- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

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The reign of Queen Anne occupies twelve years (1702 to 1714. The new sovereign, daughter of James by his first marriage, inherited the legacy of William's wars, arising out of the European coalition. Her diplomatists, and her troops, under the leadership of Marlborough, continued throughout her reign to combat against France, in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands; the treaty of Utrecht being signed only the year before her majesty's decease. In domestic politics, the main occurrences were the struggle of the Whigs and Tories, immortalized for us in the pages of Swift, Steele, Addison, and Bolingbroke; the limitation of the succession to the descendants of the Electress Sophia, in the line of Hanover; and the abortive Jacobite movement on the Queen's death which drove Ormond and Atterbury into exile.

In Ireland, this is the reign, par excellence, of the penal code. From the very beginning of the Queen's reign, an insatiate spirit of proscription dictated the councils of the Irish oligarchy. On the arrival of the second and last Duke of Ormond, in 1703, as Lord-Lieutenant, the Commons waited on him in a body, with a bill "for discouraging the further growth of Popery," to which the duke having signified his entire concurrence, it was accordingly introduced, and became law. The following are among the most remarkable clauses of this act: The third clause provides, that if the son of an estated Papist shall conform to the established religion, the father shall be incapacitated from selling or mortgaging his estate, or disposing of any portion of it by will. The fourth clause prohibits a Papist from being the guardian of his own child; and orders, that if at any time the child, though ever so young, pretends to be a Protestant, it shall be taken from its own father, and placed under the guardianship of the nearest Protestant relation. The sixth clause renders Papists incapable of purchasing any manors, tenements, hereditaments, or any rents or profits arising out of the same, or of holding any lease of lives, or other lease whatever, for any term exceeding thirty-one years. And with respect even to such limited leases, it further enacts, that if a Papist should hold a farm producing a profit greater than one-third of the amount of the rent, his right to such should immediately cease, and pass over entirely to the first Protestant who should discover the rate of profit. The seventh clause prohibits Papists from succeeding to the properties or estates of their Protestant relations. By the tenth clause, the estate of a Papist, not having a Protestant heir, is ordered to be gavelled, or divided in equal shares between all his children. The sixteenth and twenty-fourth clauses impose the oath of abjuration, and the sacramental test, as a qualification for office, and for voting at elections. The twenty-third clause deprives the Catholics of Limerick and Galway of the protection secured to them by the articles of the treaty of Limerick. The twenty-fifth clause vests in her majesty all advowsons possessed by Papists.

Certain Catholic barristers, living under protection, not yet excluded from the practice of their profession, petitioned to be heard at the bar of the House of Commons. Accordingly, Mr. Malone, the ancestor of three generations of scholars and orators, Sir Stephen Rice, one of the most spotless characters of the age, formerly chief-justice under King James, and Sir Theobald Butler, were heard against the bill. The argument of Butler, who stood at the very head of his profession, remains to us almost in its entirety, and commands our admiration by its solidity and dignity. Never was national cause more worthily pleaded; never was the folly of religious persecution more forcibly exhibited. Alluding to the monstrous fourth clause of the bill, the great advocate exclaimed:--

"It is natural for the father to love the child; but we all know that children are but too apt and subject, without any such liberty as this bill gives, to slight and neglect their duty to their parents; and surely such an act as this will not be an instrument of restraint, but rather encourage them more to it.

"It is but too common with the son, who has a prospect of an estate, when once he arrives at the age of one and twenty, to think the old father too long in the way between him and it; and how much more will he be subject to it, when, by this act, he shall have liberty, before he comes to that age, to compel and force my estate from me, without asking my leave, or being liable to account with me for it, or out of his share thereof, to a moiety of the debts, portions, or other encumbrances, with which the estate might have been charged before the passing of this act!

"Is not this against the laws of God and man? Against the rules of reason and justice, by which all men ought to be governed? Is not this the only way in the world to make children become undutiful? and to bring the grey head of the parent to the grave with grief and tears?

"It would be hard from any man; but from a son, a child, the fruit of my body, whom I have nursed in my bosom, and tendered more dearly than my own life, to become my plunderer, to rob me of my estate, to cut my throat, and to take away my bread, is much more grievous than from any other, and enough to make the most flinty hearts to bleed to think on it. And yet this will be the case if this bill pass into a law; which I hope this honourable assembly will not think of, when they shall more seriously consider, and have weighed these matters.

"For God's sake, gentlemen, will you consider whether this is according to the golden rule, to do as you would be done unto? And if not, surely you will not, nay, you cannot, without being liable to be charged with the most manifest injustice imaginable, take from us our birthrights, and invest them in others, before our faces."

