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The History of Ulster
After the Union


Act of Union comes into Operation in January, 1801—Presbyterians seek Relief from their Disabilities—Lord Castlereagh's Plans for their Relief— Thomas Russell of Downpatrick engaged in Emmett's Rebellion—He is taken, tried, and executed—First Roman Catholic Petition for Emancipation—It fails —Castlereagh seeks re-election for Down—He is defeated—Hamilton Rowan released — "Ulster as loyal as any Part of England" — Outrage at Newry— Orangeman executed at Enniskillen—First Agitation for Repeal of the Union— Daniel O'Connell's Sentiments—He denounoes Religious Dissensions—Death of George III.

On the 1st of January, 1801, the Act of Union came into operation, from that date Ireland ceased to be a distinct kingdom, and became an integral portion of the British Empire. For a long period after the Union the history of the country presents very few events of any importance. Ulster remained in tolerable tranquillity, and did not suffer to the same extent as did her sister provinces, which were thrown into great distress by the failure of the crops in the years immediately following the Union; especially of potatoes, which formed the staple diet of the people in the south and west.

In 1802, Catholic emancipation being in the air, the great Presbyterian body in Ulster also sought relief from disabilities under which they laboured. On this subject Lord Castlereagh, who had been appointed President of the Board of Control, and was now busily engaged seeking re-election as member for Down, wrote, on the 21st July, to Addington, who was Prime Minister: "Nothing but time, and the operation of a steady and impartial administration of the government, such as it is your determination, and not less that of my Lord Hardwicke [the Viceroy], to employ, can mitigate the religious animosities that unhappily prevail in this country, which, I am sorry to say, exist at present in a very strong degree, and have recently manifested themselves, both in the counties of Derry and Down, in an unpleasant manner. In the former a riot took place between the Orangemen and the Catholics, in which several of the latter, though supposed to have been the aggressors, lost their lives. A riot between the same parties took place near this town on the 27th of last month, at a well where the Catholics assemble at midsummer to perform their penances, which terminated in two Catholics being killed and several wounded. In this instance, I fear the Protestants very much misconducted themselves.

"On this occasion Lord Londonderry assembled the magistrates; and the determination which has been shown to put the law rigidly in force against all parties, without favour to any, will prevent further mischief, and give the proper impression to the minds of both; but still, to soften religious contention in this country, and to bring it gradually to a temper which shall, in future wars, deprive our foreign enemies of a certain ally in the resentful feelings of one of two contending parties, some effort must be made by the State to mitigate the struggle, which I see no means it has of accomplishing, if seven-eighths of our population are to remain wholly out of the reach of any species of influence or authority, other than that of the mere operation of the law."

Castlereagh then proceeded to develop a scheme for rewarding loyalty in the Presbyterian body, and discouraging "the democratic party in the synod, most of whom, if not engaged in the Rebellion, were deeply infected with its principles". "In our Church," he writes, "which is naturally attached to the State, I should dread schism as naturally weakening its interests. But in such a body as the Presbyterians of Ireland, who, though consequently a branch of the Church of Scotland, have partaken so deeply first of the popular and since of the democratic politics of this country as to be an object much more of jealousy than of support to Government, I am of opinion that it is only through a considerable internal fermentation of the body, coupled with some change of system, that it will put on a different temper and acquire better habits."

Castlereagh's plan was to increase largely the grant known as Regium Donum, instituted in the seventeenth century, and to entirely change the mode of its distribution. It had previously been given to a commission of the Presbyterian body, who apportioned an equal sum, amounting usually to £16, to each minister. It was now proposed that for the future there should be three scales of payment, rising from £50 to £100. But this sum was to be given to each recipient, not by the synod, but by the State. "On the appointment of a minister, certificate of his character must be laid by the Presbytery before the Lord-Lieutenant. After the congregation has chosen a minister, he should not be entitled as of right to derive a provision from the State without a guarantee that he is a loyal subject."

An active correspondence was kept up with the leading Presbyterians on this method of dealing with the question, Castlereagh's plan meeting with universal approbation. Alexander Knox, writing to Castlereagh on the 15th of July, 1803, when the new votes had passed Parliament, said: "On the whole, if nothing is now done or omitted to lessen its efficacy, I believe a happier policy has never been resorted to than this plan of your lordship's. Never before was Ulster under the dominion of the British Crown. It had a distinct moral existence before, and moved and acted on principles, of which all we could certainly know was that they were not with the State; therefore, when any tempting occasion occurred, ready to act against it. Now the distinct existence will merge into the general well-being, the Presbyterian ministers being henceforth a subordinate ecclesiastical aristocracy, whose feeling must be that of zealous loyalty, and whose influence upon their people will be as surely sedative, when it should be so, and exciting when it should be so, as it was the direct reverse before."

