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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 50/134 -


Scotland, to the number of nearly three thousand, held a "session" for the furtherance of literary and scientific interests at her palace near Killeagh, in Offaly, the entire assemblage being the guests of the king and queen during their stay.

"The nave of the great church of Da Sinchell was converted for the occasion into a banqueting-hall, where Margaret herself inaugurated the proceedings by placing two massive chalices of gold, as offerings, on the high altar, and committing two orphan children to the custody of nurses to be fostered at her charge. Robed in cloth of gold, this illustrious lady, who was as distinguished for her beauty as for her generosity, sat in queenly state m one of the galleries of the church, surrounded by the clergy, the brehons, and her private friends, shedding a lustre on the scene which was passing below, while her husband, who had often encountered England's greatest generals in battle, remained mounted on a charger outside the church, to bid the guests welcome and see that order was preserved. The invitations were issued, and the guests arranged according to a list prepared by 0'Carrol's chief brehon; and the second entertainment, which took place at Rathangan, was a supplemental one, to embrace such men of learning as had not been brought together at the former feast."--(A.M. 0'Sullivan.)

Such was the true "revival of learning" in Ireland--a return to her old traditional teaching. If this peaceful time had been of longer duration, there is no doubt that her old schools would have flourished anew, and men in subsequent ages might have compared the results of the two systems: the one producing with true enlightenment, peace, concord, faith, and piety, though confined to the insignificant compass of one small island; the other resulting in the mental anarchy so rife to-day, and spreading all over the rest of Europe.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE IRISH AND THE TUDORS.--HENRY VIII.

By losing the only bond of unity--the power vested in the Ard- Righ--which held the various parts of the island together, Ireland lost all power of exercising any combined action. The nations were as numerous as the clans, and the interests as diverse as the families. They possessed, it is true, the same religion, and in the observance of its precepts and practices they often found a remedy for their social evils; but religion, not encountering any opposition from any quarter, with the exception of the minor differences existing between the native clergy and the English dignitaries, was generally considered as out of the question in their wranglings and contentions. We shall see how the blows struck at it by the English monarchs welded into one that people, were the cause of that union now so remarkable among them, and really constituted the only bond that ever linked them together.

Before dwelling on these considerations, let us glance a moment at the state of the country prior to the attempt of introducing Protestantism there.

The English Pale was reduced at this period to one half of five counties in Leinster and Meath; and even within those boundaries the 0'Kavanaghs, O'Byrnes, O'Moores and others, retained their customs, their brehon laws, their language and traditions, often making raids into the very neighborhood of the capital, and parading their gallowglasses and kerns within twenty miles of Dublin.

The nobility and the people were in precisely the same state which they had known for centuries. The few Englishmen who had long ago settled in the country had become identified with the natives, had adopted their manners, language, and laws, so offensive at first to the supercilious Anglo-Normans.

But a revolution was impending, owing chiefly to the change lately introduced into the religion of England, by Henry Tudor. It is important to study the first attempt of the kind in Ireland; not only because it became the occasion of establishing for a lengthy period a real unanimity among the people--giving birth to the nation as it were--but also for the right understanding of the word "rebellion," which had been so freely used before toward the natives, and which was now about to receive a new interpretation.

The English had once deceived the Irish, exacting their submission in the twelfth century by foisting upon them the word homage: they would deceive Europe by a constant use, or rather misuse, of the words "rebel" and "rebellion." By the enactment of new laws they pronounce the simple attachment to the old religion of the country a denial of sovereign right, and consequently an act of overt treason; and the Irish shall be butchered mercilessly for the sake of the religion of Christ without winning the name, though they do the crown, of martyrdom; for Europe is to be so effectually deceived, that even the Church will hesitate to proclaim those religious heroes, saints of God.

But the great fact of the birth of a nation, in the midst of those throes of anguish, will lessen their atrocity in the mind of the reader, and explain to some extent the wonderful designs of Providence.

