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Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightConwayMemoirBibliography

[The Grail of Catholic Emancipation Copyright © 2002 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]


    This book deals with what was called in Ireland the struggle for Catholic Emancipation. The slightly misleading title is copied from the real contemporary struggle to emancipate Negro slaves in the British Empire and in the United States. The Catholics in the British Isles were not slaves, and were largely free to practice their religion at least discreetly. As there were different laws against them in England, Scotland, and Ireland it is impossible to make statements which are universally applicable. Nevertheless, it is true that most of the penal laws against Catholics had been repealed. There were two major grievances left, the exclusion of Catholic gentlemen from the higher civil and military offices particularly exclusion from Parliament, and the exclusion of Catholic tradesmen from the corporations or governing bodies in the cities and towns. For various reasons described in this book the passing of the necessary Acts of Parliament was delayed from 1793 until 1829.

The narrative never gets boring because of the intrinsic interest and ever-changing nature of the events recorded. There were problems when Napoleon imprisoned the Pope and the British tried to rescue him. The Catholic Church in the United States as in other English-speaking countries was cut off from Rome. There were problems when the Monsignor left in charge of affairs in Rome agreed with Lord Castlereagh the British Foreign Secretary. There are the interventions of Milner, and the confusion caused when he changed his mind. There is Domestic Nomination proposed as the saving formula until it was found that not even the Pope knew what it meant. There was the totally unpredictable behaviour of George, Prince of Wales. There is the astonishment of the papal court when the ever docile Irish flatly refused to accept a papal rescript even when the Pope endorsed it with a personal letter. There is the blundering of the rustic friar who saw nothing wrong in telling the Pope that his chief cardinal must be taking bribes from the English. There is the episode of Napoleon’s ‘Hundred Days when Murat suddenly attacked Rome, and everyone from the Pope down made haste to get behind the protection of the British army at Genoa. There is the extraordinary episode of the royal visit when all animosity was temporarily put aside. There is the character of Daniel O’Connell for whose actions no rational explanation ever suffices. There is the extraordinary series of events which followed the establishment of the Catholic Association in 1823 and the parallel development of the Orange organisations. There was the sudden rise of the anti-Popery party in England which nearly unseated Peel.

The plan of the book was to write everything as far as possible in the order they became known to the principal actors, namely the Catholic inhabitants of Dublin. So if two events occurred simultaneously, one in Dublin and the other in London, the London event would often not be known in Dublin for nearly a week. As the events in Dublin were often played out against a background of events in Britain and Europe, it is necessary to keep track of these events as they occurred. As far as possible I have grouped events according to the month in which they occurred.

The drawback of this method is that a single connected series of events connected with the Catholics in Dublin tends to get spread into paragraphs separated by paragraphs detailing events elsewhere. Also there is much repetition of very similar material. The process of petitioning Parliament was repeated almost every year, the formation of a committee to draw up resolutions, the calling of an Aggregate Meeting to adopt them, the choosing of parliamentary sponsors, and the presentation of the petition to parliament. But the events, though similar, were never identical.

This book was written largely from what was printed in the pages of the Dublin newspapers as the events occurred. The newspapers provided not only an account of the events, but often the reasons for them. For example a Member of Parliament, when introducing a piece of legislation, normally states the existing law, its deficiencies, and the proposed remedies. Private correspondence too, if it was important and germane was usually printed sooner or later in the newspapers. Also too the events in the world at large were reflected in the newspapers. For the first twenty two years of the period dealt with, Europe was embroiled in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the events concerning them were of greater importance to most Protestants, than the relieve of some not very onerous disabilities of the Catholics. Other sources were consulted to fill out details.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.