The plan of this brief compendium of Irish history obliges us to sketch for some years farther on, the political and religious annals of the Irish people. Having described in what manner their distinctive political nationality was at length lost, it only remains to show how their religious liberties were finally recovered.
The first striking effect of the Union was to introduce Catholic Emancipation into the category of imperial difficulties, and to assign it the very first place on the list. By a singular retribution, the Pitt administration with its 200 of a House of Commons majority, its absolute control of the Lords, and its seventeen years' prescription in its favour, fell upon this very question, after they had used it to carry the Union, within a few weeks of the consummation of that Union. The cause of this crisis was the invincible obstinacy of the King, who had taken into his head, at the time of Lord Fitzwilliam's recall from Ireland, that his coronation oath bound him in conscience to resist the Catholic claims. The suggestion of this obstacle was originally Lord Clare's; and though Lord Kenyon and Lord Stowell had declared it unfounded in law, Lord Loughborough and Lord Eldon were unfortunately of a different opinion. With George III. the idea became a monomaniac certainty, and there is no reason to doubt that he would have preferred abdication to its abandonment.
The King was not for several months aware how far his Prune Minister had gone on the Catholic question in Ireland. But those who were weary of Pitt's ascendancy, were, of course, interested in giving him this important information. The minister himself, wrapped in his austere self-reliance, did not volunteer explanations even to his Sovereign, and the King broke silence very unexpectedly, a few days after the first meeting of the Imperial Parliament (January 22nd, 1801). Stepping up to Mr. Dundas at the levee, he began in his usual manner, "What's this? what's this? this, that this young Lord (Castlereagh) has brought over from Ireland to throw at my head? The most Jacobinical thing I ever heard of! Any man who proposes such a thing is my personal enemy." Mr. Dundas replied respectfully but firmly, and immediately communicated the conversation to Mr. Pitt. The King's remarks had been overheard by the bystanders, so that either the minister or the Sovereign had now to give way. Pitt, at first, was resolute; the King then offered to impose silence on himself as regarded the whole subject, provided Mr. Pitt would agree to do likewise, but the haughty minister refused, and tendered his resignation. On the 5th of February, within five weeks of the consummation of the Union, this tender was most reluctantly and regretfully accepted. Lord Grenville, Mr. Dundas, and others of his principal colleagues went out of office with him; Lord Cornwallis and Lord Castlereagh following their example. Of the new Cabinet, Addington, the Speaker, was Premier, with Lord Hardwicke as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. By the enemies of Pitt this was looked upon as a mere administration ad interim; as a concerted arrangement to enable him to evade an unfavourable peace--that of Amiens--which he saw coming; but it is only fair to say, that the private letters of the period, since published, do not sanction any such imputation. It is, however, to be observed, per contra, that three weeks after his formal resignation, he had no hesitation in assuring the King, who had just recovered from one of his attacks brought on by this crisis, that he would never again urge the Catholic claims on his Majesty's notice. On this understanding he returned to office in the spring of 1804; to this compact he adhered till his death, in January, 1806.
In Ireland, the events immediately consequent upon the Union, were such as might have been expected. Many of those who had been instrumental in carrying it, were disappointed and discontented with their new situation in the empire. Of these, the most conspicuous and the least to be pitied, was Lord Clare. That haughty, domineering spirit, accustomed to dictate with almost absolute power to the Privy Counsellors and peerage of Ireland, experienced nothing but mortification in the Imperial House of Lords. The part he hoped to play on that wider stage he found impossible to assume; he confronted there in the aged Thurlow and the astute Loughborough, law lords as absolute as himself, who soon made him conscious that, though a main agent of the Union, he was only a stranger in the united legislature. The Duke of Bedford reminded him that "the Union had not transferred his dictatorial powers to the Imperial Parliament;" other noble Lords were hardly less severe. Pitt was cold, and Grenville ceremonious; and in the arrangements of the Addington ministry he was not even consulted. He returned to Ireland before the first year of the Union closed, in a state of mind and temper which preyed upon his health. Before the second session of the Imperial Parliament assembled, he had been borne to the grave amid the revilings and hootings of the multitude. Dublin, true to its ancient disposition, which led the townsfolk of the twelfth century to bury the ancestor of Dermid McMurrogh with the carcass of a dog, filled the grave of the once splendid Lord Chancellor with every description of garbage.
