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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 100/134 -
drums beating, colors flying, and matches lighted, should, on reaching the spot, wheel to the left or to the right, beneath that flag under which they elected to serve. At the head of the Irish marched the Foot Guards, the finest regiment in the service, fourteen hundred strong. All eyes were fixed on this splendid body of men. On they came, amid breathless silence and acute suspense; for well both the English and Irish generals knew that the choice of the first regiment would powerfully influence all the rest. The Guards marched up to the critical spot, and in a body wheeled to the colors of France, barely seven men turning to the English side! Ginckle, we are told, was greatly agitated as he witnessed the proceeding. The next regiment, however (Lord Iveagh's), marched as unanimously to the Williamite banner, as did also portions of two others. But the bulk of the Irish army defiled under fleur-de-lys of King Louis, only one thousand and forty-six, out of nearly fourteen thousand men, preferring the service of England."
From that time out a large number of the Irish nobility and gentry continued to enlist under French, Spanish, or Austrian colors; and the several Irish brigades became celebrated all over Europe until the end of the eighteenth century. It is said by l'abbe McGeohegan that six hundred thousand Irishmen perished in the armies of France alone. The abbe is generally very accurate, and from his long residence in France had every means at his disposal of arriving at the truth. Some pretend that double the number enlisted in foreign service. There is no doubt that in all a million men left the island to take service under the banners of Catholic sovereigns, and it is needless to dwell on the bravery and devotion of those men whom the persecution of an unwise and cruel Protestant government drove out of Ireland during the eighteenth century-it is needless to dwell upon it, for the record is known to the world.
Without following the fortunes of the Irish brigades, the history of one of which, that in the service of France, has been given us in the very interesting and valuable narrative of John R. O'Callaghan-its various fortunes and final dissolution at the breaking out of the French republic, when the English Government was glad to receive back the scattered remnants of it-the question which bears most on our present subject is: What was the occupation of those Irishmen on the Continent when not actually engaged in war? What service did their voluntary or compulsory exile do their native country? Was that long emigration of a century productive of something out of which Providence may have drawn good?
The first departure of a few under Hugh O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell had already spread the name of Ireland through Spain, Italy, and Belgium. The reports of the numerous English spies, employed to dog their steps and watch their movements, reports some of which have been finally brought to light, conclusively prove that most of the exiles held honorable positions in Spain and Portugal, at Valladolid and Lisbon, where the O'Sullivans and O'Driscolls lived; at the very court of Spain, or in the Spanish navy, like the Bourkes and the Cavanaghs.
In Flanders, under the Austrian archdukes, were stationed the McShanes, on the Groyne; the Daniells at Antwerp; the posterity of the earls themselves with that of their former retinue. All held rank in the Austrian army, and even in times of peace were occupied in thinking of possible entanglements whereby they might serve their country, while they made the Irish name honored and respected all over that rich land. In Italy, at Naples, Leghorn, Florence, and Rome, in the great centres of the peninsula, the same thing was taking place, and there, at least, the calumnies, everywhere so industriously circulated about Ireland, could not penetrate, or, if they did, only to be received with scorn.
But, when the next emigration, at the end of the Cromwellian and Williamite wars, landed forty thousand soldiers, and twelve thousand more a few years afterward, on the European Continent, these armed men proved to the nations, by their bravery, their deep attachment to their religion, their perfect honor and generosity, that the people from which a persecuting power had driven them forth could not be composed of the outlaws and blood- thirsty cutthroats which the reports of their enemies would make them. How striking and permanent must have been the effect produced on impartial minds by the contrast between the aspect of the reality and the base fabrications of skilfully-scattered rumor!
And be it borne in mind that those men founded families in the countries where they settled; as well as those who continued to flock thither during the whole of the eighteenth century. They carried about with them, in their very persons even, the history of Ireland's wrongs; and the mere sight of them was enough to interest all with whom they came in contact in favor of their country. Hence the esteem and sympathy which Ireland and her people have always met with in France, where the calumnies and ridicule lavished on them could never find an entrance.
