of the professors and other office-bearers in the new colleges should be members of the Roman Catholic Church, whose moral conduct shall have been properly certified by testimonials of character, signed by their respective prelates. And that all the office-bearers in those colleges should be appointed by a board of trustees, of which the Roman Catholic prelates of the provinces in which any of those colleges shall be erected shall be members.
“That the Roman Catholic pupils could not attend the lectures on history, logic, metaphysics, moral philosophy, geology, or anatomy, without exposing their faith or morals to imminent danger, unless a Roman Catholic professor will be appointed for each of those chairs.
It will be observed that the principle of mixed education is not here directly approved or condemned. But approval is an inference, as clear and emphatic as words could express. The memorial prays for distinct and specific alterations in the details of the Bill. It demands that certain branches of secular education should be taught to the Catholic students by Catholic professors approved of by the prelates, and it insists upon other guarantees to secure the Catholic youth from the danger of all and every species of interference with the tenets of their faith.
How far the demands of the bishops were just or extravagant, is not a fit subject of inquiry here. But the fact of making the demands stamps the principle of the bill with their incontrovertible approval. The argument which denies it involves an accusation against those Most Reverend and Right Reverend divines, of evasion, treachery and untruth. Any defence which implies that they avoided the direct condemnation of the principle because they knew their memorial would be disregarded, which would enable them to interdict the whole Bill, principle and details, on the ground of the immorality of the latter, involves an implication that moral and Christian turpitude is synonymous with Catholic zeal. Such an implication, inevitable from the premises assumed by the opponents of the mixed system, would be foulest calumny. The Catholic prelates were eminently sincere; and had they been warmly seconded they might have obtained such ameliorations in the details of the system as would be satisfactory to every rational, liberal and honest man. But the old jealousy, division and calumny which had grown out of the Bequests Act, obtruded themselves on every attempt at calm consideration, and scattered the elements indispensable to successful moral combination. The principle and details of the academic project became confused and confounded, and while some clamorously opposed, others unthinkingly supported, the entire. Thus the minister was enabled to balance the voice of public opinion as he found it arrayed for and against his measure, and under pretence of indifference to despise both parties. For a long while, the action of the Association was paralysed. There were deeper questions at issue there than even those which appeared on the face of the bill. The educational party insisted that any measure which did not embrace the University was scanty and illiberal. They claimed its honours, advantages and emoluments for all the youth of Ireland alike; and they sought to make the academic subordinate to and parcel of the collegiate system. The Dublin University and Trinity College are separate and distinct foundations and establishments. They proposed that Maynooth and Trinity College should be both sufficiently endowed for all purposes of ecclesiastical education, without any interference, direct or indirect, from each other or the Government, while the University should be open alike to all who had obtained distinction in the provincial colleges. Any measure of narrower scope would, they contended, leave dullness and bigotry where it found them.
Mr. O’Connell, on the other hand, insisted on the inviolability of Dublin College as a Protestant institution, inaccessible to Catholics, except through the slough of perverted and perjured faith. He would then have new colleges purely Catholic and entirely under the control of the Catholic bishops, but endowed by the State, and chartered to confer literary degrees. He would extend the same right to the members of other religious persuasions. It was answered that these positions and his arguments addressed to the academic question were irreconcilable and incompatible. Catholics were already admissible to Dublin College, and entitled to certain degrees and a vote. He either intended that they should be thenceforth excluded or he did not. If not, then the argument against mixed education would hold for nothing: if he did, then he attempted what was impracticable, or, if not impracticable, preposterous and absurd. It is not conceivable that Catholic young men, of laudable ambition, would be deterred from entering the lists with their Protestant contemporaries where most honour was won by superior eminence, or that they would be swayed by a warning that a college course would be attended with risk to their faith and morals, when they remembered that for the past century, while the risk was infinitely more imminent, no such warning had been ever heard from council, synod or conference. It is a strange fact in the history of these troubled times that no voice of denunciation against Dublin College could be heard in the polemical din, although it was well known that its literary honours stamped preliminary degradation on the Catholic aspirant, and were used at once to mock his political condition and pervert his faith—no voice was heard although one at least of the prelates had obtained degrees in the University, while the bishop and priests of an entire diocese, in conclave assembled, solemnly resolved that they would refuse sacraments to any Catholic parent who sent his son to one of the Godless colleges. But supposing it were practicable to exclude Roman Catholics from the University, and that the system of exclusive education among the middle and upper classes were applied in all its rigour, when were Protestant and Catholic to meet? If it were dangerous to faith and morals that they should discuss together the properties of an angle or the altitude of a star, it could hardly be safe to have them decide together a principle of law or determine the value or limits of a political franchise. All this was urged on Mr. O’Connell, and sometimes apparently with success, for he more than once consented to forego the discussion of the question in the Hall; and he would have strictly adhered to that engagement had he not been goaded by the intemperate counsels of others.