On the other hand, Lord Castlereagh, younger, suppler, and more accommodating to English prejudices, rose from one Cabinet office to another, until at length, in fifteen years from the Union, he directed the destinies of the Empire, as absolutely, as he had moulded the fate of Ireland. To Castlereagh and the Wellesley family, the Union was in truth, an era of honour and advancement. The sons of the spendthrift amateur, Lord Mornington, were reserved to rule India, and lead the armies of Europe; while the son of Flood's colleague in the Reform convention of 1783, was destined to give law to Christendom, at the Congress of Vienna.
A career very different in all respects from those just mentioned, closed in the second year of Dublin's widowhood as a metropolis. It was the career of a young man of four-and-twenty, who snatched at immortal fame and obtained it, in the very agony of a public, but not for him, a shameful death. This was Robert, youngest brother of Thomas Addis Emmet, whose emeute of 1803 would long since have sunk to the level of other city riots, but for the matchless dying speech of which it was the prelude and the occasion. This young gentleman was in his 20th year when expelled with nineteen others from Trinity College, in 1798, by order of the visitors, Lord Clare and Dr. Duigenan. His reputation as a scholar and debater was already established within the college walls, and the highest expectations were naturally entertained of him, by his friends. One of his early college companions --Thomas Moore--who lived to know all the leading men of his age, declares that of all he had ever known, he would place among "the highest of the few" who combined in "the greatest degree pure moral worth with intellectual power"--Robert Emmet. After the expatriation of his brother, young Emmet visited him at Fort-George, and proceeded from thence to the Continent. During the year the Union was consummated he visited Spain, and travelled through Holland, France, and Switzerland, till the peace of Amiens. Subsequently he joined his brother's family in Paris, and was taken into the full confidence of the exiles, then in direct communication with Buonaparte and Talleyrand. It was not concealed from the Irish by either the First Consul, or his minister, that the peace with England was likely to have a speedy termination; and, accordingly, they were not unprepared for the new declaration of war between the two countries, which was officially made at London and Paris, in May, 1803--little more than twelve months after the proclamation of the peace of Amiens.
It was in expectation of this rupture, and a consequent invasion of Ireland, that Robert Emmet returned to Dublin, in October, 1802, to endeavour to re-establish in some degree the old organization of the United Irishmen. In the same expectation, McNevin, Corbet, and others of the Irish in France, formed themselves, by permission of the First Consul, into a legion, under command of Tone's trusty aid-de-camp, McSheehey; while Thomas Addis Emmet and Arthur O'Conor remained at Paris, the plenipotentiaries of their countrymen. On the rupture with England Buonaparte took up the Irish negotiation with much earnestness; he even suggested to the exiles the colours and the motto under which they were to fight, when once landed on their own soil. The flag on a tricolour ground, was to have a green centre, bearing the letters R.I.--Republique Irlandaise. The legend at large was to be: _L'independence de l'Irlande--Liberte de Conscience; a motto which certainly told the whole story. The First Consul also suggested the formation of an Irish Committee at Paris, and the preparation of statements of Irish grievances for the Moniteur, and the semi-official papers.
Robert Emmet seems to have been confidently of opinion soon after his return to Dublin, that nineteen out of the thirty-two counties would rise; and, perhaps, if a sufficient French force had landed, his opinion might have been justified by the fact. So did not think, however, John Keogh, Valentine Lawless (Lord Cloncurry), and other close observers of the state of the country. But Emmet was enthusiastic, and he inspired his own spirit into many. Mr. Long, a merchant, placed 1,400 pounds sterling at his disposal; he had himself, in consequence of the recent death of his father, stock to the amount of 1,500 pounds converted into cash, and with these funds he entered actively on his preliminary preparations. His chief confidants and assistants were Thomas Russell and Mathew Dowdall, formerly prisoners at Fort-George, but now permitted to return; William Putnam McCabe, the most adventurous of all the party, a perfect Proteus in disguise; Gray, a Wexford attorney; Colonel Lumm of Kildare, an old friend of Lord Edward Fitzgerald; Mr. Long, before mentioned; Hamilton, an Enniskillen barrister, married to Russell's niece; James Hope of Templepatrick, and Michael Dwyer, the Wicklow outlaw, who had remained since '98 uncaptured in the mountains.
