OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter XII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


Pages: 1 <2>

But even though the Head Centre was lost, there were enough prisoners in hand to make it necessary to try them by means of a Special Commission. The nature of a special commission is explained by its name. It is issued by the Crown with a definite and special intent; it does not go beyond that intent; it is not limited by time or place, as in the case of ordinary assize trials; and it acts with additional judicial force, and a special jury. In this case the judges were Baron Fitzgerald and Justice Keogh - both of them men of marked ability, and neither of them likely to act with much leniency towards convicted political prisoners. Their work lasted more than a fortnight in Dublin; then they went to Cork; and then again returned to Dublin, where it was several weeks before the work was over. An example of the mode of trial and of the evidence produced, may be found in the case of Thomas Clarke Luby (a man whose father was a Senior Fellow, and who was himself a student of Trinity College), which was the first that came before the court.

Mr. Luby had been a registered proprietor of the Irish People newspaper, jointly, it appears, with O'Donovan Rossa. Indeed, he was the foremost writer in that paper; to which Stephens, during his entire connection with its personnel, contributed only one sorry article, headed " Isle and Doom." So popular, however, did the journal become amongst the disaffected classes, that the older " National " organs had reason to tremble for the security of their existence. The Irishman - then conducted by P. J. Smyth - was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the Nation was barely holding its own, when the crash came which delivered both from a destructive rival. Luby was indicted for the crime of treason-felony - a crime newly created by Act of Parliament. According to the Act which creates it, treason- felony may consist of either or all of three offences - compassing or intending to depose the Queen from her royal authority as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland; intending to levy war against the Queen, in order to induce her to change her measures; and conspiring to invite foreigners to invade this realm. It was with these three offences that the prisoner was charged; the Attorney-General for Ireland (Mr. Lawson) prosecuting him, and Mr. Butt defending him. The trial seems to have been meant chiefly as an exposure of the nature of the conspiracy, and that the evidence certainly effected. A vast number of documents were put in letters from American Fenians, letters from Irish Fenians to each other, proclamations, commissions, resolutions, and, above all, articles from Luby's newspaper; there was the evidence of detectives, and there was that which so few political trials are without - the evidence of informers. Among the documents, perhaps the most important was a letter or commission found in the prisoner's house at the time of his arrest, sealed with black wax, and addressed to "Miss Frazer." The police-sergeant who arrested Luby opened this, though he was told it was "a private matter between Mrs. Luby and a lady friend;" and he found it to be the following: -

" I hereby empower Thomas Clarke Luby, John O'Leary, and Charles J. Kickham, a committee of organisation, or executive, with the same supreme control over the home organisation - England, Ireland, and Scotland - that I have exercised myself. I further empower them to appoint a committee of appeal and judgment, the functions of which committee will be made known to every member. Trusting to the patriotism and abilities of the executive, I fully endorse their actions beforehand. I call on every man in our ranks to support and be guided by them in all that concerns the military brotherhood. " J. Stephens."

Side by side with this document, which, while it incriminated Luby, threw further light upon the proceedings of the Fenians, came the evidence of the two informers, Pierce Nagle and Patrick Power. They were both Fenians; Power at least had taken the Fenian oath, and Nagle " acted as a member of the society, but did not take the oath." Nagle told of meetings of the society, mostly near Clonmel; of intriguing in America, in which he had had a part; of " swearing in " new brethren; and of Luby's complicity with all this. He described the way in which the enumeration of members was managed: - " Papers ruled in squares by means of perpendicular and horizontal lines; the squares did not extend to the top, but there was a blank space on which the name of the captain or B was entered; the squares then showed how the captain, the sergeant or C, and the rank and file or D, were armed, also the strength of the company... A ' V ' signified a-man armed with a rifle. If it was an inverted 'V,' it signified a man armed with a gun or pistol. A stroke signified that a man was armed with a pike. Where there was a circle, it signified a man - captain, sergeant, or private - not armed at all." Further on, Nagle describes the mode of enrolling: - " I myself enrolled ten or twelve into the society. The mode of enrolling a member was, in the first instance, to administer the oath, which in substance was, that the party should be a member of the Irish Republic, now virtually established, and should be ready to take up arms at a moment's notice." Again, " Cornelius Dwyer Keane reported to Stephens that there were nearly 500 new men in the neighbourhood of Clona- kilty. Stephens said he did not know what he should do with the number of men he had, there were so many of them." Evidence also was given as to the manufacture of arms in Ireland, especially pikes. " Give bearer fifty rods," said a note of the Head Centre; and " rods" was the pleasant alias of the formidable " pikes." Lastly, one more document was read at Luby's trial from the packet addressed to " Miss Frazer." It contained three resolutions, and was signed by the great John O'Mahony himself; the first two being, a pledge on the part of the American Fenians to get the Irish Republic recognised by every free Government in the world; and a declaration, "that the national organisation at present existing on Irish soil is almost entirely owing to the devoted patriotism and indomitable perseverance of its Head Centre."

What was proved, then, in this trial (for we have given the principal points of the evidence) was the existence of a wide-spread conspiracy, having its roots in America, and having for its object the forcible extinction of English rule in Ireland. Luby, also, was proved to have been a prominent conspirator. Nothing more was laid to his charge - no instigation to assassination, for instance, and no overt act of rebellion. It was "conspiracy;" the first stage of rebellion - the preparation for it. And yet neither in this ease, nor in all (with very few exceptions) of the cases heard by the special commission, was the jury at all unwilling to convict. Luby was the first to be found guilty, and he was sentenced - as were some others after him, though many received less - to the tremendous punishment of twenty years' penal servitude.