In the desultory history of this question, two facts have been stated requiring distinct proof. They are:—First, that Mr. O’Connell was favourable to the principle of mixed education in the commencement.
How Mr. O’Connell expressed himself when the bill was first announced has been already stated. It is at once conceded that the writer’s memory of a conversation, in its nature almost private, were he even above all suspicion, would not be a safe authority. In this instance there is no need to rely on it—the statement is more than sustained by Mr. O’Connell’s recorded words. From a number of occasions, equally available, I select one, because of its solemnity and importance.
“Take one step more, and consider whether this bill may not be made to accord with the feelings of the Catholic ecclesiastics of Ireland. I ought not to detain you: I am not speaking here in any spirit of hostility. I should be most happy to give any assistance in my humble power to make this bill work well. I have the most anxious wish to have this bill work well, because I am desirous of seeing education promoted in Ireland; but even education may be misapplied power. I admit that at one time I thought the plan of a mixed education proper, and I still think that a system of mixed education in literature and science would be proper, but not with regard to religious education.”
“I may remark for the present that on this subject a question of difference has arisen among ourselves. Some of the members of the Association are for what is called mixed education, and others of us are against it, but that difference of opinion ought not to create any division among us, for neither the one nor the other of us is gratified by the bill as it stands.”
He concluded by lauding Lord John Russell for his valuable assistance in the attempt to amend the bill, and finally said that, having failed in this attempt, he “flung the bill to the ministry, to deal with it as they pleased.”
Mr. O’Brien continued in London, and proposed amendments to the bill in every stage of its progress. It was during that time he was assailed by Mr. Roebuck with all the little malevolence of his envenomed nature. He failed in every attempt to remedy the defects of the bill, which passed its last stage in the Commons on the 10th day of July. On the 17th of the same month, Mr. O’Connell, speaking in the Association, said:
“In the resolution I am about submitting to the Association, we have not inserted one word about mixed education. This is a question upon which there exists some differences of opinion. I have my opinions upon the subject, I am the decided enemy of mixed education….
“I fully respect the contrary convictions entertained by others, and I am the more ready to proclaim that respect because at present all possibility of discussion on the matter is out of the question.”
It will be observed that Mr. O’Connell’s opinions underwent a serious and important change during the time over which these speeches range. That change was produced gradually, and not without infinite trouble on the part of his son whose inveterate zeal knew no bounds. In his father’s presence, and more particularly so in his absence, he denounced the bill, and held up any Catholic who dared to support it to public indignation. He called on the people of Waterford to demand Mr. Wyse’s resignation, not because he was an unfaithful representative, but because he was unchristian. If he had not determined to divide the Association on this question, he did all a man could do who had so determined.
I shall only trouble the reader with two quotations more. They refer to the question immediately under discussion, namely, that the Seceders were as much opposed to the obnoxious clauses of the bill as those with whom they differed. But while they are unequivocal and conclusive on that branch of the subject, they go still further and attest the sincere forbearance with which they treated language and conduct which appeared to them in the utmost degree narrow and intolerant. Discussion among the bishops naturally produced discussion among the chiefs of the Association, and it was agreed that the Association should confine its objections to those provisions of the bill upon which there could be no disagreement. The first petition of the Association was confided to me. I endeavoured to embody in the petition what appeared to me the true basis of a comprehensive system of education. Some persons on the Committee objected to certain phrases as susceptible of an inference favourable to the principle of mixed education. Mr. O’Connell joined in the objection and succeeded in reducing the petition to a single paragraph, deprecatory of the Tenth Clause of the Bill. I refused to have any more to do with the petition, and it was dropped. After the lapse of a fortnight, Mr. Maurice O’Connell proposed another, simply praying that the tenth clause, which vested the appointment of the professors of the college in the Government, should be rejected.
