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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 80/134 -


We believe those laws to have been produced chiefly by sectarian fanaticism; or, if some of their framers, such as Lord Wharton, possessed no religious feelings of any kind, and could not be called fanatics, their intent was to pander to the real fanaticism of the English people, as it existed at the time, and particularly of the colony planted in Ireland, which hated Popery to the death, and would have given all its possessions and lands for the destruction of the Scarlet Woman.

In order to attain the great result proposed, the aim of the "penal statute" was one in its very complexity. For it had to deal with complex rights, which it took away one after another until the unity of the system was completed by the suppression of them all.

We classify these under the heads of political, civil, and human rights. The result of the whole policy was to degrade the Irish to the level of the wretched helots under Sparta, with this difference: while the slaves of the Lacedaemonians numbered but a few thousands, the Irish were counted by millions.

The system, as a whole, was the work of time, and, under William of Orange--even under Queen Anne--it had not yet attained its maturity, though the principal and the severest measures were carried and put in force from the very beginning. The ingenious little devices regarding short and small leases, the possession of valuable horses, etc., were mere fanciful adjuncts which the witty and inventive legislators of the Hanoverian dynasty were happy enough to find unrecorded in the statute-books, and which they had the honor of setting there, and thus adding a new piquancy and vigorous flavor to the whole dish.

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century, the system may be said to have reached its perfection. After that time it would, in all likelihood, have been impossible to improve further, and render the yoke of slavery heavier and more galling to the Irish. The beauty and simplicity of the whole consisted in the fact that the great majority of these measures were not decreed in so many positive and express terms against Catholics in the form of open and persecuting statutes. It was merely mentioned in the laws that, to enjoy such and such a particular right, it was necessary that every subject of the crown should take such and such an oath, which no Catholic could take. Thus, the entire Irish population was set between their religion and their rights, and at any moment, by merely taking the oath, they were at liberty to enjoy all the privileges which rendered the colonists living in their midst so happy and contented, and so proud of their "Protestant ascendency."

It was hoped, no doubt, that, if at first and for a certain time, the faith of the Irish would stand proof and prompt them to sacrifice every thing held dear in life, rather than surrender that faith, nevertheless, worn out at length, and disheartened by wretchedness, unable longer to sustain their heavy burden, they would finally succumb, and, by the mere action of such an easy thing as recording an oath in accordance with the law, though against their conscience, become men and citizens. It was what the French Conventionalists of 1793 called "desoler la patience" of their victims.

This unholy hope was disappointed; and, with the exception of a comparatively few weak Christians among their number, the nation stood firm and preferred the "ignominy of the cross of Christ" to the enjoyments of this perishable life.

Their political rights were, as was seen, the first to be taken away. The Parliament of 1691 required of its members the oath referred to, and for the repudiation of which, all the Catholic members were compelled at once to withdraw. But the contrivance of swearing being found such an excellent instrument to use against men possessed of a conscience, the ruling body--now reduced to the former Protestant majority--required that the same oath be taken by all electors, magistrates, and officers of whatever grade, from the highest to the lowest in the land.

The oath itself was an elastic formula, capable of being stretched or contracted, according to circumstances, so that, by the addition of an incidental phrase or two, it might be framed to meet new exigencies, and give expression to the lively imagination of ingenious members of Parliament. It would be curious to collect an account of the variety of shapes it assumed, and to comment on the different occasions which gave rise to these different developments. A long history of persecuting frenzy might thus be condensed into a commentary of a comparatively few pages. Even at the so-called Catholic Emancipation it was not abolished; on the contrary, it was sacredly preserved, and two new formulas drawn up, the one for the Protestant and the other for the Catholic members of the legislature, Lords and Commons, and so it remains, to this day, except that the most offensive clauses of the last century have disappeared.

