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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 5/134 -
of Tyrone--at the end of her long reign, after nearly a hundred years of Protestantism, only sixty Irishmen of all classes had received the new religion.
At first, the struggle assumed a character more political than religious, and Queen Elizabeth did her best to give it, apparently, that character. But for her, religion meant politics; and, had the Irish consented to accept the religious changes introduced by her father and herself, there would have been no question of "rebellion," and no army would have been sent to crush it. The Irish chieftains knew this well; hence, whenever the queen came to terms with them, the first article on which they invariably insisted was the freedom of their religion.
But, under the Stuarts, and later on, the mask was entirely thrown aside, and the question between England and Ireland reduced itself, we may say, to one of religion merely. All the political entanglements in which the Irish found themselves involved by their loyalty to the Stuarts and their opposition to the Roundheads, never constituted the chief difficulty of their position. They were "Papists:" this was their great crime in the eyes of their enemies. Cromwell would certainly never have endeavored to exterminate them as he did, had they apostatized and become ranting Puritans. One of our main points in the following pages will be to give prominence to this view of the question. If it had been understood from the first, the army of heroes who died for their God and their country would long ere this have been enrolled in the number of Christian martyrs.
The subsequent policy of England, chiefly after the English Revolution of 1688 and the defeat of James II., clearly shows the soundness of our interpretation of history. The "penal code," under Queen Anne, and later on, at least has the merit of being free from hypocrisy and cant. It is an open religious persecution, as, in fact, it had been from the beginning.
We shall have, therefore, before our eyes the great spectacle of a nation suffering a martyrdom of three centuries. All the persecutions of the Christians under the Roman emperors pale before this long era of penalty and blood. The Irish, by numerous decrees of English kings and parliaments, were deprived of every thing which a man not guilty of crime has a right to enjoy. Land, citizenship, the right of education, of acquiring property, of living on their own soil--every thing was denied them, and death in every form was decreed, in every line of the new Protestant code, to men, women, and even children, whose only crime consisted in remaining faithful to their religion.
But chiefly during the Cromwellian war and the nine years of the Protector's reign were they doomed to absolute, unrelenting destruction. Never has any thing in the whole history of mankind equalled it in horror, unless the devastation of Asia and Eastern Europe under Zengis and Timour.
There is, therefore, at the bottom of the Irish character, hidden under an appearance of light-headedness, mutability of feeling--nay, at times, futility and even childishness--a depth of according to the eternal laws which God gave to mankind. Nothing else is in their mind; they are pursuing no guilty and shadowy Utopia. Who knows, then, whether their small island may not yet become the beacon-light which, guiding other nations, shall at a future day save Europe from the universal shipwreck which threatens her? The providential mission of Ireland is far from being accomplished, and men may yet see that not in vain has she been tried so long in the crucible of affliction.
Another part of the providential plan as affecting her will show itself, and excite our admiration, in the latter portion of the work we undertake.
The Irish are no longer confined to the small island which gave them birth. From the beginning of their great woes, they have known the bitterness of exile. Their nobility were the first to leave in a body a land wherein they could no longer exist; and, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they made the Irish name illustrious on all the battle-fields of Europe. At the same time, many of their priests and monks, unable longer to labor among their countrymen, spent their lives in the libraries, of Italy, Belgium, and Spain, and gave to the world those immense works so precious now to the antiquarian and historian. Every one knows what Montalembert, in particular, found in them. They may be said to have preserved the annals of their nation from total ruin; and the names of the O'Clearys, of Ward and Wadding, of Colgan and Lynch, are becoming better known and appreciated every day, as their voluminous works are more studied and better understood.
But much more remarkable still is the immense spread of the people itself during the present age, so fruitful in happy results for the Church of Christ and the good of mankind. We may say that the labors of the Irish missionaries during the seventh and eighth centuries are to-day eclipsed by the truly missionary work of a whole nation spread now over North America, the West India Islands, the East Indies, and the wilds of Australia; in a word, wherever the English language is spoken. Whatever may have been the visible causes of that strange "exodus," there is an invisible cause clear enough to any one who meditates on the designs of God over his Church. There is no presumption in attributing to God himself what could only come from Him. The catholicity of the Church was to be spread and preserved through and in all those vast regions colonized now by the adventurous English nation; and no better, no more simple way of effecting this could be conceived than the one whose workings we see in those colonies so distant from the mother-country.
This, for the time being, is the chief providential mission of Ireland, and it is truly a noble one, undertaken and executed in a noble manner by so many thousands, nay millions, of men and women--poor, indeed, in worldly goods when they start on their career, but rich in faith; and it is as true now as it has ever been from the beginning of Christianity, that haec est victoria nostra, fides vestra.
These few words of our Preface would not suffice to prepare the reader for the high importance of this stupendous phenomenon. We We purpose, therefore, devoting our second chapter to the subject, as a preparation for the very interesting details we shall furnish subsequently, as it is proper that, from the very threshold, an idea may be formed of the edifice, and of the entire proportions it is destined to assume.
We have so far sketched, as briefly as possible, what the following pages will develop; and the reader may now begin to understand what we said at starting, that no other nation in Europe offers so interesting an object of study and reflection.
Plato has said that the most meritorious spectacle in the eyes of God was that of "a just man struggling with adversity." What must it be when a whole nation, during nine long ages, offers to Heaven the most sublime virtues in the midst of the extremest trials? Are not the great lessons which such a contest presents worthy of study and admiration?
We purpose studying them, although we cannot pretend to render full justice to such a theme. And, returning for a moment to the considerations with which we started, we can truly say that, in the whole range of modern history, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a national life to compare with that of poor, despised Ireland. Neither do we pretend to write the history itself; our object is more humble: we merely pen some considerations suggested naturally by the facts which we suppose to be already known, with the purpose of arriving at a true appreciation of the character of the people. For it is the people itself we study; the reader will meet with comparatively few individual names.
We shall find, moreover, that the nation has never varied. Its history is an unbroken series of the same heroic facts, the same terrible misfortunes. The actors change continually; the outward circumstances at every moment present new aspects, so that the interest never flags; but the spirit of the struggle is ever the same, and the latest descendants of the first O'Neills and O'Donnells burn with the same sacred fire, and are inspired by the same heroic aspirations, as their fathers.
Happily, the gloom is at length lighted up by returning day. The contest has lost its ferocity, and we are no longer surrounded by the deadly shade which obscured the sky a hundred years ago. Then it was hard to believe that the nation could ever rise; her final success seemed almost an impossibility. We now see that those who then despaired sinned against Providence, which waited for its own time to arrive and vindicate its ways. And it is chiefly on account of the bright hope which begins to dawn that our subject should possess for all a lively interest, and fill the Catholic heart with glowing sympathy and ardent thankfulness to God.
I The Celtic Race
II The World Under The Lead Of European Races.--Mission Of The Irish Race In The Movement
III The Irish Better Prepared To Receive Christianity Than Other Nations
IV How the Irish received Christianity
V The Christian Irish and the Pagan Danes
VI The Irish Free-Clans and Anglo-Norman Feudalism
VII Ireland separated from Europe.--A Triple Episode
VIII The Irish and the Tudors.--Henry VIII.
IX The Irish and the Tudors.--Elizabeth.--The Undaunted Nobility.--The Suffering Church
X England prepared for the Reception of Protestantism--Ireland not
XI The Irish and the Stuarts.--Loyalty and Confiscation
XII A Century of Gloom.--The Penal Laws
XIII Resurrection.--Delusive Hopes
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