Upon the occasion of this petition being submitted to the Association (9th June, 1845), Mr. J. O’Connell delivered one of his usual invectives against the bill and its abettors. Mr. O’Brien deprecated the ill-feeling and discord such language was calculated to provoke. In the course of his observations he said:—
“In seconding the motion of my hon. friend, the member for Kilkenny, for the adoption of this petition, it is not my intention to follow into any of the polemical questions which, in the course of his protracted speech, he has raised in this Association. I am obliged, however, to say in candour that in some of the views he has put forward I cannot agree…. We have given a general concurrence in this Hall to the recommendation that has emanated from the Catholic Hierarchy…. I am not disposed to assist the Government in making those seminaries, which ought to be seats of learning, filthy sties of corruption. It is because I believe that such would become their character if this tenth clause were to remain a legislative enactment that I shall oppose it to the utmost.”
The Reverend John Kenyon, then little known, rose to protest against the course pursued by Mr. J. O’Connell, which he characterised as not only uncatholic but unchristian. Mr. J. O’Connell, in the blandest tones, deprecated any discussion tending to division, which induced Mr. Kenyon to sit down. Having spread with dexterous industry the most baleful elements of discord, he begged they should not be disturbed.
“I am exceedingly anxious, having the misfortune to differ most widely from my honourable friend the member for Kilkenny, on the subject of academical education, to express my cordial concurrence with him in reference to the subject of this petition. I shall not say one word about our difference of opinion. I shall enter into no disturbing or dividing discussion, and the more so because any difference we may express could not fail to impair the efficiency of our action where we are thoroughly agreed. I condemn this clause as strongly as the hon. member can. Nay, I will go a step further, and say that if there be no provision made by the bill for religious instruction and moral culture, Protestant and Catholic ought to unite in struggling for its rejection. No matter how splendid may be the accommodations provided by these academies—no matter how richly they may be endowed—if there be no provision made for the religious education of the pupils, I trust they will remain silent, unattended Halls.”
Numerous other proofs to the same facts are accessible, but these are abundantly conclusive. The history of the struggle itself, the slow and evidently reluctant change in Mr. O’Connell’s opinions, and the intolerant spirit with which the enemies of the bill pursued the name and character of those who, although they approved of the mixed system, were as inveterately inimical to the dangerous provisions of the bill as they were themselves, sufficiently attest that faction swayed the troubled movement of clerical and popular passion alike. The vulgar and virulent anathemas of some tongues and pens not only swept unsparingly over the unhappy crowd, but aimed at the lofty sphere of Episcopal authority, even where most identical with purity and piety. A malignant charity extended to the errors of the Primate that palliation which perverted reason otherwise refused to admit. Too lofty to be accused of treachery, he was not too sacred to be pronounced mad.
The Committee of the Association alone nearly escaped the influence of the fierce spirit of the times. There the voice of reason for a while held sway. The forbearance and respect for conflicting opinions which preserved its dignity were, with the one exception, extended to the proceedings in the Hall, where even the most unscrupulous were checked by a petition which recognised and welcomed the principle of united education, but strongly deprecated the objectionable provisions of the “Godless Bill.” To this petition was affixed the signature of almost every educated lay Catholic in Dublin. The number of Catholic barristers alone whose names are found among those signatures amounts to seventy-two. At the same time, a remonstrance addressed personally to Mr. O’Connell was signed by the leading Catholics of the Association. Its object was to preclude all discussion on the subject of the disputed principle in Conciliation Hall. It was signed for the most part by men who theretofore had taken but little part in the dispute. But against all these precautions passion by degrees prevailed, and when Mr. O’Connell was reminded by Mr. Barry, of Cork, that in reply to the remonstrance he had pledged himself to abstinence from the irritating discussion, his apology was, that he thought the document in question and all proceedings connected with it were strictly private; as if the privacy of a solemn pledge dispensed with its obligation.