From an English state paper, published by M. Haverty, we learn that, in 1515, a few years before the revolt of Luther, the island was divided into more than sixty separate states, or "regions," "some as big as a shire, some more, some less."

Had it not been for this division and the constant feuds it engendered, in the north between the O'Neills and O'Donnells, in the south between the Geraldines (Desmonds and Kildares) and the Butlers (Ormonds), the authority of the English king would have been easily shaken off. The policy so constantly adopted by England in after-times--a policy well expressed by the Latin adage, Divide et impera--preserved the English power in Ireland, and finally brought the island into outward subjection at least, to Great Britain--a subjection which the Irish conscience and the Irish voice and Irish arms yet did not cease to protest against and deny. But the nation was divided, and it required some great and general calamity to unite them together and make of them one people.

That, even spite of those divisions, they were at the time on the point of driving the English out of the island, we need no better proofs than the words of the English themselves. The Archbishop of Dublin, John Allen, the creature of Wolsey, who was employed by the crafty cardinal to begin the work of the spoliation of convents in the island, and oppose the great Earl of Kildare, dispatched his relative, the secretary of the Dublin Council, to England, to report that "the English laws, manners, and language in Ireland were confined within the narrow compass of twenty miles;" and that, unless the laws were duly enforced, "the little place," as the Pale was called, "would be reduced to the same condition as the remainder of the kingdom;" that is to say, the Pale itself, which had been brought to such insignificant limits, would belong exclusively to the Irish.

It was while affairs were at this pass that the revolt of "silken Thomas" excited the wrath of Henry VIII., and brought about the destruction of almost the whole Kildare family.

It was about this time, also, that Wolsey fell, and Cromwell, having replaced him as Chancellor of England, with Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reformation began in England with the divorce of the king, who shortly after assumed supremacy in spirituals as a prerogative of the crown, and made Parliament -- in those days himself--supreme law-giver in Church and state.

Cromwell, known in history as the creature and friend of Cranmer, like his protector a secret pervert to the Protestant doctrines of Germany, and the first arch-plotter for the destruction of Catholicity in the British Isles, undertook to save the English power in Ireland by forcing on that country the supremacy of the king in religious matters, knowing well that such a step would drive the Irish into resistance, but believing that he could easily subdue them and make the island English.

Having been appointed, not only Chancellor of England, but also king's vicar-general in temporals and spirituals, Cromwell inquired of his English agents in Ireland the best means of attaining his object--the subjection of the country. Their report is preserved among the state papers, and some of their suggestions deserve our attentive consideration. If Henry VIII. had consented to follow their advice, he would have himself inaugurated the bloody policy so well carried out long after by another Cromwell, the celebrated "Protector."

The report sets forth that the most efficient mode of proceeding was to exterminate the people; but Henry thought it sufficient to gain the nobility over--the people being beneath his notice.

The agents of the vicar-general were right in their atrocious proposal. They knew the Irish nation well, and that the only way to separate Ireland from the See of Peter was to make the country a desert.

Their means of bringing about the destruction of the people was starvation. The corn was to be destroyed systematically, and the cattle killed or driven away. Their operations, it is true, were limited to the borders of the Pale. The gentle Spenser, at a later period, proposed to extend them to all Munster, and it was a special glory reserved for the "Protector" to carry out this policy through almost the whole of the island.

"The very living of the Irishry," says the report, "doth clearly consist in two things: take away the same from them, and they are passed for ever to recover, or yet to annoy any subject Ireland. Take first from them their corn, and as much as cannot be husbanded, and had into the hands of such as shall dwell and inhabit in their lands, to burn and destroy the same, so as the Irishry shall not live thereupon; and then to have their cattle and beasts, which shall be most hardest to come by, and yet, with guides and policy, they may be oft had and taken."

The report goes on to point out, most elaborately and ingeniously, every artifice and plan for carrying this policy into effect. But here we have, condensed, as it were, in a nutshell, and coolly and carefully set forth, the system which


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