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Effects of the French Revolution - England page 3


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The Bill passed through the Lords without alteration. While it was under discussion there, Lord Farnham introduced a remarkable conversation about the murder of Major Mahon. The Rev. Mr. M'Dermott, a priest, he said, had formerly professed great friendship for that gentleman. On the major's return from England, after an absence of six or eight months, he attended the first meeting of the Relief Committee on the 27th of August, and on questioning the clerk, he found that " the Committee" consisted of Mr. M'Dermott and the clerks, and that they had altered the relief lists. These inquiries put. Mr. M'Dermott into a great passion; he charged the major with falsehood called him a stupid ass, and asked him how dared he come at the eleventh hour to question him about his proceedings. Subsequently, the rev. gentleman denounced the major from the altar, and his assassination followed, it was alleged, as the consequence of this denunciation. The authority for this statement was a memorandum left by the major, in his own handwriting. Lord Beaumont, a Roman Catholic peer, considered that such charges were calculated to cast a stain upon the whole priesthood, and it was a painful circumstance that they did not find from "the assembled bishops of the Roman Catholic Church any measures taken to sift the charge. Being now, to a certain degree, acknowledged by the State, they were on that account bound, and the Lord-Lieutenant should be authorised to call upon them, to assist him in bringing to justice those who had abused and disgraced their calling." Lord Stanley concurred in this view. So long as the heads of that church permitted such conduct to remain unrebuked in the abstract, and not deeply censured in the act, so long would the reflecting people of this country, and of the world at large, lay upon those parties the stigma of the moral culpability that attached to those denunciations, and also the stain that attached to neglect of duty on the part of those who had the power of censuring and condemning, but by whom that power was not exercised. Lord Brougham concurred in this view, and felt compelled to say, that if the guilty priests were continued in their functions, the stain would attach to the whole body.

The subject of altar denunciation was brought formally before the House on a subsequent day by Lord Farnham. He disclaimed any wish to attack the priesthood generally, and stated that "Dr. Ryan, the Roman Catholic bishop of Limerick, and that excellent man, Father Mathew, had shown a bright example in denouncing murder from the altar. He quoted some specimens of altar denunciations. At Castlerea, on the 25th of November, a priest named Hughes addressed a public meeting in such terms as the following: - ' The poor are left to the mercy of those heartless extortioners - the landlords; their cattle are seized and driven to the pound for the least defalcation; their lands are unproductive and barren; in fact, the law seems enacted for the purpose of crushing and annihilating this unfortunate class. The poor are sacrificed to the rapacity of the rich, and nought remains to the poor but the wild justice of revenge.' " Lord Lansdowne, on the part of the Government, stated that the law was sufficient as it stood to punish instigators to crime, if a conviction could be procured; but he considered that the extraordinary patience of the people during their appalling sufferings from famine was to be ascribed in a great measure to the influence of the priesthood. Lord Campbell declared that under the law as it now stood, all doubt was removed from the subject v and they were able to prosecute an accomplice as an accessory before the fact by a substantive proceeding. It had been determined over and over again that a minister of the Established Church of England or of Scotland, if he said anything from the pulpit detrimental to the character of an individual, or anything that led to a breach of the public peace, was civilly and criminally liable for what he said, just as much as if he spoke it from the market cross or from a public platform. There was no doubt about the law, and as little that it was applicable to the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland as well as to the Protestant clergy in Great Britain; but the difficulty in the former case was to procure a conviction, no matter how flagrant the offence. The priest in his denunciations spoke as the champion of the people, by whom he was almost idolised. It would be difficult, except under the greatest pressure, to get a Roman Catholic to give evidence against him; and if there were a single Roman Catholic on the jury, it is perfectly certain there would be no conviction. A verdict of guilty against a priest for denouncing a landlord or agent could be obtained only from a jury of Protestants, and that would be held by the whole Roman Catholic population to be legal murder, and would produce such a commotion as would multiply the disturbed districts one hundred-fold. This was the great practical difficulty with which the Government had to contend in dealing with Ireland. A great deal had been done to conciliate the priesthood. Sir Robert Peel had, when last in power, passed a measure for the permanent endowment of Maynooth College - thus getting rid of the annual recurrence of an irritating debate on voting the estimate for that institution. Parliament granted a large sum (£30,000) for erecting additional buildings, and made provision besides for the education and maintenance of 520 students, giving them advantages not enjoyed by any of the Protestant churches. But so long as the Irish priests spring from the ranks of the people, and are supported by their contributions, they will make common cause with their flocks against those whom, rightly or wrongly, they regard as the oppressors of their race.