An episode in this strife deserves specific notice. At a meeting of the Association, held on the 26th of May, the question was incidentally introduced. Mr. Michael George Conway, a man of considerable literary and oratorical powers, but not distinguished for any very rigid piety, introduced the subject, evidently with the view of exciting Mr. O’Connell’s impulsive character against the species of restraint under which his sinister friends were continually hinting he was held. The speech breathed the most fervent spirit of Catholic piety, seasoned with bitter invectives against what Mr. Conway described as a baffled faction in the Association. Mr. O’Connell took off his cap, waved it repeatedly over his head, and cheered vociferously. Few, if any, of the Catholic gentlemen who were opposed to Mr. O’Connell, were present. Mr. Davis rose, and commenced by saying: “My Catholic friend, my very Catholic friend.” The allusion was intelligible to almost every man in the assembly, but the practised and dexterous advocate saw and seized the advantage it presented for exciting the active prejudices of the audience. He started up and exclaimed, “I hope it is no crime to be a Catholic.” The whole meeting burst into a tumultuous shout which bespoke a triumph rather than admiration. Mr. O’Connell did triumph, but not in the sense understood by his applauders. He apprehended the effect of the honest, frank and manly exposure which, if he were not rudely interrupted, would be made by Mr. Davis, and he was too keen to allow an opportunity, so tempting to his object, to pass, though he should violate all the observances of good feeling and decorum. Mr. Davis, on the other hand, felt the blow to be a stunning one. He was shocked at the same time by Mr. O’Connell’s disregard, not alone of friendship, but of common courtesy, and by the intemperate exultation of the audience. To his loving nature, both seemed, especially in such a place, utterly unintelligible and grossly unkind. He was the last living man to offer insult to the belief or even the prejudice of a Catholic, and he felt that this was thoroughly known to Mr. O’Connell, and that it ought to be known to his audience. The disappointment and the rudeness were too much for his susceptible heart, and he so far yielded to wounded feelings as to shed tears. Mr. O’Connell, whether gratified by success or influenced by his better impulse, caught him by the hand and exclaimed: “Davis, I love you.” Although the first struggle closed amidst cheers, there were carried away from that meeting in the breasts of many, seeds of bitterness and hate which ripened in after times and under gloomier auspices. I dwell on it as important, although a casual incident, frequent and almost inevitable in political excitement. There were two parties from whose memory the scene never passed. These were the blind followers of Mr. O’Connell, to whom it seemed blackest guilt to question his supremacy or infallibility, on the one hand, and on the other, all who sympathised with genuine and lofty emotions, and regarded the attack on Mr. Davis as wanton, brutal and contemptible. The miserable little faction that existed on the spoils of the Association magnified the difference and fanned the discontent. That Young Ireland had received its death-blow passed into a watch-word among them.
An event of mighty augury and most trifling results, which distinguished the year 1845, must not be passed unmentioned. This was the celebrated levee, held in the Round Room of the Rotunda, on the 30th of May, the anniversary of the imprisonment. It was referred to a sub-committee, on which Mr. Davis and Sir Colman O’Loghlen were principals, to devise the most appropriate celebration for that important day. They determined on a public levee, to which were summoned whatever there was of respectability, authority, genius and worth in the island, which recognised the wisdom, justice and holiness of the struggle for Nationhood. All the corporations, every delegation which derived public authority from the popular voice, besides citizens of the unincorporated towns, answered the summons with alacrity. That day witnessed a scene the most extraordinary, imposing and formidable of the kind in modern annals. The Round Room was thronged to excess, but preconcerted arrangements had provided for the convenience of its favoured visitors, while the public streets, abandoned to chance, presented an immovable mass of human beings, swaying to and fro, but governed by a single and omnipotent impulse, which steeled them to the pressure and broil as if they felt themselves in presence of a speedy deliverance and free destiny.
The preparations engaged the vigilant activity of a large committee for two entire days and nights. Yet these preparations bore an infinite disproportion to the display of wealth of mind, of energy of thought, and national pomp, which ushered in the glorious morning. Those who scoffed at the project when it was first announced came to mock the scene but went away admiring. The spirit of the hour infused itself into the public heart, which appeared to throb but to one impulse and one aim: at all events no one was, no one could be, found obdurate enough to question the significance or importance of the proceeding.
Mr. O’Connell’s fellow-prisoners shared his state and the homage which was paid to him. But in the outward crowd no one dissociated him personally from the minutest detail of the day’s proceedings, or admitted for a moment that any other human being partook of its glory, or directed its end. High above the multitude they saw him receive the nation’s homage, which seemed but the expression of the liberty he had already achieved. How he felt the influence of the scene there is no record to tell. His demeanour while exercising the prerogatives of his position was such as became a man conscious that he occupied a throne loftier than ever yet was decked by a kingly crown. But when his official functions were discharged, he addressed the impassioned throng in language too tame for the most ordinary occasion.
