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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 90/134 -
impossible to extinguish or abate, in the slightest degree, the clan-spirit. It was only when the key-stone which held their social edifice together-the head of the sept-had disappeared, that the whole fabric would tumble into ruins.
After a long trial of this policy of treachery and craft, came Cromwell to complete the work with violence and brutal force. There still remained in the island a great number of noble families, and the ollamhs and genealogists kept clear the rolls of the respective pedigrees. There is no doubt, at the time of Cromwell's war of extermination, even when the English Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement, that all the Irish septs still knew where to find their lawful natural chiefs, who, if no longer on the island, were at the head of some regiment in Flanders, France, Austria, or Spain. But, as time went on, the Irish brigades naturally came to identify themselves more and more with the countries into whose service they had passed, and where they had taken up their permanent abode; while in the island itself, force came to degrade what was left of the nobles, and to annihilate forever the national state institutions preserved by the genealogists and bards.
One of the features which most forcibly strikes the reader of the history of those times is, what took place all over the island when the English Parliament issued that celebrated proclamation in which it was declared that "it was not their intention to extirpate this whole nation."-(October 11, 1652.)
By that time the chief officers of Cromwell's army had already taken possession of a great number of the castles and estates of the nobility who had not left the country. The rest had fallen into the hands of the adventurers of 1641, who had advanced money for the purpose of raising a private army to conquer lands for themselves; while the body of Cromwell's troops looked on, awaiting the small pittance of a few hundred acres; which was to be their share of the spoil. Here is the strange and awe- inspiring picture of the conquered island in the seventeenth century:
The nobles, who had survived the fighting and defeat, were allowed to remain a short time until their transportation to Connaught. But, driven away from their mansions, where the new "landlords"-the word then came into use for the first time-- occupied what had been their apartments, they had to live in some ruinous out-buildings, and to till with their own hands a few roods of land for the support of their perishing families. A few garans (dray-horses), and a few cows and sheep, were the only aid in labor and production left to them. They were allowed, by sufferance; to raise some small crops of grain and roots, but all their time had to be occupied in purely manual labor.
Such is the image which fixes itself indelibly on the memory of any one who reads attentively the common occurrences of those days. It was a picture presented in every province of the island; in the most distant mountain-fastnesses as well as in the still smiling plains of the lowlands.
The nobles were, as a class, utterly destroyed; few of them fell to the inferior rank of yeomen; while the mass of the people-- was at once plunged to the dead level of common peasants and laborers. If some of the former class still retained a few faithful servants, their help was required for the drudgery about the farm or the miserable dwelling. None of them could be spared to keep up "the glory of the house." Would it not have been bitter irony to talk to this remnant of pedigree and their long line of ancestors? And would their enemies, who were now their masters, have countenanced the proscribed offices of files and shanachies, when laws against them specially had been so long enacted if not enforced? Now was the exact time for the rigid execution of those laws so evidently designed for the transformation of the freeborn natives into feudal serfs.
Hence, when the bitter day at last came, which was to deprive them of even the sight of the hereditary territory of the family, which was to transplant them to Connaught-among countrymen, indeed, but none the less strangers to them, whose presence could not fail to be unwelcome, and bring disturbance, confusion, and disorder-how, in such a case, could they hope to retain or revive their prestige as the old lords of the country? It is said that, for this, many of the Munster chieftains preferred to go into exile to Spain, or even to the islands of America, rather than take up their abode in Connaught, where they were sure to find bitter enemies in the old inhabitants of that desolate province.
This state of things knew no change, except with a very few of the Anglo-Irish, when Charles II. came to the throne, after the death of the Protector. He was in truth merely the executor of the great Act of Settlement, and carried into effect what had been enacted by the Parliament which had brought his father to the block, and driven himself into exile.
He only restored their estates to a few families of "innocent papists." Such was the phrase applied to them in derision, doubtless. The generality of the old families continued to sink deeper and deeper in degradation, and the forgetfulness of all they had once been.
