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Chapter LX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


The Repeal Agitation - Debate in the Dublin Corporation - O'Connell in Conciliation Hall - The Temperance Movement - The "Monster Meetings" - The Roman Catholic Bishops all Repealers - O'Connell's Defence of the Army at Tara - Debates in Parliament - Speech of the Dublin Recorder - Dismissal of the Repeal Magistrates - Motion on the Subject by Lord Clanricarde - Speech of the Duke of Wellington on the Repeal Agitation - Speech of Lord Brougham on the Evils of Irish Agitation - Motion by Mr, Smith O'Brien - Speech of Lord Eliot - The Irish Arms Bill passed - The Repeal Agitation denounced in the Speech from the Throne - Revolutionary Scheme of the Repeal Association - Arbitration Courts Established - The Teetotal Organisation - Proposed Monster Meeting at Clontarf - Forbidden by Proclamation - Military Preparations of the Government - Counter-Proclamation by O'Connell - Arrest of O'Connell and his Colleagues - O'Connell becomes Pacific and Conciliatory - The Monster Trial and its Incidents - The Repeal Martyrs in Prison - Judgment Reversed by the House of Lords - Liberation of the Prisoners - Triumphal Procession - Speech of O'Connell - Rejoicings in the Country - Effect of the Imprisonment on O'Connell's Mind and Policy - Mr. Smith O'Brien - "Young Ireland" - Rupture in the Association - The Irish Confederation - Reception of O'Connell in London - Discussions in Parliament on the State of Ireland - Speech of Sir Robert Peel - The Queen.
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The Repeal Agitation in Ireland, which had been thoroughly organised in 1842, by "Repeal Missionaries" who had visited every parish in the country, reached its culminating point in 1843. Early in February that year Mr. O'Connell, who had filled the civic chair the previous year, and was then an alderman of the Dublin Corporation, gave notice that, on the 21st of that month, he would move a resolution, affirming the right of Ireland to a resident Parliament, and the necessity of repealing the Union. Alderman Butt expressed his determination of opposing the motion. Mr. Butt was one of the ablest members of the Irish bar, and a leader of the Conservative party. The debate was therefore anticipated with the greatest interest, as it promised to be a very exciting political duel. The old Assembly House, since abandoned for the more commodious City Hall, was densely crowded by the principal citizens, while the street was thronged by the populace during the debate. Mr. O'Connell marshalled his arguments under many heads: Ireland's capacity for independence - her right to have a Parliament of her own - the establishment of that right in 1782 - the prosperity that followed - the incompetence of the Irish Parliament to destroy the constitution - the corrupt means by which the Union was carried - its disastrous results, and the national benefits that would follow its repeal. The speech, which lasted four hours, was mainly argumentative and statistical. It was accepted by his followers as an elaborate and masterly statement of the case. Mr. Butt replied with equal ability and more fervid eloquence. The debate was adjourned. Next day- other members took part in it. It was again adjourned, and as the contest proceeded, the public excitement rose to fever heat. At two o'clock on the third day Mr. O'Connell rose to reply. "No report," says his enthusiastic admirer, Mr. O'Neil Daunt, " could possibly do justice to that magnificent reply. The consciousness of a great moral triumph seemed to animate his voice, his glance, and his gestures. Never had I heard him so eloquent, never had I witnessed so noble a display of his transcendent powers." On a division, the numbers were 41 against 15 in favour of a domestic legislature.

A writer who was personally acquainted with O'Connell gives the following picture of the great agitator as; he appeared in 1843: - "Let the reader," he says, "imagine a tall man, of massive shape, with broad shoulders, large chest, a full, good-humoured face, fresh complexion, the expanded forehead, broad chin, and compressed mouth indicating command, but the rather short nose not quite in keeping. The glance of his eye was keen, but it had a somewhat cunning expression. He Wore a wig, and generally appeared abroad in a large military cloak. In the days of his prime and vigour, he strode along the streets with a bold, firm step; but in 1843 time and toil had told upon his constitution: his limbs had grown stiff, his step infirm, and his figure slightly stooped. On Mondays he might be seen regularly, about the same hour, proceeding from his residence in Merrion Square to Conciliation Hall, at the Corn Exchange, Burgh Quay, accompanied by one or two of his sons, or some intimate friends. At this time the Hall was generally crowded to excess. At the head was the chair, in an elevated position; on the right and in front a platform for the speakers and leading actors in the movement, in the midst of whom appeared pre-eminent the bulky and commanding figure of the great chief himself, to whom all looked up with admiration and deference. Under the chair in front was a place for the secretaries and reporters, and at each side benches for the audience, while a number of the female sex generally appeared in the galleries. First Mr. O'Connell moved some gentleman to the chair, and then read the voluminous correspondence, handing in the abundant remittances, uttering compliments to the writers and contributors with admirable tact as he went along - exhausting all the eulogistic superlatives in the language when he read the productions of the priests, especially the bishops. After these preliminary matters were disposed of, he delivered the speech of the day. His language at this time did not flow as smoothly and freely as it had done in former days, when his marvellous eloquence, varying from the tenderest pathos to the most withering sarcasm, came forth with an ease and force which proved him to be the most powerful and inexhaustible, though not the most graceful or finished, orator of the day. In this respect Sheil bore about the same relation to him that Sheridan did to Fox, or Canning to Pitt."

