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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 70/134 -


general features of the criminal code of most Christian nations. They had been handed down by barbarous ancestors, the relics of Scandinavian cruelty for the most part, added to the Roman slave penalties, which were the remnants of pagan inhumanity. This answer would be insufficient when comparing the English with the Brehon law, but it does not hold good even with reference to other Continental nations. In no country at that time was punishment so pitiless as in England. The details, now well known, can only be published for exceptional readers; to find a comparison for them Dr. Madden says:

"We must come down to the reign of terror in France, to the massacres of September, to the wholesale executions of conventional times; to find the mob insulting the victims, and the executioner himself adding personal affront to the disgusting fulfilment of his horrible office."

Passing from the laws to the usages of warfare, and chiefy to domestic strife, here the most vulnerable point in the Irish character shows itself. The constant feuds resulting from the clan system furnish a never-failing theme to those who accuse the Irish of barbarism. Yet is there no parallel to them in the horrors of those dynastic revolutions which preceded the Tudors in England, and which the Tudors only put an end to by the completest despotism, and by shedding the best blood of the country in torrents? The Irish feuds never depopulated the country. It is even admitted by most reliable historians that, while those dissensions were rifest, the land was really teeming with a happy people, and rich in every thing which an agricultural country can enjoy. The great battles of the various clans resulted often in the killing of a few dozen warriors. Such, in fact, was the manner in which chroniclers estimated the gains or losses of each of those victories or defeats.

But, in the Wars of the Roses, England lost a great part of her adult population; so much so, that she was altogether incapacitated from waging war with any external nation. She could not even afford to send any reenforcements to the English Pale in Ireland--not even a few hundred which at times would have proved so serviceable. It was in fact high time and almost a happy thing for England that the crushing despotism of the Tudors came in to save the nation from total ruin.

Finally, can it be said that the Irish were inferior in civilization to the English by reason of their social habits, when Danes, Anglo-Saxons and Normans, in turn, invariably adopted Irish manners in preference to their own, after living a sufficient time in the country to be able to appreciate the difference between the one and the other?

The writers of whom we speak ascribe the spread of Protestantism not only to a higher civilization, or at least a special aptness and fitness for it, but also say that it was due to the greater love for freedom which possessed those who accepted it; whereas the Irish, as they allege, have been forever priest-ridden and cowered under the lash.

The connection between English Protestantism and freedom has been sufficiently touched upon. But in Ireland the whole resistance of the Irish people to the change of religion is the most conspicuous proof which could be advanced of their inherent love for freedom.

What is the meaning of this word "priest-ridden?" If, as attached to the Irish, it means that they have remained faithfully devoted to their spiritual guides, and protected them at cost of life and limb against the execution of barbarous laws, this epithet which is flung at them as a reproach is a glory to them, and a true one.

Are they to be accused of cowardice because they were never bold enough to demolish a single Catholic chapel--a favorite amusement of the English mobs from Elizabeth's reign to Victoria's--or because they could not find the courage in their hearts to mock a martyr at the stake, or imbrue their hands in his blood, as did the nation of a higher civilization and a more ardent love for freedom?

The Irish cower under the lash! It could never be applied, until calculating treachery had first rendered them naked and defenceless, and removed from their reach every weapon of defence. And the man who in such a case receives the lash is a coward, while he who safely applies it is a hero!

Our observations so far have cleared the ground for the right solution and understanding of the present question. It may now be said that the Irish were not prepared for the reception of Protestantism, and remained firm in their faith because--