On the 23rd of the month Robert Emmett's insurrection broke like a bolt from the blue. In his manifesto he did not venture to address the men of Ulster, although he addressed those of the other three provinces. Thomas Russell, who had undertaken the agitation of Down and Antrim, on his mission to Ulster met with nothing but disappointment. He collected some people together, and addressed them, but ineffectually, for the revolutionary spirit of the north appeared to be extinguished. He was not only avoided, but he was threatened and denounced, and the Catholic priests publicly exhorted those under their charge not to listen to him. Suspecting that he was in peril, he hid himself, and from his place of concealment published an inflammatory proclamation, in which he designated himself "General of the Northern District". When brought to his trial at Down, he followed the example of Emmett, who had been executed on the 20th of September, and delivered a long speech in justification of his conduct, a speech which is remarkable for its many expressions of religious emotion. Russell, who was a close friend and associate of Wolfe Tone, as well as of Robert Emmett, was executed at Downpatrick, where a memorial to him was erected in the graveyard, bearing on it no inscription save the letters of his name.

Spies and informers reaped a rich harvest from the general fear. A man named Houlton, early in August, succeeded in getting an interview with the Under-Secretary, and was brought by request before the Privy Council. Houlton told them that he had private information of the fact that several of Russell's adherents in Ulster intended to surprise the Pigeon-house fort, approaching it under the guise of fishermen. He offered his services to the Government and they were accepted, when it was determined to send him to the north, where he was to pass as one of the rebel generals. Houlton was, accordingly, furnished with a suitable uniform, and a superb cocked hat and feathers, and, having been furnished with £100 to cover his expenses, was sent to Belfast, instructions being at the same time sent to Sir Charles Ross, who commanded there, advising him that Houlton was a confidential agent of Dublin Castle, and directing him to give the agent all the assistance in his power.

By some error Houlton reached Belfast before the Government dispatches, and, with a want of discretion which proved how utterly unfitted he was to act, he began to talk treason openly, with the result that he was informed against, arrested, paraded in his uniform round the town, and committed to prison. The dispatch having by this time reached the hands of Ross, he had to meet the new condition of things; but in order to save the face of the Government in Dublin he sent Houlton under military escort back to the capital, when he duly was imprisoned. A little later Houlton was rewarded by being given an obscure appointment on the west coast of Africa.

In the spring of 1805 the Irish Catholics begged Pitt to present their first petition to Parliament for emancipation. Pitt refused; whereupon they approached Grenville and Fox, who consented. The Petitions were presented to both Houses on the 25th of March. The discussion was postponed until the 13th of May, when Fox rose and moved that the reference to the petition be considered by a committee of the whole House. Dr. Duigenan, member for Armagh, followed with vehement anti-Catholic invective. When he had finished, Grattan rose in a full House, tense with excitement, and said: "I rise to avoid the example of the member who has just sat down. Instead of calumniating either party, I defend both. The past troubles of Ireland, the rebellion of 1641, the wars which followed, I do not wholly forget, but I remember them only to deprecate the example and to renounce the animosity. You have been told by the last speaker that an Irish Catholic never is, never was, never can be, a faithful subject to a British Protestant King, for they hate all Protestants and all Englishmen. Thus has he pronounced against his country three curses: eternal war with one another, eternal war with England, and eternal peace with France. His speech consists of four parts: invective against the religion of the Catholics, invective against the present generation, invective against the past, invective against the future. Here the limits of creation interposed and stopped him. It is to defend those different generations and their religion that I rise: to rescue the Catholic from his attack, and the Protestant from his defence."

After a two days' debate Fox's motion was defeated by a majority of nearly three to one—336 votes against 124. Thus was the question of Catholic Emancipation set aside, until on the list of a committee appointed on the 9th of February, 1807, to draw up a new petition, appeared the name of Daniel O'Connell.

In 1805 Castlereagh, having been appointed Secretary of State, had to seek re-election as member for Down. After a poll of thirteen days he was defeated by Colonel Meade, a son of the Earl of Clanwilliam.