Other speakers followed, and the proceedings terminated by the announcement of the receipt of "the rent" for the day. It has been remarked that the "monster meetings" could never have been conducted in the orderly manner for which they were distinguished, but for the Temperance reform which had been effected by Father Mathew, a benevolent, tolerant, and single- minded friar from Cork, who was known as the Apostle of Temperance, and who had induced vast numbers from all parts of the country to take the pledge, which the majority religiously kept for some years. The monster meetings, of which forty-five were held during the year, were vast assemblages whose numbers it was difficult to calculate, but they varied from 20,000 to 100,000 each. The people, generally well-dressed, came crowding to the appointed place from every direction, some on horseback, some on jaunting cars and carts, generally preceded by bands with immense banners, and sometimes marching in military order. O'Connell, the "uncrowned monarch," as his followers called him, arrived from Dublin, sitting on the dickey of a coach, usually drawn by four horses. He was always accompanied by his devoted friend, Tom Steel, the " head pacificator," one of the most ardent of hero worshippers, who looked up to his chief as a sort of demi-god. The first of the monster meetings was held at Trim, in the County Meath, on the 19th of March, and was said to have been attended by about 30,000 persons. A dinner took place in the evening, at which Mr. O'Connell delivered an exciting speech. Referring to the bright eyes and hardy look of the multitudes that surrounded him that day, he asked, would they be everlasting slaves? They would answer "No," and he would join in the response, and say, " I shall be either in my grave or be a free man. Idle sentiments will not do. It will not do to say you like to be free. The man who thinks and does not act upon his thoughts is a scoundrel, who does not deserve to be free." The monster meeting held at Mullingar on the 14th of May (Sunday) was attended by Dr. Cantwell and Dr. Higgins, two Roman Catholic bishops, and a great number of priests. This was one of the largest of the meetings, and was remarkable for the declaration made by Dr. Higgins, to the effect that " every Roman Catholic bishop in Ireland, without exception, was a Repealer. He defied all the Ministers of England to put down the agitation. If they prevented them from assembling in the open fields, they would retire to their chapels, and suspend all other instruction, in order to devote all their time to teaching the people to be Repealers. They were even ready to go to the scaffold for the cause of their country, and bequeath its wrongs to their successors." This outburst excited tumultuous applause, the whole assembly rising and cheering for a considerable time.

During the summer, meetings of a similar character were held at Cork, Longford, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Mallow, Dundalk, Baltinglass, Tara, and other places. At Tara, in the County Meath, on the 15th of August, an immense multitude was assembled - 250,000, at the lowest estimate, but represented by the Repeal journals as four times that number. The place was selected because of its association with the old nationality of the country, where its ancient kings were elected and crowned. O'Connell's speech on this occasion was defiant in tone, and in the highest degree inflammatory. Referring to a speech of the Duke of Wellington, he said, "The Duke of Wellington is now talking of attacking us, and I am glad of it. The Queen's army is the bravest army in the world, but I feel it to be a fact, that Ireland, roused as she is at the present moment, would, if they made war upon us, furnish women enough to beat the whole of the Queen's forces." The Lord Chancellor Sugden having recently deprived of the commission of the peace all magistrates who were members of the Repeal Association, Mr. O'Connell announced that the dismissed magistrates would be appointed by the Repeal Association as arbitrators to settle all disputes among the people, who were not again to go to the petty sessions. He pronounced the Union to be null, to be obeyed as an injustice supported by law, until they had the royal authority to set the matter right, and substitute their own Parliament. In his speech after dinner to a more select audience, he said that the statesman was a driveller who did not recollect the might that slumbers in a peasant's arm, and who expected that 700,000 such men would endure oppression for ever. An outbreak would surely come, though not in his time, and then the Government and gentry would weep, in tears of blood, their want of consideration and kindness to the country whose people could reward them amply by the devotion of their hearts and the vigour of their arms. What were the gentry afraid of? It could not be of the people, for they were under the strictest discipline. No army was ever more submissive to its general than the people of Ireland were to the wishes of a single individual.

