A Troubled Reign - The Ireland of James
II - Macaulay on Ireland - Eminent Irish Writers of the Period - Ormonde
recalled - Primate Boyle and the Earl of Granard Lords Justices - The
Opposed Religious Parties - Colonel Richard Talbot, "Lying- Dick" -
Order for Disarmament of Irish Militia - Talbot created Earl of
Tyrconnell, and appointed General of the Irish Army - Henry Hyde, Earl
of Clarendon, appointed Lord-Lieutenant.
"When the historian of this troubled
reign", wrote Macaulay, in reference to that of James II, "turns to Ireland, his task becomes peculiarly difficult and delicate." Macaulay wrote as an Englishman, and to him the work was rendered doubly difficult, if not delicate, by his lamentable lack of personal knowledge of Ireland and the Irish, and his consequent want of
sympathy with a people of whose characteristics and aspirations he was wholly ignorant. The great historian's knowledge
of Irishmen seems to have been largely derived from a study of Miss Edgeworth's stories, and he pathetically observes that in order to realize what the Irish were in the seventeenth century it is only necessary to study the national characteristics as depicted in the person of "King Corny " by a novelist of the nineteenth, and thus "form some notion of what King Corny's great-grandfather must have been". One might as well suggest that from a careful consideration of
the character of James II some idea might be gathered of the character of his great-grandfather Henry Darnley! It is this lack of knowledge and sympathy which led Macaulay to depict the Irish as living in sties, and to contrast the "men who were fed on bread with the men who were fed on potatoes", with, of course, a verdict in favour of the former.
The Ireland of which James II became
King was by no means a land filled with "squalid and half-naked barbarians", as Macaulay would have us believe. She was a land devastated by
never-ending conflicts, and bore upon her features, save where they had been effaced by
The sweet oblivious tendencies
And silent over-growings of nature,
traces, in shattered fane and ruined
tower, in prone walls and roofless dwellings, of the dire and ruthless deeds which had been done in her midst. But the recuperative power of Ireland is one of her most notable characteristics. A few years of peace and plenty restored to their pristine vigour a race which, Antaeus-like, arose refreshed from every overthrow.
Ulster, which had from time immemorial been subject to the internecine feuds of the O'Donnells and O'Neills, and which later wellnigh suffered extinction at the hands of Mountjoy (her sons dying by hecatombs from starvation as well as the sword), survived to become a victim of Cromwell's sanguinary and merciless methods of warfare, and was now again prepared to hold her own against any foe however formidable!
There is ample evidence of the fact
that from the days of Henry VIII to the days of Victoria it has been the constant aim of English statesmen to mould, if possible, Hibernian nationality in the matrix of Saxon sentiment. Celtic modes of thought and expression, it was desired, should be transmuted into
something more staid and solid. The very language of the natives was to be suppressed and their utterances
confined in the trammels of an alien tongue. Deprived of its wild
exuberance of beauty, the speech of the country was gradually to assimilate the more prosaic elements of English diction, by which it was hoped it would in time be superseded. Under these circumstances, and the fact that the land was the scene of interminable strife, it is not strange that the literature produced by Ireland at this period could not favourably compare with that of the so-called Augustan age of England.
But the seventeenth century, though a
period of storm and stress for Ireland, was nevertheless not unproductive of intellectual
effort. The opening years were not barren which produced such results as the works of Philip O'Sullivan Beare, Stephen White, Peter Lombard, and Thomas Messingham. From 1632 to
1636 the Four Masters Michael, Conary, and Cucogry O'Clery, and Ferfeasa O'Mulconry were engaged in compiling their invaluable Annals of Ireland. Geoffry
Keating, who has been called the Irish Herodotus, died about the middle of the century; the learned Ussher and the able historian, Sir James Ware, produced their masterpieces at much the same period. The eminent Irish scholar and antiquary, Duald MacFirbis, was Ware's Irish amanuensis. John Colgan, a celebrated hagiographer, published his Acta Sanctorum Hibernice in 1645, and the seventeenth century also witnessed the results of the labours of a host of other Irish writers, such as Patrick Fleming, Hugh Ward, David Roth, Luke Wadding, Dominic O'Daly, Thomas Carve, Anthony Bruodin, Nicholas French, Oliver Plunkett, Richard Arsdekin, Archdeacon Lynch (Gratianus Lucius), and Roderick O'Flaherty, the learned author of the Ogygia. To this list might be added a large number of names of those who, inasmuch as religion at that time occupied the major portion of man's thoughts, wrote almost exclusively on theology, and whose writings will bear comparison with
those of any English divine of the period, not excluding Jeremy Taylor, who as Bishop of Down spent not a little of his time in Ulster. It is by such achievements of the intellect as these that the Ireland of that time is to be judged, for a nation is what its greatest are, otherwise we " place the feet above the head and swear the brains are in the feet", and by following such a process of reasoning we should arrive at the result that the national characteristics and
tendencies of the England of Victoria should be gauged, not by the genius of a Tennyson or a Dickens, or the intellect of a Darwin or a Herbert Spencer, but by the coarse animalisms displayed by a Lancashire collier or a London hooligan.
It was one of the literary sins of
Lord Macaulay that he adopted any phrase which was brilliant, irrespective of the truth or lack of truth it conveyed. Why he should disparage the
Irish on account of their culture of the potato, which had recently been introduced into Ireland, it is difficult to discover, seeing that the tuber was also cultivated in England. The
speedy popularity of the potato in Ireland is accounted for by the fact that during the endless wars waged on her soil all crops had by her foes been persistently doomed to destruction by fire or scythe; and a potato crop, being difficult to eradicate, and because if left undisturbed it secured a supply of food for months, was therefore adopted as a means of subsistence by the Irish, and not, as Macaulay states, because it could "be cultivated with scarcely any art, industry, or capital".