On the 1st of July Hamilton Rowan, who had been convicted of treasonable practices, pleaded the King's pardon at the bar of the court of King's Bench, and was liberated. One reason for this clemency lay in the fact that Fox in the House had declared that "the Province of Ulster, which is by far the most populous and important district of the country, and once the most suspected of disloyalty, [is now] as sound, and well-disposed, and as loyal as any part of England"; a pronouncement which won the hearty support of Mr. May, member for Belfast.

The agitation in Ulster against the Catholic claims, which was promoted by the Government, and the resentment of the anti-Catholic party at the indulgence which had been promised to their opponents, resulted in an increase of discord between the two parties in the province. The Orange yeomanry occasionally indulged in a lawlessness which was very reprehensible and utterly uncalled for. One instance will suffice. On the 23rd of June, 1808, a large number of men, women, and children were collected in the evening round a bonfire at Corinshiga, near Newry. They were engaged in rustic games and dances, when a party consisting of eighteen yeomen, fully armed, appeared upon the scene. The sergeant cried "halt", following up the command with an order to present and fire, with the result that one young man was killed and several of those present were severely wounded. Some of the local magistrates at once proclaimed a reward for apprehension of the offenders, and also made application to the Lord-Lieutenant, the Duke of Richmond, suggesting direct interference on the part of the Government, but without success. One of those concerned in the outrage was seized, but he escaped with the connivance of the yeoman to whose custody he had been entrusted by Lord Gosford. In 1809 an Orangeman was executed at Enniskillen for the murder of a Catholic, and it was found necessary to guard him to execution with a strong military force, lest the Orange yeomanry, who had manifested an intention to rescue him, should succeed.

Early in 1810 Grattan presented another Petition for Catholic Emancipation, and in May he moved that this and other petitions should be referred to a Committee. After a debate which lasted three days, his motion was rejected by 213 votes against 109. In May, 1911, the petition was again presented, and Grattan moved its reference to a committee of the whole House. The motion was lost by 146 votes against 83.

In the summer of this year, 1810, was commenced the first agitation for the repeal of the Union. It originated from the Corporation of Dublin. A meeting was held in the Royal Exchange on the 18th of September, when Daniel O'Connell said, in the course of an animated speech: "Let the Union be only repealed, and then the country will be truly anti-Gallic. You will then concentrate the resources of Ireland, and then alone you will have Church and State in safety. You have set an example this day. If you are loyal men, you will wish for an Irish Parliament. Recollect the spirit which in 1788, spread from Dungannon over Ireland, recollect the names of those who were instrumental on that occasion, recollect the names of those who have since died, and of those who yet survive, but let me conjure you to begin this glorious career by rejecting all religious distinction, crush to the earth the hydra of hell, clothed in the stolen garb of religion—religious dissension. Set your hopes in Ireland, as you have set your country the glorious example, be the first to step forward in her cause. Be yourselves! Be Irishmen! . . . The Protestant cannot liberate his country; the Roman Catholic cannot do it; neither can the Presbyterian. But amalgamate the three into the Irishman, and the Union is repealed."

Grattan made his final effort to effect the emancipation of Catholics in the first session of the new Parliament in 1813. His Bill was simple and in many respects satisfactory. It gave all the rights that passed into law sixteen years later: admission to Parliament, to corporations, and to civil and military offices. The Bill, in the end, was dropped. Grattan continued to the day of his death to serve the Catholic cause "with a desperate fidelity, which sustained him even when there was no hope of success".

In November, 1815, so rife was the spirit of turbulence in the baronies of Dundalk, Ardee, and Louth, that twenty-seven magistrates assembled in Petty Session in Louth memorialized the Lord-Lieutenant, proving the necessity for further police assistance in their county. These districts, accordingly, were proclaimed.

The years that followed Waterloo brought gloom and oppression to Western Europe, in which Britain as well as Ireland shared. One feature of the coercive legislation of 1817 is significant. The Seditious Meeting Act was expressly made inapplicable to Ireland. On Sir J. Newport moving that the Act be extended to Ireland, Lord Castlereagh observed that Ireland was in so tranquil a state as not to need unusual restraint.

In January, 1820, that—

Old, mad, blind, despised and dying king,

George III, expired. Few monarchs have had less said in his favour, for, as Walter Savage Landor remarked:

What mortal ever heard
Any good of George the Third?


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