Fenianism has not since broken out with so much violence, but we know very well it is not dead. The special commission of 1865 was far from crushing it in Ireland; the judicial sentences only drove it inwards upon the people, and told its adherents that their time was not yet. We have seen something like an attempt at insurrection in 1867; we have seen Fenian raids in Canada, the Fenian attack on the police-van in Manchester, and the Fenian outrage in Clerkenwell. In the case of these last two, we have seen the guilty parties, or some of them, suffer the extreme penalty of death. Force in all these cases has been met with force, to the discomfiture, of course, of the weaker side. Conciliation, too, has been tried on a great scale. We have had the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, and an Irish Land Bill which has given as much to the tenants as a Parliament of English and Irish landlords could be expected to give. We have seen the question of the Higher Education in Ireland attempted, but without success. In a word, since 1865 Ireland has been present to the minds of every one; and since 1869 it has held the first place in English political debate. But is Ireland pacified? Not in the least. England has done something to clear her own reputation, but very little to satisfy Ireland. A nation that has been treated as a conquered nation for three centuries (if we leave the conquests before Elizabeth out of the account) is not cured by the statutable removal of one and the statutable lessening of another of its many grievances. And how Ireland has been treated like a conquered nation is known to every one who has the most rudimentary knowledge of Irish history. Queen Elizabeth destroyed the Catholic Church, and established in its stead a Protestant Church, endowed from Catholic revenues. She and her successors up to William III. met rebellion with wholesale confiscation. The poet Spenser, for instance, received a grant of 3,000 confiscated acres and Kilcolman Castle from the English authorities; and he was one example out of ten thousand.

In the century that succeeded the English Revolution of 1688, England's hatred of Catholicism, from which she had just been emancipated, found vent in " penal laws " against Catholics, which, though they have been long since repealed, still rankle in the minds and memories of Irishmen. By these laws, passed mostly under William III. and Anne, mixed marriages were forbidden between persons possessing any estates in Ireland; no Papist could be guardian to a child; a Protestant eldest son might claim a kind of entail-right over his Catholic father's land held in fee- simple, and so secure his own succession to the exclusion of his brothers and sisters; a Papist could buy no land, but only secure a lease for not longer than 31 years; a Papist must conform within six months after coming into a landed inheritance, or in passed away to the next Protestant heir; a Papist night not retain arms, and his house might be searched for them; priests were forbidden to leave their own parishes; non-registered priests, and all priests " who should come into the kingdom from foreign parts," were liable to transportation for the first offence, and to the penalties of high treason for the second. Informers were to be rewarded, and the rewards paid out of a tax levied on the Catholics generally. "To have exterminated the Catholics by the sword," says the temperate Hallam, from whom this account of some of the penal laws is borrowed, "or expelled them like the Moriscoes of Spain, would have been little more repugnant to justice and humanity, and incomparably more politic."

Again, Irish commerce was crushed by English enactment. We find the English House of Lords, in 1698, addressing King William as follows: - " The growing manufacture of cloth in Ireland doth invite your subjects of England to leave their habitations to settle there, to the increase of the woollen manufactures in Ireland; we therefore beseech your Majesty that you will, in the most public and effectual way, declare to all your subjects that the growth and increase of the woollen manufacture hath long and will ever be looked on "with jealousy by all your subjects of 'this kingdom,- and if not timely remedied, may occasion very strict laws totally to prohibit and suppress the same." To this, and to the corresponding and still more emphatic address of the Commons, William III. said, " I shall do all that is in me to discourage the woollen manufacture of Ireland." He did discourage it very effectually. He forbade the importation of wool and the exportation of cloth. The Irish woollen trade was extinguished, and in a similar way all Irish trades were extinguished, with the one exception of the linen trade, which was in the hands of the Protestants of Ulster. Lastly, to the history of England's treatment of Ireland's creed, her land, and her commerce, we have to add the history of her treatment of Ireland's political life. Conquest brought rebellion in its train, and rebellion suppression, and suppression the extinction, more or less thorough, of political rights. The English Parliament of George I. voted its own supremacy over Ireland. But England's time of danger came with the American War of Independence and the French War which accompanied it. George III.'s Parliament could no longer run the risk of Irish disaffection; it passed an Act which declared " that the right of the Irish people to be bound only by their own j law, without appeal to Westminster, is established and I ascertained for ever, and shall at no time hereafter be questioned or questionable." Everybody knows what followed. The right so given was tampered with; provocation produced rebellion; and the Rebellion of 1798, with a Parliament filled by place-holders, and its House of Lords recruited during eighteen years by 143 new peers, gave birth to the Union in 1800.

This review of Irish history before the Union was required in order that the origin of Irish disaffection since the Union might be well understood. It came suddenly, unexpectedly, " like a thunder-clap in a clear sky." Its appalling reality was what frightened us.

<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 <2>

Pictures for Chapter XII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

Charles OConnell
Charles OConnell >>>>
Sir Joseph Paxton
Sir Joseph Paxton >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About