When Butler and Malone had closed, Sir Stephen Rice was heard, not in his character of council, but as one of the petitioners affected by the act. But neither the affecting position of that great jurist, who, from the rank of chief baron had descended to the outer bar, nor the purity of his life, nor the strength of his argument, had any effect upon the oligarchy who heard him. He was answered by quibbles and cavils, unworthy of record, and was finally informed that any rights which Papists "pretended to be taken from them by the Bill, was in their own power to remedy, by conforming, which in prudence they ought to do; and that they had none to blame but themselves." Next day the bill passed into law.

The remnant of the clergy were next attacked. On the 17th of March, 1705, the Irish Commons resolved, that "informing against Papists was an honourable service to the government," and that all magistrates and others who failed to put the penal laws into execution, "were betrayers of the liberties of the kingdom." But even these resolutions, rewards, and inducements were insufficient to satisfy the spirit of persecution.

A further act was passed, in 1709, imposing additional penalties. The first clause declares, that no Papist shall be capable of holding an annuity for life. The third provides, that the child of a Papist, on conforming, shall at once receive an annuity from his father; and that the Chancellor shall compel the father to discover, upon oath, the full value of his estate, real and personal, and thereupon make an order for the support of such conforming child or children, and for securing such a share of the property, after the father's death, as the court shall think fit. The fourteenth and fifteenth clauses secure jointures to Popish wives who shall conform. The sixteenth prohibits a Papist from teaching, even as assistant to a Protestant master. The eighteenth gives a salary of 30 pounds per annum to Popish priests who shall conform. The twentieth provides rewards for the discovery of Popish prelates, priests, and teachers, according to the following whimsical scale:--For discovering an archbishop, bishop, vicar-general, or other person, exercising any foreign ecclesiastical jurisdiction, 50 pounds; for discovering each regular clergyman, and each secular clergyman, not registered, 20 pounds; and for discovering each Popish schoolmaster or usher, 10 pounds. The twenty-first clause empowers two justices to summon before them any Papist over eighteen years of age, and interrogate him when and where he last heard mass said, and the names of the persons present, and likewise touching the residence of any Popish priest or schoolmaster; and if he refuse to give testimony, subjects him to a fine of 20 pounds, or imprisonment for twelve months.

Several other penal laws were enacted by the same Parliament, of which we can only notice one; it excluded Catholics from the office of sheriff, and from grand juries, and enacts, that, in trials upon any statute for strengthening the Protestant interest, the plaintiff might challenge a juror for being a Papist, which challenge the judge was to allow.

By a royal proclamation of the same year, "all registered priests" were to take "the oath of abjuration before the 25th of March, 1710," under penalty of premunire. Under this proclamation and the tariff of rewards just cited, there grew up a class of men, infamous and detestable, known by the nickname of "priest hunters." One of the most successful of these traffickers in blood was a Portuguese Jew, named Garcia, settled at Dublin. He was very skilful at disguises. "He sometimes put on the mien of a priest, for he affected to be one, and thus worming himself into the good graces of some confiding Catholic got a clue to the whereabouts of the clergy." In 1718, Garcia succeeded in arresting seven unregistered priests, for whose detection he had a sum equal to two or three thousand dollars of American money. To such an excess was this trade carried, that a reaction set in, and a Catholic bishop of Ossory, who lived at the time these acts were still in force, records that "the priest-catchers' occupation became exceedingly odious both to Protestants and Catholics," and that himself had seen "ruffians of this calling assailed with a shower of stones, flung by both Catholics and Protestants." But this creditable reaction only became general under George II., twenty years after the passage of the act of Queen Anne.

We shall have to mention some monstrous additions made to the code during the first George's reign, and some attempts to repair and perfect its diabolical machinery, even so late as George III.; but the great body of the penal law received its chief accessions from the oligarchical Irish Parliament, under Queen Anne. Hitherto, we have often had to point out, how with all its constitutional defects--with the law of Poynings, obliging heads of bills to be first sent to England--fettering its freedom of initiative;--how, notwithstanding all defects, the Irish Parliament had asserted, at many critical periods, its own and the people's rights, with an energy worthy of admiration. But the collective bigots of this reign were wholly unworthy of the name of a parliament. They permitted the woollen trade to be sacrificed without a struggle,--they allowed the bold propositions of Molyneux, one of their own number, to be condemned and reprobated without a protest. The knotted lash of Jonathan Swift was never more worthily applied, than to "the Legion Club," which he has consigned to such an unenviable immortality. Swift's inspiration may have been mingled with bitter disappointment and personal revenge; but, whatever motives animated him, his fearless use of his great abilities must always make him the first political, as he was certainly the first literary character of Ireland at that day. In a country so bare and naked as he found it; with a bigotry so rampant and united before him; it needed no ordinary courage and capacity to evoke anything like public opinion or public spirit. Let us be just to that most unhappy man of genius; let us proclaim that Irish nationality, bleeding at every pore, and in danger of perishing by the wayside, found shelter on the breast of Swift, and took new heart from the example of that bold churchman, before whom the Parliament, the bench of Bishops, and the Viceroy, trembled.

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