1. They possessed a conscience.

2. There had existed no religious abuses, worthy of the name, in their country which called for reform. Such abuses had in England and Germany furnished the pretext for a change of religion. It was a mere pretext, for the alleged abuses might all be remedied without intrenching on the domain of faith, and unsettling the religious convictions of the whole nation. There is no greater crime possible than to introduce among people enjoying all the benefits resulting from a firm belief in holy truth a simple doubt, a simple hesitating surmise, calculated to make them waver in the least in what had previously been a solid and well-grounded faith. But to consider that crime carried to the extent of so sapping the foundation of Christian belief as to bring about the inevitable consequence of opening under nations the fearful abyss of atheism and despair--there is no word sufficiently strong to express the indignation which such a course of action must naturally excite. And that the ultimate result of the new heresy was to carry men to the very brink of the abyss is plain enough to-day, and was foreseen by Luther himself. In all probability he had a clear perception of it, since the latter half of his life was devoted to propping up the crumbling walls of his hastily-erected edifice by whatever supports he could steal from the old faith, and fighting hard against all those who had already drawn the ultimate conclusions of his own principles.

For those, then, who in the sixteenth century set in motion the chaos which threatens to overwhelm us to-day, the religious abuses existing at the time can offer no excuse for their destruction of Religion, because stains happened to sully the purity of her outward garment.

But in Ireland no such abuses existed; and consequently there was there not even a pretext for the introduction of Protestantism, and by the very reason of their sense of good and right the Irish were unprepared for heresy.

3. Even had it entered into their minds to wish for a reformation of some kind, they were certainly unprepared for the one offered them. The first reform of the new order was to close the religious houses which the people loved, which were the seats of learning, holiness, and education. Their Catholic ancestors had founded those religious houses; they themselves enjoyed the spiritual and even temporal advantages attached to them, for they constituted in fact the only important and useful establishments which their country possessed; they had been consecrated by the lives and deaths of a thousand saints within their walls; and they suddenly beheld pretended ministers of a new religion of which they knew nothing, backed by ferocious Walloon or English troopers, turn out or slay their inmates, close them, set them on fire, pillage them, or convert them into private dwellings for the convenience of an imported aristocracy. This was the first act of the "introduction " of the "Reformation " into Ireland. The people were enabled to judge of the sanctity of the new creed at its first appearance among them. And this alone, apart from their firm adherence to the faith of their fathers, was quite enough to justify them in their resistance to such a substitute.

But, above all, when they beheld how the inmates of those holy- houses were treated, when they saw them cast out into the world, penniless, reduced to penury and want, persecuted, declared outcasts, hunted down, insulted by the soldiery, arrested, cruelly beaten, bound hand and foot, and hung up either before the door of their burning monastery, or even in the church itself before the altar--what wonder that they were unprepared to receive the new religion?

The barbarity displayed throughout England and Ireland toward Catholicism was specially fiendish when directed against religious of both sexes; and, as in Ireland no class of persons was more justly and dearly loved, what wonder that the Irish literally hated the religion that came to them from beyond the sea?

Without going over the other aspects of the religious question of the time, and comparing article with article of the new and old beliefs, this single feature of the case alone is sufficient. The process might be carried out with advantage, but is not necessary.

4. The new order of things, in one word, resolved itself into rapacity and wanton bloodshed. And, despite whatever may be said of Irish outrages by those who are never tired of alluding to them, Irish nature is opposed to such excesses. If they are ever guilty of such, it is only when they have previously been outraged themselves, and in such cases they are the first to repent of their action in their cooler moments. On the other hand, the men who first set all these outrages going never find reason to accuse themselves of any thing, are even perfectly satisfied with and convinced of their own perfection; and, as from the first they acted coolly and systematically, their self- equanimity is never disturbed, they continue unshaken in the calm conviction that they have always been in the right, whatever may have been the consequences of the initiative movement and its steady continuance.

But we repeat advisedly--the Irish nature is opposed to rapacity and wanton shedding of blood, and this formed another strong reason for their opposition to the religious revolution which immersed them in so bloody a baptism.

5. Yet perhaps the most radical and real cause of their persistent refusal to embrace Protestantism lies in their traditional spirit, of which we have previously spoken. There is no rationalistic tendency in their character.

And all the points well considered, which, after all, is the better, the simply traditional or strictly rationalistic nature? What has been the result of those philosophical speculations


Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 70/134

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