It took the greater part of a century, from 1607 to 1689, to effect the almost total disappearance of the Irish nobility. As Colonel Myles Byrne, in his "Irish at Home and Abroad," says: "Few facts in history are more surprising than the rapidity and completeness of the fall of the Irish families stricken down by the penal laws. Reduced to beggary at once, and with habits acquired in affluence, surrounded only by contemporaries similarly crushed, or by the despoilers revelling and rioting in possession of their forfeited lands, friendless and unpitied, regarded as 'suspects' from the reasons for discontent so abundantly furnished them, they seemed struck with stupor, and utterly incapable of any effort to rise out of the abyss into which they had been precipitated. Dispirited, heart-broken, unmanned, they suffered the little personal property left them to melt away; and, on its exhaustion, were compelled to resort to the most humiliating means to prolong existence, and to accept for their helpless offspring the humblest condition which promised them a maintenance. A 'trade' was the general resort sought for the son of the chief of a clan, landholder, or gentleman.
"This gave rise to Swift's observation to Pope: 'If you would seek the gentry of Ireland, you must look for them on the coal- quay or in the liberty.'
"Thus, in my youth, 'the Devoy,' the head of one of the most powerful and distinguished of our septs, was a blacksmith, I have often seen a mechanic, named James Dungan, who was said to be a descendant of James Dungan, Earl of Limerick; and 'the Chevers' (Lord Mount Leinster) was the clerk of Mrs. Byrnes, who carried on the business of a rope-maker.
"Maddened and embittered by humiliation and suffering, renouncing all hope of recovering their stolen lands, those victims of 'bills of discovery,' or of confiscation, burned or destroyed, or threw aside, as worse than useless, the records of their former possessions, the proofs of their former respectability, and seemed, in fact, desirous to efface all evidence of it. I know one case in which the title-deeds of an estate were searched for an important occasion, and in which it appeared that they had been given to tailors to cut into strips or measures for purposes of their trade.
"A claim was set up to a dormant peerage, and a relation of mine having been applied to for information in support of it, he said: 'You are positively in remainder; but you are in the condition of the descendants of many Irish families, whose great difficulty is to prove who was their grandfather.'"
The reader is naturally struck, when the sudden appearance of James II. on the island presents to his eyes another Irish army, and a new Irish nation, fighting again for God and the king, but with few of the old names among those who then appeared on the scene. The leaders throughout the three years' struggle, which decided the ultimate fate of the country, for the most part have names unknown to Ireland, and unassociated with its former history, so completely had the aristocracy of the island perished and disappeared.
It may be well imagined, then, that, after the passage of another century of woe such as was described in the last chapter, it would be impossible to reconstruct the genealogies of the old families who might be entitled to lead the rising generation. Some few names are still advanced as entitled to the hereditary honors of once noble families, and thus we still hear of pretensions to title of "the O'Brien," "the O'Donaghue," and a few others. That such pretensions are acknowledged by the generality of the nation, it would be questionable to assert.
To think, then, of reconstructing the Irish nation out of its former elements, as they once existed, would be an idle dream. Those elements are dissolved and forever destroyed, and all that the nation can do with respect to its past is to preserve in pious remembrance the former race of men who once shed down such a glory over Irish annals. It was a happy and patriotic thought of the antiquarian societies of the island to investigate the old national records; to illustrate, explain, and bring them before the public in a language intelligible to the present generation. It is doubtful if in any other country the aristocracy fell with a heroism and glory so pure and unalloyed. Among all modern nations, as was said previously, the old class of noblemen has either passed out of sight, or is fast disappearing from living history. Ireland, then, does not stand alone in that respect. She was the first to lose her nobility, and she lost it more utterly than any other nation. But in the variety of movements, complications, revolutions, which now go to form the daily current of events in Europe, where do we find the nobles regarded as a power, as an element calculated to restore or even to preserve? The "noblemen" are well enough satisfied nowadays, if they are not persecuted, proscribed, or destroyed; if they are enabled to take their stand amid the crowd of men of inferior rank and share in the affairs of their country; content to see their names once so exclusively glorious, set on a par with those of plebeians, to lead the modernized peoples into the new paths whither they are rapidly drifting. Nay, so low have the mighty fallen, that even dethroned kings and princes sometimes ask to be admitted as simple citizens in the countries which they or their ancestors once ruled.
Here the thought will naturally occur: If the phenomenon is universal with respect to the position allotted now to men of "noble blood"--since it is evident that for those nations which
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