Misery and privation in large masses of people naturally engender disaffection, and predispose to rebellion; and this was the state of things in Ireland at the beginning of the memorable year of 1848. O'Connell had passed away from the scene. On the 28th January, 1847, he left Ireland, never to return. He went to London for the purpose of attending his parliamentary duties, but shortly after his arrival there he went for benefit of his health to Hastings. But a still greater change of scene and climate was found necessary, and on the 28th of May he embarked for France, and proceeding to Paris, he was received with great consideration by the Marquis of Normanby, and other distinguished persons. In reply to a complimentary address from the electoral committee, of which Montalembert was chairman, O'Connell said, "Sickness and emotion close my mouth. I would require the eloquence of your president to express to you all my gratitude. But it is impossible for me to say what I feel. Know, simply, that I regard this demonstration on your part as one of the most significant events of my life." He went from Paris to Lyons, where he became much weaker. In all the French churches prayers were offered on behalf of " Le célèbre Irlandais, et le grand libérateur d'Irlande." At Marseilles he became rather better; but at Genoa death arrested his progress. He expired on the 15th of May, apparently suffering little pain. He was on his way to Rome, intending to pay his homage in person to Pius IX., but finding this impossible, he ordered that his heart might be sent to Rome, and his body to Ireland. He was accompanied on his journey by his chaplain, the Reverend Dr. Miley, who, on the day after his decease, wrote: - " The glory and wonder of Christendom is dead! Dead! No: I should rather say, O'Connell is in heaven." From the report of the post mortem examination, it appeared that lesions were observed in several organs, some of which showed traces of former inflammation. The brain was found gorged with blood throughout its entire extent, and partially softened; its membranes were inflamed and thickened. It has been remarked that O'Connell was the victim of the Irish famine, and that its progress might have been learned from the study of his face. The buoyancy had gone out of his step; he had become a stooping and a broken-down man, shuffling along with difficulty, his features betraying despondency and misery. His memory was respected by Englishmen, because of the devotion of his life to the service of his country. Born of a conquered, race and a persecuted religion, conscious of great energies and great talents, he resolved to make every Irishman the equal of every Englishman. After the labours of a quarter of a century, he obtained Catholic emancipation. "By this great service," says an English writer, "he made himself the embodiment of the best moral force of Ireland - the impersonation of at least 6,000,000 of the Irish population - the representative of a race cruelly oppressed for seven centuries, and of a religion subject to the direst persecutions for many generations. The result is, that the Irish are ascendant in Ireland, and every year sees every Irishman becoming, politically and ecclesiastically, more and more the equal of every Englishman."

O'Connell was born on the 6th of August, 1775. Ho was educated at the College of St. Omer, whose president predicted that he was destined to make a remarkable figure in society. He witnessed the horrors of the French Revolution, which, he said, nearly made him a Tory in heart. He had not completed his twentieth year when he became a member of the Society of Lincoln's Inn. Called to the Irish bar, ho went on the Munster circuit, and rapidly rose to eminence in his profession. His first public effort as an orator was a speech against the Union. At the time of Emmett's rebellion in 1803, he served in the "Lawyer's Infantry," when a deep impression was made upon his mind by the cruelty of some of the citizen soldiers. In 1815 he delivered a speech, in which he spoke of the "beggarly" Corporation of Dublin, for which he was challenged by one of its members, Mr. D'Esterre, whom he shot in a duel, which took place in a domain about twelve miles from Dublin. D'Esterre fired first and missed. He was hit by his antagonist in the thigh, and died in a few days. There was no prosecution. Soon after he was on the point of haying another duel with Sir Robert Peel, then Chief Secretary of Ireland, but the meeting was prevented by the interference of the authorities. Had it taken place, and had either of those great men fallen like D'Esterre, how different might have been the history of Ireland and eyen of England! O'Connell was elected for Clare in 1828, and was re-elected after the passing of emancipation in 1829, from which time he continued to occupy a seat in Parliament, representing various constituencies. He died in his seventy-second year. His heart was sent to Rome, as he directed, and his body was taken to Ireland, for interment in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Glasnevin, near Dublin, where a monument was erected to his memory, in the form of a round tower, with a wolf-dog and other national emblems.

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