It would be a great error to imagine that they were to be found only in the camp or in the garrisons of cities. They made themselves a home in their new country, and their children entered upon all the walks of life opened up to the citizens of the country in which they resided. Thus, at least, the name of Ireland did not die out altogether during that age of gloom, when their native isle was only the prison of the race, where it was chained down in abject misery, out of the sight of the world, the life of it stifled out in the deep dungeon of oblivion.
In all honorable professions they became distinguished-in the Church and in trade, as in the army. Thus, speaking only of France, an Irishman-Edgeworth-was chosen by Louis XVI. to prepare him for death and stand by him during his last ordeal of ignominy; another-Lally Tollendal-would have wrested India from England, if his ardent temperament had not brought him enemies where he ought to have met with friends; another yet-Walsh- during the American War, employed the wealth acquired by trade, in sending cruisers against the English to American waters.
It would take long pages to record what those noble exiles accomplished for the good of their country and religion, quite apart from the heroism they displayed on battle-fields, and their fidelity to principle during times of peace. Their very presence in foreign countries was, perhaps, the best protest against the enslavement of their own. They showed by their bearing that they owed no allegiance to England, and that brute force could never establish right. By identifying themselves with the nations which offered them hospitality and a new right of citizenship, they proved to the world that their native isle could be governed by native citizens. Their honorable conduct and successful activity in every pursuit of life showed that, as they were capable of governing themselves, so likewise could they claim self-government for their country.
The moral condition of France during the eighteenth century, and the depths of corruption into which the higher class sank in so short a time, are known to all. To the honor of the Irish nobility and gentry then in France, not a single Irish name is to be met with in that long list of noble names which have disgraced that page of French history. Not in the luxurious bowers and palaces of Louis XV. were they to be found, but on the battle-fields of Dettingen and Fontenoy. It was a Scotchman- Law-who infected the higher circles of the natives with the rage for speculation, and the folly of gambling in paper. It was an Italian- Cagliostro-who traded on the superstitious credulity of men who had lost their faith. It was an Englishman-Lord Derwentwater-and another Scotchman-Ramsay-who, by the introduction of the first Masonic Lodge into France, opened the floodgates of future revolutions.
Among those of foreign birth, no Irishman was found in France to contribute to the corruption of the nation, and give his aid to set agoing that long era of woe not yet ended.
And needless is it to add that never is one of them mentioned, among those who were so active in propagating that broad infidelity peculiar to that age. If a few of them shared to some extent in the general delusion, and took part with the vast multitude in the insane derision, then so fashionable, of every thing holy, their number was small indeed, and none of them acquired in that peculiar line, the celebrity which crowned so many others. -the Grimms, the Gallianis, and later on the Paines, the Cloots, and other foreigners.
As a body, the Irish remained faithful to the Church of their fathers, honoring her by their conduct, and their respectful demeanor toward holy names and holy things. Eventually they, in common with all Frenchmen, had to share in the misfortunes, brought on by the subversion of all the former guiding principles; but, though sharing in the punishment, they took no part in the great causes which called it down.
These few words will suffice for the emigration of the Irish nobility, and its effects on foreign countries; as well as Ireland itself.
But another class of noblemen had emigrated to the Continent side by side with those of whom we have just spoken; namely, bishops, priests, monks, and learned men. England would not suffer the Catholic clergy in Ireland; she was particularly careful not to allow Irish youth the benefit of any but a Protestant education. Irish clergymen were compelled to fly and open houses of study abroad. Their various colleges in Spain, France, Belgium, and Italy, are well known; they have already been referred to, and it is not necessary to enlarge on the subject. But, though mention has been made of the renown thus acquired by Irishmen then residing on the Continent, it is fitting to speak of them again in their character of emigrants.
They took upon themselves the noble task of making the literature and the history of their nation known to all people; and in so doing they have preserved a rich literature which must otherwise have perished.
What was their situation on the Continent? They had been driven by persecution from their country, sometimes in troops of exiles to be cast on some remote shore; sometimes escaping singly and in disguise, they went out alone to end their lives under a foreign sky. Behind them they left the desolate island; their friends bowed down in misery, their enemies triumphant and in full power. The convents, where they had spent their happiest days, were either demolished or turned to vile uses; their churches desecrated; heresy ruling the land, truth compelled to be silent. All the harrowing details given by the "Prophet of Lamentations" might be applied to their beloved country.
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