The great act of the day was the adoption of the following pledge. It had been prepared and approved by the Committee of the Association, and every word was canvassed with the most scrupulous regard to the trying circumstances which the committee found themselves in presence of. The virulent hostility of the Tory Government had been baffled, and its utmost strength discomfited. It was understood at the time that a Whig Government was in the advent of power, and the great object of the pledge was to record the solemn conviction of the Nation that they were faithless and treacherous as the others were unscrupulous and vindictive, and that to the corrupting influence of the one and the unmasked hostility of the other the same resistance should be shown. The pledge was preceded by this resolution:—
“Resolved, That in commemorating this first anniversary of the 30th of May, we deem it our duty to record a solemn pledge that corruption shall not seduce, nor deceit cajole, nor intimidation deter us from seeking to obtain for Ireland the blessings of self-government through a national legislature, and we recommend that the following pledge be taken:—
“We, the undersigned, being convinced that good government and wise legislation can be permanently secured to the Irish people only through the instrumentality of an Irish Legislature, do hereby pledge ourselves to our country that we will never desist from seeking the Repeal of the Union with England by all peaceable, moral and constitutional means, until a parliament be restored to Ireland.
This pledge was adopted formally in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda, in presence of most of the Irish mayors, the leading delegates of the country, the members of the Eighty-Two Club, and a vast concourse of gentlemen both from the metropolis and the provinces. It was proposed by William Smith O’Brien, seconded by Henry Grattan, and put to the meeting from the chair by the eldest son of Daniel O’Connell. The cheer that hailed its adoption was a shout not of approval, but defiance. But alas! many voices mingled in the chorus which have since been attuned to the meanest whine of mendicancy. That they vilely belied their solemn promise were of little moment. Nay, more, it is bootless to consider whether they were more false-tongued and false-hearted in that great pageant, or on the recent occasion of their kneeling in their own shame to pledge a faith they do not feel, in expectation of some royal notice or royal favour. What is mournful in both instances is this, that a show of wealth, a practice of successful chicanery called good sense, or public trust won by intrigue and falsehood, should so blind the world to the man’s rotten and vulgar heart as to raise them to a position where their acts should be regarded as indicative of the feeling or important to the destiny of a nation.
With the 30th of May, passed off the excitement of which it was the cause and scene. Those who arranged the grand pageant of that day, and invested it with attributes, suggestive, imposing and useful as ever decked a public spectacle, would have wrought it out into a sterner purpose: but the heart upon which they counted had, even then, died. Mr. O’Connell’s speech too painfully bespoke his utter inability to guide the nation in any higher effort. The energy that should have seized the occasion to confirm the people in their strong purpose, and elevate their hopes to the level of the great stake at issue, exhausted itself in balancing the routine details of cold and empty statistics. The curtain fell, and nothing remained but grotesque figures, withered garlands, broken panels and desolate dust, which mingled confusedly behind the scene, over the dark, deserted stage. The journals, of course, preserved, for a few days, very glittering reminiscences of the scene. With one accord, they pronounced it surpassing in interest and importance. Great results were anticipated in the newspaper world; and many imagined they had fulfilled the last obligations they owed their country. But with the men, who had fondly hoped to date therefrom a new era and begin a nobler task, the 30th of May, was of dark, despairing augury. They clearly saw that from that hour forth there remained but the alternative of abandoning their cherished hopes, or attempting to realise them without the aid, perhaps in opposition to the wishes, of Mr. O’Connell. It was a gloomy and sad conviction, but it was no longer to be blinked.
Meantime, Mr. O’Connell returned to the Hall, and repeated to a jaded audience, week after week, the same stale list of grievances. From any other man the repetition would be intolerable. But the public ear had become attuned to his accents, to which, whatever the sense of his language, men listened as to a messenger of heavenly tidings. Mr. Duffy strongly urged upon his fellow labourers the improbability of success, and advised a distinct change of policy. In this he was overborne by their united opinion, and the Nation continued to promulgate the same bold, unwavering course. By degrees the feeling of bitterness entertained by the anti-education section of the priests found utterance, and the paper was, almost openly, denounced as an infidel publication. At first indeed, the charge was shrouded in mysterious insinuations; but it soon gained strength and audacity, and received the unblushing sanction of at least one prelate. The answer of the Nation was confined to one indignant line. Proof was demanded and was not offered; but its very absence only deepened the malignity of the slanderers. Even in the midst of this storm the muse of Thomas Davis sang no discordant strain, nor did his pen trace one angry word. On the contrary, he summoned his whole energies to the task of harmonising the jarring elements around him. His inspiration rose to that unearthly height, whereon guidance becomes prophecy. Great, strong and unselfish convictions, entertained holily and uttered sincerely, are assurances of new creations, pledges of the destiny to which they tend. In this spirit, spoke and sang Thomas Davis during a time of bitterness and dissension. And his counsels had been successful, but alas! in that last effort his fond, faithful, trusting heart was broken.