While the agitation was going forward in this manner in Ireland, the state of that country was the subject of repeated and animated debates in Parliament. One of the remedies proposed by the Government was an Arms Bill, which was opposed with great vehemence by the Irish Liberal members. Mr. Shaw, the Recorder of Dublin, in his speech on the second reading, described the condition of Ireland from the Conservative point of view; he considered that the country was in an alarming state, the lower classes extensively agitated, and the higher unusually dejected and depressed. Even the great benefit of the temperance movement had brought with it the evil of an organisation now turned to the most dangerous purposes. The real object of the Repeal agitation was to array the people and the priesthood against the property of the country. There was no class more alarmed at the progress of the movement than the respectable portion of the Roman Catholics, who dreaded lest they should be swept away by the tide. If the law did not put down the agitation, the agitation would put down the constitution. Mr. C. Buller's remedy was "to Canadianise" Ireland, which meant to make Mr. O'Connell Attorney-General, and substitute the titulars for the clergy of the Establishment. Mr. Roebuck thought " there was no great difference between the late and the present Government. Neither of them had put down the giant evil of Ireland, her rampant Church. He would take away her revenue, and give it, if to any Church at all, to the Church of the Roman Catholics. The grand evil and sore of Ireland was the domination of the Church of the minority."

In the House of Lords several discussions took place on the dismissal of the Repeal magistrates. Lord Clanricarde, on the 14th of July, moved resolutions declaring that act of the Lord Chancellor "unconstitutional, unjust, and inexpedient." The Duke of Wellington met the motion by a direct negative. " These meetings," he said, "consisting of 10,000, 20,000, or 100,000 men - no matter the number of thousands - having been continued, I wish to know with what object they were continued? With a view to address Parliament to repeal the Union? No, my lords; they were continued in order to obtain the desired repeal of the Union by the terror of the people, and, if not by terror, by force and violence; and the persons calling these meetings were magistrates, the very men who must have been employed by the Government to resist such terror and violence, and to arrest those who were guilty of such breaches of the peace. That is the ground on which the Lord Chancellor of Ireland said to the magistrates, 'You must be dismissed if you attend, or invite attendance at such meetings.' The meetings were attended by large numbers in military array, dispersed at the word of command; threats were held out, 'Blood or Repeal,' and such inscriptions were emblazoned on flags. My lords, I have had some experience in the course of along life spent in the service of the sovereigns of this country - I say, I have had some experience in these revolutions. A distinguished author, who has written on France, has said, On conspire sur la place? There was no secresy in the transactions. The reason was that the great means of operation was terror - deception as to their followers, and terror towards their adversaries; and when a learned gentleman declares that Napoleon had not in Russia such an army as there is here, and the Duke of Wellington had not such a one at Waterloo, why, very possibly not. My lords, nay more, mind what he said respecting the organisation of this army, and the means of assembling the population. He said that, in one night, he could collect the whole of his forces; and of that I have no doubt. It was therefore the duty of the Government to be prepared for any unfortunate event." The Duke " regretted to learn there was poverty in Ireland; but, he asked, was that poverty relieved by a march of twenty-five and thirty miles a day in spring and summer, to hear seditious speeches? Was poverty relieved by subscribing to the Repeal rent?" The resolutions were negatived by a majority of 91 to 29.

In a subsequent debate, arising out of a petition presented by Lord Roden from 5,000 Ulster Protestants, complaining that they had been prevented from celebrating the Orange anniversary, while the most flagrant breaches of the law were passed over in the case of those who wanted to overthrow the constitution, which the Orangemen were sworn to defend, the Duke of Wellington, on that occasion, said that " nothing had been neglected by the Government that was necessary to preserve the peace of the country, and to meet all misfortunes and consequences which might result from the violence of the passions of those men who unfortunately guide the multitude in Ireland. He did not dispute the extent of the conspiracy or the dangers resulting from it; he did not deny the assistance received from foreigners of nearly all nations - disturbed and disturbing spirits, who were anxious to have an opportunity of injuring and deteriorating the great prosperity of this country - but he felt confident that the measures adopted by the Government would enable it to resist all, and preserve the peace."

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