In the month of March, when the renewal of hostilities with France was decided on in England, the preparations of the conspirators were pushed forward with redoubled energy. The still wilder conspiracy headed by Colonel Despard in London, the previous winter, the secret and the fate of which was well known to the Dublin leaders --Dowdall being Despard's agent--did not in the least intimidate Emmet or his friends. Despard suffered death in February, with nine of his followers, but his Irish confederates only went on with their arrangements with a more reckless resolution. Their plan was the plan of O'Moore and McGuire, to surprise the Castle, seize the authorities and secure the capital; but the Dublin of 1803 was in many respects very different from the Dublin of 1641. The discontent, however, arising from the recent loss of the Parliament might have turned the city scale in Emmet's favour, had its first stroke been successful. The emissaries at work in the Leinster and Ulster counties gave besides sanguine reports of success, so that, judging by the information in his possession, an older and cooler head than Robert Emmet's might well have been misled into the expectation of nineteen counties rising if the signal could only be given from Dublin Castle. If the blow could be withheld till August, there was every reason to expect a French invasion of England, which would drain away all the regular army, and leave the people merely the militia and the volunteers to contend against. But all the Dublin arrangements exploded in the melancholy emeute of the 23rd of July, 1803, in which the Chief-Justice, Lord Kilwarden, passing through the disturbed quarter of the city at the time, was cruelly murdered; for which, and for his cause, Emmet suffered death on the same spot on the 20th of September following. For the same cause, the equally pure-minded and chivalrous Thomas Russell was executed at Downpatrick; Kearney, Roche, Redmond and Howley also suffered death at Dublin; Alien, Putnam, McCabe, and Dowdall escaped to France, where the former became an officer of rank in the army of Napoleon; Michael Dwyer, who Lad surrendered on condition of being allowed to emigrate to' North America, died in exile in Australia, in 1825. Others of Emmet's known or suspected friends, after undergoing two, three, and even four years' imprisonment, were finally discharged without trial. Mr. Long, his generous banker, and James Hope, his faithful emissary, were both permitted to end; their days in Ireland.
The trial of Robert Emmet, from the wonderful death-speech delivered at it, is perfectly well known. But in justice to a man of genius equal if not superior to his own--an Irishman, whose memory is national property, as well as Emmet's, it must here be observed, that the latter never delivered, and had no justification to deliver the vulgar diatribe against Plunkett, his prosecutor, now constantly printed in the common and incorrect versions of that speech. Plunkett, as Attorney-General, in 1803, had no option but to prosecute for the crown; he was a politician of a totally different school from that of Emmet; he shared all Burke and Grattan's horror of French revolutionary principles. In the fervour of his accusatory oration he may have gone too far; he may have, and in reading it now, it is clear to us that he did press too hard upon the prisoner in the dock. He might have performed his awful office with more sorrow and less vehemence, for there was no doubt about Ms jury. But withal, he gave no fair grounds for any such retort as is falsely attributed to Emmet, the very style of which proves its falsity. It is now well known that the apostrophe in the death-speech, commencing "you viper," alleged to have been addressed to Plunkett, was the interpolation many years afterwards of that literary Ishmaelite--Walter Cox of the Hibernian Magazine,--who through such base means endeavoured to aim a blow at Plunkett's reputation. The personal reputation of the younger Emmet, the least known to his countrymen of all the United Irish leaders, except by the crowning act of his death, is safe beyond the reach of calumny, or party zeal, or time's changes. It is embalmed in the verse of Moore and Southey, and the precious prose of Washington Irvine. Men of genius in England and America have done honour to his memory; in the annals of his own country his name deserves to stand with those youthful chiefs, equally renowned, and equally ready to seal their patriotism with their blood--Sir Cahir O'Doherty and Hugh Roe O'Donnell.