There was a perceptible lull in the agitation. The country gradually relapsed into a state of inactive and vague hope, which centred in the mental resources of Mr. O’Connell. The difficulties which the people should have appreciated and learned to overcome, they transferred, with easy and trusting indifference, to the energies of the “Liberator,” which they not only deemed boundless but immortal. From all educated and thoughtful men, however, hope in those energies had passed away. Davis seduously endeavoured during the summer months of 1845, to gather these, and others of the same class from the Conservative ranks, round some common object or endeavour, outside Mr. O’Connell’s path, and not calculated to wake their prejudice or jealousies. The Art Union, the Archaeological Society, the Royal Irish Academy, the Library of Ireland, the Cork School of Design, the Mechanics’ Institute and every effort and institution, having for their aim the encouragement of the nation in arts, literature and greatness, engaged his vigilant and embracing care. Of each of these institutions he became the great attraction, the real centre and head. While he successfully wrought to give a national and steady direction to Irish intellect and enterprise—Hogan, in Italy, Maclise, in London, and others like them, who were bravely struggling and nobly emulating the highest efforts of the genius of other lands, were vindicated, encouraged and applauded by his pen. Among the sterner natures, who urged their way through the stormy elements of agitation, his accents, though low and diffident, commanded the deepest attention and most lasting memory. While thus engaged, compassing by his “circling soul,” every sunward effort and immortal tendency of the country, death came, sudden and inexorable, and struck him down in his day of utmost might. His last work on earth was the brief dedication of the memoir of Curran, and edition of his select speeches, which he had prepared, to his friend, William Elliot Hudson. This he wrote during a pause of delirium, and soon afterwards passed to a brighter world. He died on the 16th of September, 1845, when yet but thirty-one years old. How sincere and deep was the public grief, no pen can ever tell. In the mourning procession that followed his hearse there was no parade of woe, but every eye was wet and every tongue silent. If ever sorrow was too deep for utterance, it was that which settled above the early grave of Thomas Davis.
During the summer, no effort of the Association rose above the hacknied level of the usual weekly meetings and the repetition of the same stale grievances, except a gathering of Tipperary at Thurles, which took place on the 23rd of September. This was the largest of the monster meetings: but, although the crowd was enormous and the shouting loud, it seemed without purpose or heart. During the preparations for that meeting I had to encounter difficulties of the most extraordinary kind. First, the meeting was opposed by certain influential clergymen; and when they found themselves too feeble to resist, they transferred all their opposition to me. There is no petty cavil they had not recourse to, to thwart and discourage, and even when all had succeeded I was treated with personal discourtesy and annoyance at the public dinner. The seeds of strife, afterwards destined to bear such deadly fruit, had already begun to manifest themselves, and petty calumnies were insinuated in the name of religion and morality. From that great meeting the crowd retired quickly, and, almost as instantaneously, its effect faded from the public heat. All that remained was soreness and distrust.
No event worth a memory marked the close of 1845, or the first months of 1846. The Colleges Bill had passed, without a single important amendment, and a Roman Catholic priest accepted the nomination of Government, as president of one of the institutions. Some of the prelates, too, were said to be favourable to the colleges, even as they were then constituted, and the divisions supposed to exist among them were imparting their acridity to the deepening distractions of the time, when an event occurred—the advent of the Whigs to office—which broke up the great confederacy on which the hopes of the nation were staked.
 The Repeal “Rent.” The weekly contributions to the funds of Conciliation Hall.—Ed.
 Moved by the Right Reverend Dr. Brown of Elphin; seconded by the Right Reverend Dr. McNally of Clogher. Resolved: That the Most Reverend Dr. Crolly be requested to reply to the letter received from the Holy Father, stating that the instructions therein contained have been received by the assembled prelates of Ireland with that degree of profound respect, obedience and veneration that should ever be paid to any document emanating from the Apostolic See, and that they all pledge themselves to carry the spirit thereof into effect.”
Dr. Crolly had previously explained what he considered true obedience to the rescript. He writes in reference to a former one in 1839: “In obedience to the injunction of the Holy See, I endeavoured to reclaim those misguided clergymen;” adding that the present was “in order that I should more efficaciously admonish such priests or prelates as I might find taking a prominent or imprudent part in political proceedings.”