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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 33


In this kingdom, so divided, both in religious and political sentiments, you can scarcely find two persons of the same opinion; and no general plan for its improvement, gives any party content. It must, nevertheless, be a plan of the most comprehensive nature, which can answer all the purposes of universal good. Particular interests


must be disregarded, particular prejudices should be despised. The interests of graziers are against an Agrarian law; and the ruling prejudice is against any relaxation of the penal code. In my last, I pleaded the cause of the poor against the rich; let us now consider the objections against toleration, unawed by authority, unbiassed by prejudice, and unswayed by interest.

It is urged, that popery is of a spirit so intolerant, that it ought not be tolerated, in this country especially, where the very rivers have been stained with the blood of Protestants, whose ghosts have often cried, aloud, for vengeance on their fell destroyers. You may perhaps, Doctor, think that this is a visionary representation of my own; but it is not, it is the real representation of ignorant zeal. Among the many affidavits of the barbarities committed by Papists, in the war of 1641, are some, equally authenticated, wherein the deponents set forth, that they heard the apparitions shriek vengeance, as they glided along the Bann; a river in the north, into which they had been driven. Which only evinces,


that entire credit is not to be given to the affidavits, and histories of those times. But let us listen to more serious arguments.

It is objected, that if Popery were tolerated, it would exhibit the same scenes over again which it did then; its lust of dominion being so inordinate, that wherever it can, it will reign alone. Let it, however, be remembered that it has now undergone a long quarantine from power, by a peaceable subjection of above seventy years. Let it be considered, that the influence of the Pope is now lost in some Popish countries, and that it is diminished in all. The Jesuits are suppressed, the world is enlightened, France is tolerant! Would it not be safer to allow a Roman Catholic seminary at home; where, even from emulation, some real and solid learning might be acquired, which would necessarily beget moderation; —than suffer their priests to go in quest of a beggarly education to foreign universities, where they glean up nothing but the quibbles of sophistry, and the babblements of casuistry; and then come home again replete with foreign prejudices, and all their native imperfections on their head?


These arguments, dispassionately weighed, might suffice to answer all objections against the toleration of Irish Papists. But still it is asked, How did they behave when they were tolerated? To which I must answer by another question, At what time were they tolerated? It is said, and it is written that they were in the full enjoyment of the same privileges with Protestant subjects at the breaking out of the rebellion in 1641; but let us examine into the foundation of this assertion, by taking up the matter from the beginning.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, at a time when the English was a tongue almost as much unknown in Ireland as the Latin, and consequently when the Liturgy was scarce more understood than the Mass-book, a penalty of a shilling a Sunday was exacted from all such as refused to conform to the worship of the church of England. James, by proclamation, commanded all the popish clergy to depart the kingdom in a limited time; and upon non-compliance, they were thrown into prison by the Lord Deputy. That royal pedant would have had no objection to a religion, which preaches up passive


obedience, if the Pope had not arrogated a fight to dethrone and decrown Kings. When King of Scotland only he had been treating with the Pope; and the Irish Papists were thence taught to believe that he favoured them in his heart, which may account for their indiscretions at that period.

It was not, however, without good reason that they rose in a flame at their clergy being thus illegally imprisoned; they argued justly, that the crime of recusancy had its penalty ascertained by the statute of Elizabeth38. The King therefore found it expedient, to recommend to his deputies here, the gentler mode of instruction and exhortation, for reclaiming the papists. And happy had it been for this nation, if that method had been invariably pursued in that and the succeeding reign; but so it happened, that the governors of Ireland had such an aversion to Popery, that, under Charles, fifteen Romish chapels were shut up in one day.

