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The History of Ulster
Catholic Emancipation


Death of Grattan—Plunkett's Resolutions regarding the Catholic Question —Plunkett's Second Bill denounced by O'Connell—King George IV visits Ireland—He is enthusiastically received—Trouble in the North after the King's Departure—Orangemen v. Ribbonmen—The Foundation of the Catholic Association—It is suppressed and reconstituted — O'Connell returned for Clare— Refuses to take the Oaths of Supremacy and Abjuration—The Catholic Association's Campaign in Ulster—The Catholic Emancipation Bill passed—O'Connell re-elected without Opposition—Death of George IV.

In 1820 Ireland suffered a great loss by the death, at the age of seventy, of Henry Grattan. He had served for twenty years in the Irish and for fifteen in the united Parliament. His last speech in Parliament, on window tax, was a protest against the taxation of light and air—a fitting close to the career of "that old man eloquent". His opinion on the Union never changed. But the marriage, he said, had taken place, and it was the duty of everyone to render it as fruitful and advantageous as possible.

In February, 1821, Plunkett brought forward a series of six resolutions for dealing with the Catholic question. "They set forth", says Dr. J. H. Bridges, "that whereas certain oaths and declarations were necessary as a condition for the enjoyment of certain rights, these might now be safely repealed or altered. The oaths of disbelief in transubstantia-tion and saint worship should be repealed; that of the King's supremacy should be so modified as not to imply that the King exercised spiritual as well as temporal supremacy in religious matters. The Protestant succession was specially guarded; the offices of Lord-Chancellor and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland were reserved for Protestants."

Although these resolutions were opposed by Peel, they were carried by a majority of six. On the 16th of March a second Bill was brought in, enacting that no person should be a Bishop or Dean in the Roman Catholic Church whose loyalty and peaceable conduct should not have been previously established. Every priest was to swear that he would not recognize any Bishop of whose loyalty he was not personally satisfied; that he would not correspond with the Pope or any of his agents as to the disestablishment of the Church in England, or Scotland, or Ireland; that he would not hold correspondence with Rome on any matter touching his civil allegiance.

Energetic remonstrances against this Bill poured in from all Ireland; O'Connell denounced it; the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin expressed the unanimous dissent of his clergy; but it passed the second reading by a small majority. The resolutions previously passed were then made part of the Bill, and it passed the third reading. In the Upper House it was opposed by Lords Eldon, Liverpool, and the Duke of York, and thrown out on the second reading by a majority of thirty-nine, being, as Shaw Lefevre notes, "the first of a very long list of cases in which remedial measures for Ireland, passed by the House of Commons, have been rejected by the House of Lords". Had the Bill passed into law, the acrimony created by its discussion would have been greatly aggravated.

In order to pour oil on the troubled waters it was proposed that Ireland should be favoured with a royal visit, and, Parliament being prorogued on the nth of July, 1821, His Majesty, King George IV, prepared to visit Ireland, being the first King to do so since William III. He arrived in Dublin on the 17th of August, and stayed in Ireland for a month. The plan of conciliation seemed to prosper marvellously. All Ireland desired to see the King, who was, says the chronicler, "all affability, condescending to shake hands with the lowest of the populace. During the whole period of his stay in Ireland he met with nothing but the most ardent demonstrations of loyalty. 'My heart', the King assured his Irish subjects, 'has always been Irish. From the first day it beat, I have always loved Ireland.'" The Irish question, some thought, was solved.

No one was more profuse in his demonstrations of loyalty than O'Connell, and no one was more sincere. The Nationalists eagerly hailed the opportunity given them of proving that their detestation of the Union did not involve disloyalty to the Crown. Even Lord Londonderry, who had been, of all the ministry, held up the most as an object of vituperation, was received, during his rides through the streets of Dublin, with the most enthusiastic fervour.

