The Felons Track (3)



Thus wrote Thomas Davis at the opening of the new year:—

“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[5] 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.[6]

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,[7] 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.”

Charles Lavan Duffy (1846)

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.

“That if any president, vice-president, professor, or office-bearer, in any of the new colleges shall be convicted before the board of trustees of attempting to undermine the faith or injure the morals of any student in those institutions, he shall be immediately removed from his office by the same board.”

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.

And, secondly, that the Seceders—those who were afterwards so glibly denounced as infidels for their support of the Godless bill—were as much opposed to that bill as he was.

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.

In a prolonged and most earnest debate in the House of Commons, on motion for going into Committee on the Bill, June 2nd, Mr. O’Connell, after eulogising the Maynooth grant, says:—

“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.”

And further on: “Again I repeat I am most anxious for the success of this bill, but I fairly tell you it cannot succeed without the Catholic bishops….

“There may have been harsh expressions in the public papers, but depend upon it great anxiety exists in Ireland to have such a measure.”

The second proposition would be abundantly sustained by a single sentence in Thomas Davis’s commentary on the speech from which I extract the above.

“On our part we had feared O’Connell conceded almost too far.”

But the testimony of Mr. O’Connell himself will be considered more conclusive.

Speaking in the Association on the 6th of July, he said:—

“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.”

Again, in the course of the same speech, he said:

“We (Mr. O’Brien and himself) did our best to avert such a calamity. We called upon the Government not to persist in working out this bill in all its details of blackness and horror.”

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 will be pardoned for transcribing here a few observations of my own on that occasion.

“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.

Richard O'Gorman, Jun. (1848) & Patrick O'Donohoe (1848)
Richard O’Gorman, Jun. (1848)   &  Patrick O’Donohoe (1848)

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.

“Dated this 30th day of May, 1845.”

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.


[5] The Repeal “Rent.” The weekly contributions to the funds of Conciliation Hall.—Ed.

[6] 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.”

[7] John Reynolds.