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it is true that most of the penal laws against Catholics had been repealed.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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
book was written largely from what was printed in the pages of the
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.