Notwithstanding these demonstrations of loyalty, the people, however, proved to be animated by a spirit with which no statecraft of any kind seemed to be able to cope. "It is melancholy", says the chronicler, "to be obliged to relate that the events of October, November, and December destroyed all the splendid anticipations to which His Majesty's visit to Ireland had given rise in the minds of those who possessed a superficial acquaintance with the character of that people. The gaudy and hollow bubble of conciliation soon burst, and a system of outrage, robbery, murder, and assassination commenced, hardly to be paralleled in the annals of any civilized country." The county of Cavan was one of the chief seats of the disturbance.

The appointment of Lord Wellesley to the Viceroyalty in the winter of 1821-2 brought the country a friend. He was firm alike in his support of Catholic Emancipation and in his condemnation of Orangeism. It had been the practice to decorate the statue in Dublin of William III on the 12th of July and on the 5th of November. In 1822 the annual celebration of the Battle of the Boyne had caused much disturbance, and notice was given early in October that the decoration of the statue for the 5th of November would not be permitted. The prohibition was bitterly resented by the Orange leaders, and the Merchants' Guild passed a resolution condemning it. Six weeks later Lord Wellesley was insulted and attacked in the Theatre Royal, Dublin.

Hatred of " each other for the love of God", became one of the most significant "religious tendencies of the age". This was most noticeable in Ulster. In the counties of Antrim and Armagh, for example, insults and provocations followed by riots were common features of the life of the people. To ascertain the identity of the first offender was almost impossible, so commonplace had perjury become. At Carrickfergus assizes the flat contradictions given on oath by Catholics and Protestants alike to statements made by their opponents were so flagrant that the judge, Baron M'Cleland, refused to take the testimony of either side, and dismissed cases with earnest exhortations and reproofs, both to Ribbonmen and Orangemen, for the unnatural spirit of animosity they displayed, which, the judge declared, "was calculated to make the banner of Christianity, not an emblem of peace but a standard to excite people to deeds of discord and bloodshed".

On the 12th of July, 1823, some Orangemen, and Ribbon-men met at the fair at Maghera in County Londonderry. A quarrel took place, and the Orangemen, being driven to the barracks, provided themselves with arms and ammunition and fired repeatedly upon their adversaries, with the result that some twenty or thirty were wounded and several were killed. The Orangemen's triumph was later celebrated by a concerted attack upon the dwellings of the Catholics.

In this year (1823) the Catholic Association of Ireland was founded, by O'Connell, Sheil, and others. Its purpose was described to be that of adopting "all such legal and constitutional measures as may be most useful to obtain Catholic Emancipation". It was not limited to Catholics. Everyone who subscribed £1, 2s. 9d. annually was qualified for membership. Reporters were admitted. The meetings were held at three o'clock on Saturday, ten members forming a quorum. The country was appealed to. Subscriptions were invited in every town, indeed in every village. Collectors were appointed for every parish to receive monthly subscriptions, which varied from one penny to two shillings. The result was a huge success: the feeling of the people was awakened. Everyone, however humble, felt he could take his share to remould the state of things nearer to the heart's desire. A fourth estate arose in Ireland, as powerful, in many instances, as the other three.

The King's speech at the opening of the session of 1825 proved that the Catholic Association was not to be allowed to triumph. "Outrages", it said, "have so far ceased as to warrant the suspension of the extension of extraordinary powers in most of the districts hitherto disturbed. Industry and commercial enterprise are extending in that part of the United Kingdom. It is the more to be regretted that associations should exist in Ireland irreconcilable with the spirit of the constitution, and calculated, by exciting alarm and by exasperating animosity, to endanger the peace of society and to retard the course of national improvement."

On the 10th of February Goulbourn moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Acts affecting unlawful societies in Ireland. In order to meet objections, it was stated that it was intended to have reference, not merely to the Catholic Associations, but to all societies of a similar kind; and its objects were to prevent the permanent sittings of any associations or appointment of committees beyond a certain time, and also to put a stop to any levy of money for the purpose of redressing private or public grievances. It was further to make illegal all societies which were affiliated, which corresponded with other societies, which excluded persons on the ground of any particular religious faith, or in which any oaths were taken other than those which were directed by the law. The Bill was supported by Plunkett and Canning, and was pressed rapidly through all its stages by large majorities. Early in March it was read a third time in the House of Lords, and on the 9th received the royal assent, with the result that the Catholic Association fell without a struggle, no attempt being made to resist the law.

Shortly after the session closed, a committee of twenty-one noblemen and gentlemen was appointed by the Catholic Association to consider what course would be best to adopt under the circumstances. On the 13th of July, 1825, Lord Killeen, as representative of the committee, submitted the report, on which they had agreed, to another large meeting, and its provisions were almost entirely adopted. It recommended that a new Catholic Association should be formed, which should have its head office in Dublin; that there should be ramified associations in every county in Ireland, which should act, with apparent independence of each other, in getting up petitions to Parliament for Catholic Emancipation, that each of these associations should have a permanent committee, which was to meet fourteen days at a time, but that all its members should be, whether in meeting or not, in constant correspondence with the head committee in Dublin; and, finally, in order to do away with the apparent factiousness of a Catholic opposition to Government, it was agreed that any person whatsoever, irrespective of creed, should on the payment of twenty shillings become a member. "Each province of Ireland", says Wyse, "was summoned by requisition. The Catholics invited their Protestant friends; both met on an appointed day in a town chosen in rotation in one or other of the counties of the province. The result was most important. It familiarized the two sects with each other; it inspired mutual confidence and mutual respect. The people were incalculably benefited. It was not only a spectacle of great and stirring interest, but a series of impressive political lectures on their grievances and their rights, leaving behind them thoughts which burnt for many months afterwards in the hearts of the peasantry, and gave them a visible and sensible connection with the leading class of their countrymen." The Act directed against the Catholic Association expired in July, 1828, when the association was without delay reconstituted in its original form.

A vacancy occurring in the representation of County Clare, through Vesey Fitzgerald's appointment to the Presidency of the Board of Trade, the Association started O'Connell as a candidate for the vacant seat, with the result that Fitzgerald retired after a few days' contest and O'Connell was elected; when, however, he presented himself at the bar of the House of Commons, the oaths of supremacy and of abjuration were presented to him, and he refused to take either. A brief but stormy discussion followed, and O'Connell was sent back to his constituents, with whom he became more popular than ever.

The Catholic Association now redoubled their activity and the country was soon in a ferment of excitement. The organization of the south had been completed, but in Ulster the power of the association was not fully established, and they therefore sent Lawless as an agent to represent them. On his way he wrote to the committee to say that the whole population followed him up the hills, many on foot and large numbers on horseback; and he actually entered the town of Ballybay, in County Monaghan, with from twenty to thirty thousand people in attendance. Such large numbers, being animated with a wild desire for lawlessness under the guise of freedom, became a serious menace to the welfare of lovers of peace, and the magistrates were obliged to call out the military to check the proceedings of Lawless, one large meeting being held at Armagh on the 30th of September, 1828, at which many of those present were armed.

When Parliament met on the 6th of February, 1829, the King's speech regretted the continuance in Ireland of an association dangerous to the public peace, and advised Parliament to consider the removal of civil disabilities of Catholics consistently with the maintenance of establishments in Church or State. On the 10th Peel brought in a Bill for the suppression of the Catholic Association, and on the 5th of March he proposed a resolution that the House should form into Committee to consider the laws imposing disabilities on Catholics. The Bill, embodying Peel's resolution, was read for the first time on the 10th of March. After two days' debate the second reading was carried on the 18th by 353 to 180, and the third on the 30th by 320 to 142. In the Lords the majority for the Bill on the second reading was 217 against 111, and the Bill was read a third time on the 10th of April, and on the 13th received the royal assent. On the 15th of May O'Connell presented himself in the House, claiming to take the oath newly enacted. A debate took place, and on the 18th he was heard at the bar. It was decided by 190 votes against 116 that, having been elected before the change in the law, he must take the former oath. On his refusal to do this a new writ was issued. He returned to Ireland to seek re-election, and at once raised the cry of Repeal. He was again returned for Clare, this time without a contest.

During the early part of 1830 the health of the King had been rapidly declining, and after being for several months secluded from everyone, save his personal attendants, he died on Saturday, the 26th of June, and was succeeded by his brother, William Henry, Duke of Clarence, as William IV.


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