Was this toleration of religion? Certainly not. Were their temporal rights


better secured? Worse, if possible. The great O'Nial, earl of Tyrone, was attainted upon the sole evidence of an anonymous letter, dropped in the privy-council chamber. By his imputed guilt, six whole counties in Ulster escheated to the crown; with which the King gratified his kinsfolk and dependants of Scotland. And as if these were not enough, a Court of Inquisition upon titles was set up; whose decisions were so unjust, that neither the laws of nature, nor of custom, nor even possession for centuries, could preserve to Roman Catholics the estates of their ancestors. It did not use even the ostensible pretext of religious criminality, or civil delinquency; its only object was defect of title, and every title was adjudged defective, for which a deed, or grant of conveyance from the crown, could not be produced, or at least proved. Upon this finesse of law, what estate could be secure? Prescription became of no use, and the oldest tenures were in greatest danger from the ruins of time, or the injuries of accident: even the new might have perished in such a series of war and confusion, when private houses and


public offices were every day plundered and in flames.

Every governor of Ireland under Charles pursued the same detestable measures: Earl Strafford figured in the van. This insolent Lord Deputy confiscated many unforfeited estates, and seized them in the name of the Crown. His master behaved with his wonted duplicity; he promised the Irish what he called his graces, similar to our petition of right, but never granted them, holding them still out as a lure for a new subsidy, with a threat to streighten them if they refused to comply. Indeed, when that unhappy prince tottered on his throne, when the conduct of his favourite had co-operated to render him odious; but above all, when he wanted the assistance of an Irish army against the English parliament, then, and not till then, did he transmit his consent to the act of Limitation, relinquishing all farther inquiry into titles. But by that time the sovereignty had passed from Charles, and the parliament was paramount. The sceptre of Ireland was by them committed to the hands of two Lords Justices, Parsons and Borlace, men of narrow, puritanical


principles; whose interest it became, as much as it had been of the decollated Strafford, to provoke farther escheats. They eluded the King's intention, by adjourning the parliament in the year 1641, contrary to his Majesty's order and interest, and to the great discontent of the commons and all pacific reasonable men. Thus were the sacred rights of justice and humanity trampled under foot by sordid avarice, goaded on by fanatical zeal.

Had the King's intention been honest, they would have frustrated it, in opposition to his interest; but as the passing the act of Limitation would have secured the property of so many Popish families, they defeated it, in subservience to their own. In short, they did every thing they could devise, to exasperate these poor people, and precipitate them into the rebellion, which they had repeated intimations was kindling in Ulster, without taking a single step to extinguish the embriotic flame.

A rebellion at length broke out on the 23d of October 1641, which, after the massacre of Paris, on the eve of St. Bartholomew, furnished as many tragic scenes as


any in civil or ecclesiastical history. But the Irish affair was a work of mercy to that of France. There, superstition, for I cannot call it religion, operated alone. Here, religious zeal was sharpened by oppression both spiritual and temporal; the enormities committed were perpetrated by the scum and dregs of the people; and even these were exaggerated in a tenfold proportion: whereas the most elevated ranks in Paris were personally engaged, and their hands stained in the blood of their nearest relations. The murderers of Paris were the ruling and triumphant party, and therefore, we may suppose their case is represented in the most favourable light. Whereas the Irish accounts come all, or moslty, from the governing and successful side. In the Roman history, the Carthaginians are ever and anon stigmatised as perfidi, crudeles, foedifragi; and therefore Carthago delenda est. But let us, despising declamation, advert to facts.

If Sir William Petty had prejudices, it is evident they could not be in favour of the Irish, for he was one of the great gainers by their supposed guilt, and consequent forfeitures. Yet after demonstrating that the


number of Protestants destroyed in the whole war by the Papists was not one-fourth of what it was reported to be, he goes on to shew, that, before the war, there were in the whole realm, but three thousand landed Papists, of whom, as appears by eight hundred judgments of the court of claims, which sat anno 1663, upon the innocence and effects of the Irish, there were not above a seventh part guilty of the rebellion. And after assigning some motives for the Irish entering into this war, he concludes his chapter with these most remarkable words: ‘But upon the playing of this game or match upon so great odds, the English won, and have, among and besides other pretences, a gamester's right at least to their estates. But as for the bloodshed in the contest, God best knows who did occasion it.’39