Imagine, then, the spectacle offered by the island whenever an election for representatives, magistrates, or petty officers, took place; whenever those entitled to select holders of offices which were not subject to election, made known the persons of their choice. This vast array of aristocratic masters was chosen from the ranks of the English colonists, and had for its avowed object to preserve the Protestant ascendency, and consequently grind under the heel of the most abject oppression the whole mass of the population of the island. There was no other meaning in all these political combinations and changes, recurring periodically, and heralded forth by the voice of the press and the thunder of the hustings. Politics in Ireland was nothing else than the expression given to the despotism of an insignificant minority over almost the entire body of the people. For, despite all their repressive measures, the enemies of the Catholic faith could never pretend even to a semblance in point of numbers, much less to a majority, over the children of the creed taught by Patrick. Ireland remained Catholic throughout; and its oppressors could not fail to feel the bitter humiliation of their constant numerical inferiority. Hence the words quoted in the speech of Wharton, the lord-lieutenant.

This has always been the case, in spite of the combination of a multitude of circumstances adverse to the spread of the Catholic population. It may not be amiss to give room for the statistics and remarks of Abbe Perraud on this most interesting subject, contained in his book on "Ireland under British rule."

"In 1672, the total population of Ireland was 1,100,000 (it is to be remembered that this was after the massacres and transportations of Cromwell's period). Of that number

800,000 were Catholics. 50,000 " Dissenters. 150,000 " Church-of-Ireland men.

"In 1727, the Anglican Primate of Ireland, Boulter, Archbishop of Armagh, wrote to his English colleague, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that 'we have, in all probability, in this kingdom, at least five Papists for every Protestant.' Those proportions are confirmed by official statistics under Queen Anne.

"In 1740, according to a kind of official census, confirmed by Wakefield, the number of Protestant heads of families did not exceed 96,067.

"Twenty-six years later, the Dublin House of Lords caused a comparative table of Protestant and Catholic families to be drawn up for each county. The result was the following:

Protestant families . . 130,263 Catholic families . . 305,680

"In 1834, exact statistical returns being made of the members of each communion, the following was the result: The total population being estimated at 7,943,940, the Church-of-Ireland members amounted only to the number of 852,064. The remaining 7, 091,876 were thus divided:

Presbyterians . . . . . . 642,350 Other Dissenters . . . . 21,808 Catholics . . . . . . . 6,427,718

"The censuses of 1841 and 1851 contained no information upon this important question. Thirty years had therefore elapsed since official figures had given the exact proportions of each Church.

"This silence of the Blue Books had given rise, among the Protestant press of England and Ireland, to the opinion, too hastily adopted on the Continent by publicists of great weight, that emigration and famine had resulted in the equalization of the numbers of Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. The evident conclusion joyfully drawn from this supposed fact by the defenders of the Anglican Church was, that the scandal of a Protestant establishment in the midst and at the expense of a Catholic people was gradually dying away.

"The forlorn hope of the Tory and Orange press went still further. They boldly disputed Ireland's right to the title of Catholic. So, although, ten years and twenty years before, these same journals furiously opposed the admission of religious denominations into the statistics of the census, yet, when the census of 1861 drew near, they quite as loudly demanded its insertion. They made it a matter of challenge to the Catholics.

"The ultramontane journals accepted the challenge. The Catholics unanimously demanded a denominational census. The results were submitted to the representatives of the nation in July, 1861. No shorter, more decisive, or more triumphant answer could have been given to the sarcasms and challenges of the old Protestant party."

We confine ourselves here to the total sums, leaving out minor details:

Catholics . . . . . . . . 4,490,583 Establishment . . . . . . 687,661 Dissenters . . . . . . . 595,577 Jews . . . . . . . . . . 322

Thus in this century, as throughout the whole of the century of gloom, the island is truly and really Catholic.

By way of contrast, a few words on the same subject may not be out of place with reference to England. We have already stated, and given some of the reasons for so doing, that, at the death of Elizabeth, England was already Protestant to the core.


Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 80/134

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