In addition to this slur on the race,
Macaulay states that the Irish peasantry "never worked till they felt the sting of hunger. They were content with accommodation inferior to that which, in happier countries, was provided for domestic cattle", a statement which may be dismissed with the remark that the dwellings of the native population being under stress of war frequently doomed to destruction, the art of building was not encouraged thereby, the results of their labours in building or in tillage being, like their lives, in a constant state of jeopardy. "From a people so fed", concludes the great historian, "diligence and forethought were not to be expected", and he points exultingly to the "great superiority of intelligence, vigour, and organization" of the bread-eating English. It is not strange, with such erroneous ideas regarding Ireland,
Macaulay found his task "peculiarly difficult and delicate".
Let us endeavour to realize what
Ireland, notwithstanding her potato-consuming proclivities, really was at this period of her history. When Charles II died, Ormonde was still at the head of affairs, although his recall was under consideration. On the
accession of James II he caused the new monarch to be proclaimed with due solemnity, although the Protestant party of the Pale, well aware of the inclinations and temper of the new King, was struck with consternation. According to Cox, people heard the proclamation "with such dismal countenances and so much concern as if they had that day foreseen (as many did) the infelicity and misfortune of the
following reign". Ormonde was now in- formed that his services were no longer required in Ireland, and he was invited to Whitehall to act as Lord Steward. The excuse made publicly for his recall was his age and infirmities, which, it was alleged, rendered him unequal to the arduous duties of his office, and in this he affected to concur, though he did not affect to deny that the new arrangement
wounded his feelings. Before his departure he gave a magnificent banquet to the officers of the garrison of Dublin at Kilmainham Hospital, then just completed. After dinner he rose, and, holding in his hand a glass filled to the brim with wine, called the attention of his guests to the fact that he had not spilt a single drop, adding: "See, gentlemen! They say at Court I am old and in my dotage; but my hand is steady, nor doth my heart fail; and I hope to convince some of them of their mistake. This to the health of the King!" Such was the Viceroy's farewell to Ireland. Towards the close of March, 1685, he delivered the sword of State to two Lords Justices, the Primate, Michael Boyle, a very old man, and Sir Arthur Forbes, now Earl of Granard, and repaired to London, where he was received with unusual marks of public respect.
Of the Lords Justices one was so
strong a supporter of High Church principles that he was suspected of having a leaning towards Roman Catholicism, while the other had frequently proved himself a protector of Presbyterians. This important body of Protestants had been subjected to much persecution during the latter years of Charles's reign, but they enjoyed some relief under the new Lords Justices, which was increased by the indulgence soon publicly given by James's proclamation of liberty of conscience. But the Presbyterian
party was nevertheless not blinded by this indulgence to the sinister
designs of James. They exhibited a strong inclination to stand firmly with the Episcopal Church in defending their faith, and they were regarded as the party most likely to prove the chief obstacle in the way of the King's meditated changes. On the other hand, the joy of the Irish Catholics was unbounded; and it will be seen that they had reason to rejoice, for they considered themselves justified in entertaining high hopes of speedily restored fortunes and
the full enjoyment of religious liberty. The old English had become closely identified in sympathy and interest with the Irish, and between both and the New Interest, as the Cromwellian planters were styled, there existed all the jealousy and antipathy which spring from antagonism in religion and in race. From the commencement of his reign the King's dealings with Ireland tended to strengthen the hopes and fears of the two opposed religious parties.
But though the civil government of the
country was in the hands of the Lords Justices, the military administration was in those of Colonel Richard Talbot. This Irish officer was a descendant of an old Norman family long resident in Leinster. Talbot's progenitors, however, had not maintained the prestige of the family name, and Talbot himself did not add to it, for in his youth he had been well known in London as a sharper and a bully. In the coffee-houses he was known by the nickname of Lying Dick. In Ireland he had attached himself to Rinuccini, and had become one of the Nuncio's most zealous partisans. Later he served in the Low Countries, and there
ingratiated himself with both Charles and the Duke of York when they were exiles, by professing to be ready at a moment's notice to assassinate the Protector. Soon after the Restoration he was rewarded for his loyalty by being raised to a position of some importance at Court. Lying Dick, who seems to have possessed no other talent, was filled with vanity and ambition, and he surrounded himself with some
of the most violent of the old party of the Nuncio, who, having served under the Duke of York, returned with him to
England, and now looked on Colonel Richard Talbot as their patron. During Charles's time he was one of the King's secret advisers on Irish matters.
In spite of their fears and surmises
the Protestant party maintained their composure. When the Duke of Argyll rose in Scotland, in May, 1685, the Protestant army in Leinster marched with alacrity into Ulster, there to join the forces of that province and be transported to Scotland to aid in suppressing the
rebellion, and there is no evidence that any sympathy whatever was exhibited in connection with Monmouth's rebellion
; nevertheless it was seized as a pretext for an order to disarm the militia throughout the country, and they were ordered to deposit their arms in the King's stores. When questions were asked in Council, regarding this order, Granard's brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Newcomen, answered "that the English wanted no arms", and he "hoped they would never have arms put into their hands again". The armed banditti known as " Tories" benefited by this disarmament, and
though the country was infested with predatory bands a Protestant could
scarcely obtain permission to keep a brace of pistols.
When this important measure was
effected, Talbot returned to England, where, on the nth of October, he
was created Earl of Tyrconnell, and he was formally appointed Lieutenant-General of the Irish army. On the 16th of December, 1685, the King appointed as Lord-Lieutenant his brother-in-law, Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon.