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Chapter Fourteen

[Ireland 1800-1850 Copyright © 2001 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Melbourne’s Second Ministry I

(April 1835 to June 1841)

Summary. This period was often regarded as a golden age in Ireland. Agrarian crime had died down, and there was a reforming ministry which tried to remove ancient grievances and to introduce reforms. There were no great popular movements like that for Emancipation in the previous decade or that for Repeal in the following decade which raised tensions and produced strong reactions from Protestants. Railway construction was progressing and steam ships helped the economy. The population was growing rapidly and potato blight had never been heard of. A popular your princess became a popular young queen. The period was not without its problems. Stricter adhesion to religious duties in all the Christian denominations brought religious tensions.


The New Ministry

The Tory Opposition

Reform Programme

The Irish Poor Law

Education Again

The Clergy and Politics


The New Ministry       

[April 1835] The period of Melbourne's second ministry when Lieutenant Thomas Drummond was Under-Secretary has often been viewed as a brief halcyon period in modern Irish history. This view was strongly endorsed by the almost hagiographic entry about Drummond in the Dictionary of National Biography where, in the usual fashion, conditions when he first arrived were painted in darkest colours and real improvements made with others were attributed to him alone. In some ways the tranquillity of the period was an illusion caused by the fact that O'Connell stopped agitating for a while, and the Ribbonmen also ceased overt activities following the enforcement of the Coercion Act (1833). It was also the heyday of the Catholic Whigs. These were Catholics of a conciliatory rather than confrontationist disposition, and often they had supported the Vetoists for this reason. With regard to commercial prosperity and economic development the period between about 1817 and 1850, the Great Famine notwithstanding, was a period of almost uninterrupted growth.

This chapter deals with the major points in the Government’s programme: tithes and Church reform, the police, the Poor Law, the reform of the Irish corporations of towns and cities, and education, and with the powerful and well-organised opposition of the High Tories to all the Government’s proposals. The hard-fought battles were intermingled with each other, and were spread over several years, and involved two appeals by Catholics to Rome, one regarding education, and the other regarding political activities of Catholic priests. 

Melbourne resumed the office of Prime Minister on 11 April 1835, and the first session of Parliament opened on 12 May. In a re-shuffle, Russell became Home Secretary and Lord Duncannon became Lord Privy Seal. Spring Rice became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Sir Henry Parnell Treasurer of the Navy. Richard More O'Ferrall became a Junior Lord of the Treasury, the first Irish Catholic to hold a post in Westminster. The Earl of Mulgrave became Lord Lieutenant, Viscount Morpeth Irish Secretary, and Thomas Drummond Under-Secretary. Plunket again became Lord Chancellor. In this position he took a lesser role in politics but now had the duty of selecting Catholics for the office of sheriff, appointing or removing magistrates, and advising the Lord Lieutenant on other appointments in Church and State. Louis Perrin, who for a long time had refused official appointments, became Attorney General, Blackburne having resigned with Peel. O’Loghlen was again appointed Solicitor General, having held the office very briefly the preceding year. When Perrin accepted a judgeship O’Loghlen became Attorney General, and was knighted, and was succeeded by Stephen Woulfe and Nicholas Ball in turn. Richard Lalor Sheil and Thomas Wyse who had had a higher political profile in the Catholic Association did not immediately get office, but within a few years both were offered and accepted posts. As the Repeal agitation receded, even O'Connell's immediate family accepted various public offices. O'Connell himself never did, though he certainly wished to be offered a suitable post. Perhaps if the sympathetic Lord Duncannon had become Lord Lieutenant a decade earlier Irish history would have been different.

            Sir Michael O’Loghlen (baronet in coronation honours 1838) had made his name as O'Connell's junior at the bar and gradually taken over O'Connell's practice. He was the first Catholic to be a law officer and judge since the reign of James II. Along With Sheil, he was in the first batch of Catholic barristers to be called within the bar in 1830. In 1831 he was appointed Third Serjeant, in 1834 Solicitor General for Ireland, in 1836 a baron of the Court of Exchequer, and in 1837 Master of the Rolls. He died in 1842 at the age of fifty three.

Stephen Woulfe was born in county Clare, and was educated by the English Jesuits (still more or less suppressed) at their new college at Stoneyhurst in Lancashire. With him were Sheil, Ball, and Wyse, who also went with him to Trinity College. Though a very young man he took part on the 'Vetoist' side and learned an early lesson in how O'Connell overwhelmed public meetings. He spent days preparing a speech, to which O'Connell listened politely. O'Connell rose to reply and said 'Here we have a wolf in sheep's clothing'. After gales of laughter convulsed the meeting there was no possibility of Woulfe winning the vote. He was noticed by Lord Plunket who made him Crown Counsel for Munster in 1830. He was appointed Solicitor General in 1836, Attorney General in 1837 and Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1838. His health gave way and he died at Baden-Baden in 1840.

Nicholas Ball was also educated in Stoneyhurst and Trinity College. He was called to the bar in 1814 and after the War spent two winters in Rome with Thomas Wyse. Both supported the 'Vetoist' party and explained their viewpoint to Cardinal Consalvi in person. He became Attorney General and a privy councillor in 1838, and in 1839 accepted a judgeship in the Court of Common Pleas. He died in 1865. His sister was Teresa Ball who established the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland. Purcell O'Gorman, former Catholic Secretary, was made an assistant barrister.

             Richard Lalor Sheil was born in Kilkenny, received his first education in London from an émigré clergyman and then at Stoneyhurst and Trinity College, Dublin. He then kept the necessary terms at Lincoln's Inn in order to qualify for the bar. He had no independent income to support him in the early days before he would obtain sufficient briefs so he began writing plays. He had some success but his plays were never afterwards revived. He returned to Ireland and drew attention to himself by refusing to give up the struggle for Emancipation when O'Connell wished to. He and O'Connell were brought together and from the meeting the Catholic Association emerged. He always intended becoming a full citizen of the Empire after Emancipation, and after entering Parliament devoted himself to foreign rather than to Irish affairs. Like Castlereagh or Wellington, he preferred the larger scene. Though he was returned more than once for Tipperary he was not sufficiently populist to be happy there. On questions like Repeal and the Coercion Bill had had to phrase what he said very carefully. In 1841, he preferred to contest Dungarvan instead. He ended his career as minister at the court of Tuscany that was the normal channel of communication between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.

 Sir Thomas Wyse was born in Waterford, and educated in Stoneyhurst and Trinity College. In 1821, he married Letitia Bonaparte, Napoleon's niece. As many had expected, the life of a country lady in Waterford was not to her liking and she left him after some years. He came to the fore in the Catholic Association by organising the election in Waterford in 1826. He was returned for Tipperary in 1830 and devoted his parliamentary career to the improvement of education in Ireland. He was in general at first in favour of Repeal but did not join the Repeal Movement in the 1840's, preferring to work with the Whigs. (His grandson Andrew Nicholas Wyse spent much of his life working for the National Board of Education and transferred to the Ministry of Education in Northern Ireland in 1922 and became Permanent Secretary in 1927.)

             Judges and law officers were political appointees. No particular legal knowledge or expertise was expected, only a bit of common sense and some knowledge of the law. None of the Catholic barristers in the first half of the century were particularly learned. O'Connell had vast experience and a retentive memory for what he heard in court. He was a marvellous tactical lawyer but otherwise not a student of law. If an Irish Catholic barrister were appointed Attorney General or a judge, it was over the heads of at least twenty better-qualified Protestants.

            The Earls of Bessborough (the Ponsonby's), with the Duke of Leinster and Archbishop Whately, continued to lead the Irish Whigs. Sir Henry Parnell, Sir John Newport, and Thomas Spring Rice were the most important Irish Whigs in the Commons. In the Lords, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Lord Palmerston, the Marquis of Anglesey, and the Marquis Wellesley were either connected with Ireland or had Irish estates. They were usually very knowledgeable about Irish affairs. 

Constantine Henry Phipps, second Earl of Mulgrave, arrived in Dublin on 11 May (he was created Marquis of Normanby in June 1838). The principal concern of Mulgrave still was to tranquillise the old ascendancy faction, while at the same time promoting Catholics, and to try to bring them to a more constructive attitude towards the new order. (This was also the prime concern of Peel.) If one counted only numbers, the Catholics were an overwhelming majority. But if one looked at the social position of and skills of Protestants, education, and skills in commerce, manufacturing, agriculture and land improvement, administration, law, medicine, newspapers, banking, and all the needs of a developing society, then the Protestants were overwhelmingly predominant. Such persons in every country are vulnerable to the denunciations of 'populist orators'. (Populists espouse popular local grievances against big business, or the better off, or outsiders OED). The ascendancy Protestants were wealthier, were better armed, and formed a socially more cohesive and united group than their opponents. The Government felt confident that it could deal with any Catholic insurrection but armed opposition by the Protestants was a different matter. Between 1906 and 1914 the Liberal Government was prepared for a contest to the end with both the House of Lords and with the Protestants. But between 1830 and 1840 it preferred not to push matters to extremes. The two Tory leaders, Peel and Wellington, no matter how hard they might fight, also felt it necessary to hold their followers back from extremes. Wellington in particular was averse to an outright confrontation between the hereditary House and the elected House. [Top] 

The Tory Opposition     

The General Election at the beginning of 1835 confirmed the optimistic views of the Orange faction. They had not won in the country as a whole, and in Ireland they had scarcely more than thirty seats. But the feeling was there that O'Connell had been tamed and public opinion was swinging behind them. But had Peel won a comfortable majority following the Tamworth Manifesto the Irish High Tories would have felt defeated. A Central Protestant Registration Society was set up to ensure that Tory voters were registered. A different body, the Protestant Association of Ireland, was established to disseminate Protestant literature, to register (along with the Registration Society) Protestant voters, to establish a loan fund to assist Protestant tradesmen or Protestant tenants who needed to stock their farms.

            No particular figures emerged as leaders of the High Tories, or Orange faction. John Foster had died and Leslie Foster, his close relative, accepted a judgeship. William Saurin did not die until 1839, but his public life was over. William Gregory too was no longer in a position of influence. John George Beresford, a son of the first Marquis of Waterford, was archbishop of Armagh and Lord Primate from 1822 until 1862. He spent £30,000 of his own money on the restoration of Armagh cathedral, and ensured that Armagh Observatory was properly funded. The Irish aristocracy, mostly of creations in the reign of George III, was very conservative and invariably elected a nobleman of their own views whenever a vacancy occurred in the Irish representative peerage.  The Earl of Roden was better known for his strong evangelical leanings and his attempts to advance the Second Reformation. A young clergyman named the Rev. Mortimer O'Sullivan was the most notable anti-popery preacher. But as most of the High Tories did not accept office under Peel their names never came prominently before the public. The High Tories gained a very important addition to their cause from the Presbyterians in Ulster under Henry Cooke. Traditionally, the Presbyterians had sided with their fellow-sufferers under the Penal Laws, the Catholics. But Cooke, the leader of the Subscribers formed a political alliance with the Established Church to combat popery, and was backed by the Synod of Ulster (Cooke DNB).

            These Tories were a majority of the Irish Protestants. The character of the High Tories was devout, increasingly so as the century progressed. They saw to the reform of their own Churches in practical ways by attendance at church, bible-reading, temperance, and general uprightness of life, paying their tithes, contributing to the support of their ministers, and of bible, missionary, and anti-slavery societies. In business they were sober, industrious, and above all, enterprising. On the farms they developed agriculture. The Tory landlords were often resident gentlemen who tried to improve their estates. They acted as magistrates and jurymen trying to bring about an orderly and peaceful society with the rule of law. Those parts of Ireland in which the Protestants were in the majority were peaceful, industrious, and prosperous. (And doubtless very dull.) The saw the Catholics as lazy, shiftless, dirty, clad in rags, beggars, ignorant, steeped in superstition, untrustworthy and dishonest, members of illegal organisations, under the thumbs of their priests and a foreign ruler the Pope whom they regarded as the Antichrist. They also saw it as their duty to rescue them from these evils by teaching them to read the Bible.

It is an essential part of Catholic nationalist mythology that Catholics belonged to the ancient Celtic race, the rightful owners of the soil of Ireland, while Protestants were newcomers and invaders of the Anglo-Saxon race. There were also many Protestants who believed this mythology. The truth is that those of the higher classes, and those living in towns, and those speaking English, were more likely to become Protestants. Those of the lower classes, especially those in rural areas who spoke only Gaelic, tended to stick with the old religion. Beyond that one cannot be more precise. After the Reformation almost all immigrants, and these were fairly numerous in parts of Ireland, were Protestants. Those who received grants of confiscated lands were relatively few in numbers.

            Their enemies often alleged that they did not do justice to Catholics. Even if the allegations were true, and certainly most of them are unproven, they were only a fraction of the ordinary cases that came before magistrates or jurymen. Lord Plunket did not find much to censure in the conduct of the Orange magistrates. Carleton mentions that when even the most ruffianly Ribbonmen were hanged there were some that referred to them as 'the poor martyrs'.

            The zeal of various Protestant groups to complete the Reformation continued unabated. Many accounts have been given of the Catholic agitation regarding emancipation and tithes, but very little attention has been paid to the equal and opposite reactions they provoked among various Protestant groups. Nor did the Protestant groups gain much sympathy, though anyone who studied the later history of Catholic politics in America would appreciate what they were facing. They were like the strange beast in the proverb that defended itself when attacked. Though Irish Catholic historians tended to view the efforts of the Protestant proselytisers in isolation, they were in fact only a tiny part of a world-wide movement in all countries where English was spoken or was being introduced. The movement was especially strong in the United States. Perhaps its most famous production was The Awful Revelations of Maria Monk, being an account of the supposed depravities of French Canadian priests and nuns written by a former nun. Needless to say her supposed revelations were never checked for truth (see SNL 24 Sept. 1836). The anti-popery meetings in Exeter Hall in London continued. A clergyman named the Rev. Robert M’Ghee claimed that Catholic priests were organising the anti-tithe campaign under the cover of supposed theological conference. They were supposed to be discussing the duties of soldiers, of judges, and jurymen (SNL 27 Jan. 1836) Of course such regular theological conferences were a normal feature of Catholic practice, and dealt with points priests might be asked to give practical guidance on.

            Archbishop Murray on 5 October 1836 wrote a letter to his clergy about the continuing virulent assaults on them. He expressed his distress at the attempts being made to sow discord between Catholics and Protestants. He noted that there was a maddening sense of insult and wrong in the country restrained only by a confidence in the goodwill of the Government. He then dealt with the personal attacks on himself (SNL 7 Oct 1836). 

The High Tories now deemed that the situation was ripe for a counter-attack with regard to tithes. A number of laymen calling themselves the 'Lay Association for Defending the Property of the Established Church' found a way to collect tithes. They applied to the Court of Exchequer in Dublin, which had among its functions the collection of debts, for 'Commissions of Rebellion'. These commissions were writs of the Court calling on all the king's liege subjects to assist in the carrying out of the writ and bringing the defendant to the said court in Dublin to hear the case against him.

            The police, backed by the Government, declined to be bound by these writs, claiming that their own Regulations forbade acting under any orders but those of their own officers. It was ironic that Henry Joy, who as Solicitor General had helped to draw up the police regulations, was now as Chief Baron of the Exchequer brought into direct conflict with the police over those regulations. The executive and the judiciary found themselves locked in a conflict, which neither side wanted, but from which neither side could back away. To allow exemption to the police meant a lessening of the Court's own authority. The Government, on the other hand, had no intention of putting the direction of the police into the hands of every tithe-proctor who had obtained a Commission of Rebellion. The dispute dragged on for some years. When Stephen Woulfe became Chief Baron he refused to allow costs in tithe cases to the plaintiffs. They could still bring their cases in Dublin instead of in the local courts, but only at their own expense. Plunket, in the Court of Chancery, declined to hear any case for which there was a remedy in a Common Law court. The Protestant Lay Association defended its practice of bringing the cases before the Dublin courts on the grounds that tithe-collectors were liable to be attacked if they brought the cases locally. Most people regarded Commissions of Rebellion as obsolete, and inappropriate in a country which possessed an adequate system of policing, and courts in every county, as well as duly appointed sheriffs with bailiffs and posses. But the Court of Exchequer was not willing to see a diminution of its powers. 

            There were four royal courts in Dublin, and the building that housed them is still called the Four Courts. The senior court was that of the King’s Bench where the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench acted in place of the king. The Chief Justice could call a case from another court to hear in his own court.  The Court of Common Pleas had only civil jurisdiction, not criminal. It was presided over by the Chief Justice of Common Pleas. The Court of Exchequer originally dealt with financial cases, such as taxes due to the crown, and the presiding judge was called Chief Baron of the Exchequer. The Court of Chancery and its subsidiary the Rolls Court, were equity courts where the Lord Chancellor was empowered by the king to settle cases in an equitable manner here the law provided no remedy. The Lord Chancellor presided in this court and the Master of the Rolls in the Rolls Court. However the boundaries between the jurisdictions was not strict, as lawyers in each court over the centuries strove to extend the limits of what could be heard in their own court. There was also Ecclesiastical Courts with extensive civil jurisdiction, and an Admiralty Court where Roman Law, not Common Law applied. (The functions of the Irish Courts were rationalised in 1877.) In the Four Courts building were also the Offices of the various courts, the Rolls, Hanaper, Queen’s Bench, Remembrancer, and Exchequer. There were also major courts in the counties and cities, but most serious crimes in these were tried at the assizes, where the judges from the courts in Dublin tried the cases. The Government could also try cases in the county courts at any time by sending the judges with ‘Special Commissions’. [Top] 

Reform Programme       

The Whig Government had a good working majority in the Commons but the Tories controlled the Lords. When the parliamentary session commenced on 12 May 1835 it pressed on with its own programme of legislation in the face of the fiercest and often successful opposition from the Tories. George Howard, Lord Morpeth (later seventh Earl of Carlisle, and Lord Lieutenant) as Irish Secretary had the duty of introducing the Irish legislation. He had to complete the reform of tithes, reform of the police, introduce an Irish Poor Law, and reform the medieval corporations of towns in line with the contemporary legislation in Britain. Thomas Drummond of the Royal Engineers, Colby’s assistant in the Ordnance Survey, got the position of Under-Secretary long held by William Gregory. The practical administration of affairs in Ireland still came under the Under-Secretary. The powers of the Secretary, undefined at the time of the Union were still undefined, and were more concerned with political policy and with affairs in Parliament. With the departure of Gregory, the position of the Under-Secretary as the head of the Civil Department came to an end, and the Irish Secretary got control of the Civil and Military Departments. The anomalous situation arose in the eighteenth century when the office of Irish Secretary had become a sinecure. The understanding between Morpeth and Drummond was excellent. Drummond arrived in Ireland in July 1835. 

A Tithe Bill or Irish Church Bill (1835) had yet to be passed, so Morpeth introduced his Bill on 26 June. The Whigs clung to an appropriation clause rather, it would seem, to establish the principle that Parliament could dispose of Church revenues than from any desire to get extra funding for education or charity. Many Tories defended the rights and privileges of the Established Churches, but had no wish to precipitate a head-on collision between the Commons and the Lords on the issue, especially as it was a money Bill, the special preserve of the Commons. Peel, in a speech on the Bill, noted that many Whigs, including Dr. Doyle, had strange ideas about the actual size and wealth of the Irish Church. Doyle had thought that there were only 200,000 members in the Irish Church when actually there were 800,000, and put the annual revenue of the Established Church at several millions when actually it was no more than £130,000 (SNL 25 July 1835). The Lords rejected the Bill. The Lords also rejected a Bill to reform the Irish constabulary, a Bill regarding Irish Catholic marriages, and the Irish Corporations Bill as well as other Bills dealing with English affairs. The Marriage Bill was intended to legalise mixed marriages before a Catholic priest, in effect rescinding an Act passed in the reign of George II to make them invalid. Peel in particular was unhappy with the attitude the Tories in the Upper House were taking towards the proposals of the elected House. But the Lords were dominated by the Earl of Winchesea, Wellington’s duelling opponent, and a leading light in Exeter Hall.

The Irish Church Bill (1838), without the appropriation clause, was finally introduced in 1838 on terms that Peel would have conceded three years earlier. It passed both Houses. The appropriation clause was abandoned. The tithe was to be converted to a fixed rent-charge. The landlord was made responsible for paying the tithe. The value of the tithe payable to the clergyman was reduced by 25%. The rent payable to the landlord was adjusted upward accordingly. Some attempts were made to collect for the Government the sums due from the first advance of £60,000 and under the Million Act but only about a third of what was due was collected. Resistance to tithe-paying collapsed as suddenly as it had begun. The terms of the Act were in practice only slightly better than what were available in 1830. As often in Ireland, emotional tempests blew up over matters that were disregarded a few years later. Ireland was a fertile ground for opportunist populists. Parliament was prorogued on 10 September 1835 and re-assembled on 4 February 1836. 

[1836] In 1836 the Police Bill, the Church Bill, and the Corporations Bill were re-introduced. The Grand Jury Act (1836) was passed, regulating the Grand Juries. It was intended to codify, clarify, and harmonise existing procedures rather than to change them. One its clauses provided that damages to various classes of people could be assessed on the barony or county and paid to them. For example, it could be paid for the murder or maiming of a witness, magistrate or peace officer. Compensation to the dependants and relatives of the two constables murdered by the IRA at Soloheadbeg in 1919 was paid under this Act (Irish Law Times 1920). It remained in force until superseded by the Irish Local Government Act (1898) which established elected county councils. But the powers of county Grand Juries were progressively encroached upon in the second half of the century by various acts largely dealing with public health, and by legislation dealing with the policing of towns.

            The further reform of the police had been discussed for several years, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police especially was in need of reorganisation. One defect of Wellesley's Police Act (1808) was a failure to provide for the removal of aged or incapable constables. Another was the right of aldermen to interfere, a right that had been taken away from the sheriffs in the counties in 1822. The process begun in 1822 of placing control of the police directly under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was extended, with the Government gradually taking over the costs. The Revenue Police was suppressed and merged with the Irish Constabulary (later the Royal Irish Constabulary), but the Dublin Metropolitan Police was retained. The training of the Irish Constabulary was entrusted to General Sir James Shaw Kennedy, a veteran of the Peninsular War. The establishment was continued at 7000 men with an average of 220 per county. The principal point in the reorganisation was to increase the control of the Lord Lieutenant. The Bill was introduced in February 1836. In Dublin, the Metropolitan Police, now composed of around 400 aged men, was totally reformed, useless members being dismissed, and one thousand new men recruited and trained. The new organisation was based on that of Peel’s London Metropolitan Police. Each constable was given a beat to patrol. Both police forces became independent professional bodies under their own officers who were responsible for recruitment, training, and discipline. Gradually, particularly after 1847, the Government paid most of the costs, but local authorities still made some contributions. The form of organisation of the Royal Irish Constabulary was widely adopted throughout the Empire. Though not adopted in England, officers from the RIC were often sent to England when the County Constabulary was reformed to instruct the local police (Weekly Irish Times 19 May 1900). Henry Sirr, usually called Major Sirr because he had been the Town Major in Dublin in 1798, was still an active magistrate and took a particular interest in police activities regarding the sale of alcohol in unlicensed premises (Weekly Irish Times 9, 30 Mar 1901). 

            Next for reform, following an English Act in 1835, were the Irish Municipal Corporations. Peel, in the Emancipation Act (1829), had not altered the franchise in the boroughs deliberately, feeling that if the Catholics were to dominate the counties the Protestants should be left strongholds in the towns. Such a policy might not please egalitarians, but it was perhaps wise at the time. Some Irish boroughs were 'opened' by the Irish Reform Act (1832) so that freeholders could now vote in parliamentary elections. But they could not become members of the ruling bodies of cities or towns as these were established by the city or town charters. It was proposed, following the English Municipal Reform Act, to abolish all the old charters and to establish city or town councils, or corporations, directly elected by all adult male ratepayers. This would place the towns, which historically, since the Reformation, had been strongholds of Protestantism in Ireland, also largely under the Catholics. Peel noted that in 1800 there had been 95 corporations in Ireland but now there were only 60. Eighty of the charters dated from the reign of James I or later, i.e. after 1603. The later charters were intended as a means to sustain the Protestant interest (DEP 3 Mar 1836) 

A Bill was duly introduced in February 1836 by O’Loghlen, Morpeth, and Lord John Russell. The Orange faction was determined to defeat the Bill, and if this were not possible, to ensure that as few powers as possible were transferred to the new councils, or as few urban councils as possible would be allowed. They ensured the rejection of the Act in five successive sessions, and finally, in 1840, an innocuous Act, the Irish Municipal Reform Act (1840) was passed.

            When at long last the Irish Municipal Reform Act (1840) finally reached the statute book it removed all powers from the corporations or guilds to regulate trade, fix wages or regulate the number of apprentices. They could only make regulations for their own markets. Labour was no longer regulated, so anybody was free to open a shop or business. (Relations between masters and servants was not changed until 1875 when all the medieval rules were swept away.) In theory, there were 68 cities or towns in Ireland, but some were very decayed. Many had lost their parliamentary seats at the time of the Union, and by the Irish Parliamentary Reform Act (1832), the number of voters in parliamentary elections was increased to include all £10 freeholders. By the 1840 Act no less than 58 of the corporations were suppressed. But the Commissioners elected annually under the Irish Towns Policing Act (1828) or other recent private Acts were retained, or could now be chosen. (Policing at that time meant much the same as policy or government of a town polis) They were now to be elected by the ratepayers, (as were the MPs in boroughs that sent a burgess to Westminster) and they continued to set a town rate for the purposes mentioned in the 1828 Act. Property belonging to the old corporations was transferred to the Commissioners. The qualification under the new Act was set at £10. The Tory party held out for keeping the franchise at this figure, rather than £5. Without it, the Lords would have blocked the Bill. Marmion noted that Dundalk now had 205 householders eligible to be elected Commissioners and 634 qualified to vote. The town rate levied in 1851 was £641, for salaries of the municipal officers, lighting, paving, etc. In 1824, the number of voters who were appointed by Lord Clanbrassil and Lord Roden had numbered 5 burgesses and 3 freemen. In Coleraine, the number eligible to be elected was 69, and those who could vote for them numbered 239.

            Ten corporations were retained, but in these, the power of appointing sheriffs was transferred to the Lord Lieutenant as in the case of the counties. With regard to police forces or watches, the Government preferred to allow only two forces, the Irish Constabulary (later the Royal Irish Constabulary) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. The corporations also lost the power to appoint recorders, or town judges. The reforms introduced were in line with the various reforms introduced by both Tory and Whig Governments over the previous thirty years. O'Connell professed himself disappointed. Whether this was because he wished to take over the old corporations, lock stock and barrel, to use them for his own corrupt purposes, or whether he genuinely felt that Ireland was getting less favourable treatment than England, is, as usual with him, very difficult to decide. Neither Russell nor Peel intended to take power from the Orangemen just to hand it to O'Connell. Without O’Connell, Catholics would probably have got the same law as in England. Tory resistance to Bill ended when many of them concluded that the corporations were no longer worth saving. The Repealers were correspondingly disappointed at what they had gained. O'Connell became first Lord Mayor of Dublin under the new Act but the office was chiefly ceremonial. Dublin Corporation, which did not adopt the 1828 Act, was deprived of most of its powers. Marmion noted that Dublin was larger than Berlin, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, and Turin, all capital cities. According to Duffy, its powers now consisted of managing the water supply, making regulations for markets, managing old debts, and paying the old officers.  (Another Act in 1850 enlarged the powers of Dublin Corporation giving it genuine powers of local government, but no further major changes in local government were made until 1898. For much of the century, the Poor Law Boards of Guardians were more important as vehicles for local democracy.) [Top] 

The Irish Poor Law 

            The Government deferred bringing in a measure on Poor Laws until the Commission it had appointed had reported. But its own views were inclining more towards a system of 'workhouses' such as had been created in England. The architect of the English Poor Law reform was a magistrate called Sir George Nicholls, who had seen at first hand all the drawbacks of the 'Speenhamland system'. (Those like O'Connell and Spring Rice who opposed an Irish Poor Law had similar criticisms in mind.) Under this system, the magistrates in a county could allow the very low agricultural wages to be topped up by a rate or cess on the parish. The people who paid this rate were mostly the farmers who employed the labourers, but there were also ratepayers who owned some land without employing many workers. The employers accordingly would lower wages knowing that they would be made up through the rates. Those whose income was being made up through the rates hardly bothered to work, knowing that they would be given a family income in any case (Nicholls DNB).

            The Commissioners of Poor Law Inquiry (1835) completed their first Report in 1835 and noted that they were inundated with theories about the causes of Irish poverty. Among the commissioners were Archbishops Whately and Murray, the Rev. James Carlile, Lord Killeen, and A.R. Blake. Blake drafted the Report. Commenting on this Report, Conway, in the Post noted that the theory of absentee landlords as a cause of poverty could not be sustained because in Mayo, in regions of the greatest poverty, landlords were resident. Many of the very poorest were not beggars, nor agricultural labourers, but tenants holding tiny sub-divided patches.

            The Third Report of the Commissioners of Poor Law Inquiry (1835) noted the attempts to reclaim bogland and the meagre results so far, but considered that further legislation on the subject could be useful. Agricultural wages were extremely low, but could only be raised if half the population were encouraged to emigrate. In the barony of Upper Dundalk, it considered that if the present agricultural population was reduced to half, agricultural wages would rise to 10 pence a day, which would be sufficient. (This calculation seems to assume that most agricultural workers were only employed seasonally. If they worked six days a week for fifty two weeks they would earn £13 a year which would be rather high by contemporary standards.) It noted too that there were several categories for which public assistance would be needed or to whom existing provisions should be extended. Such were widows, orphans, lunatics, the deaf and dumb, and the aged. The care of these should be taken from the counties and given to Boards of Guardians in Poor Law Unions, and the Unions should be funded by a national rate. (Rates within Unions would be too unequal.) The availability of alcoholic drink should be limited. Its main proposal was that the main system of poor relief should be private and public works. Public funds should be made available to undertake works of development such as the reclaiming of bogs, while landlords should be given assistance to improve their estates and so provide work.

             The Commission had been warned more than once that such a Report stood no chance of being accepted. A national rate was a recipe for profligacy as everyone threw the costs onto everyone else. Public works funded by Government grants or county cesses had a notorious reputation in Ireland as a means of milking the public purse. Private enterprise would ensure that only such works of improvement as would actually give a return on capital invested would be undertaken. The evils of public works envisaged were manifested during the Famine. Works were then undertaken without any obvious benefit or any intention to repay loans, and with no attempt to make those employed work hard. On other occasions, such as with regard to Tenant Right or Loan Fund Societies that they helped to manage, benevolent clergymen were accused of lacking sound commercial sense. So the Report of Whately and his associates was rejected and another was commissioned from Sir George Nicholls.

             Nicholls' Report was more candid that diplomatic. It stressed, among other things, the laziness of the Irish poorer classes, how the women were too lazy to sweep the floor and the men too lazy to clean the yard. (These remarks were commonplace among travellers, and doubtless Nicholls drew heavily on such second-hand accounts.) Existing charges on the rates for the support of sick or physically handicapped were to be maintained. The able-bodied destitute, widows and orphans without means of support, and the aged were to be maintained in workhouses where work suitable to their condition would be provided. The sexes were to be segregated and no alcohol permitted, as in existing Irish penitentiaries or Houses of Industry. The object of these conditions was to make the workhouse in Ireland, as in England, absolutely the last resort of the destitute. This was not due to hard-heartedness. If money available in the county was spent on gratuitous assistance to the very poor - at least a quarter of the population - it could not be spent on works of development. Poor Law unions of parishes, each with its workhouse, were to be established all over Ireland. Their boundaries were to be so drawn that no poor person should have to walk more than ten miles to get relief. Richer and poorer districts were to be included in a Union. The typical Poor Law Union contained a town, some fertile farmland, and some stretches of mountain or bog. No religious test of any kind was to be applied or enforced attendance at any religious service.

[1838] The Irish Poor Law Act (1838) passed the Second Reading in the Commons without a division, and passed the Lords without trouble. The two main parties were satisfied with its general provisions that were in accordance with Nicholls’ recommendations. A Board of Poor Law Commissioners had been established in England to bring the Act into operation and supervise it’s working and Nicholls was appointed to the Board. Its duties were extended to Ireland. (In 1847 a separate Irish Board was formed.) The country was divided into Poor Law Unions under the direction of Poor Law Guardians elected by the ratepayers and the justices of the peace. The Commissioners requested one million pounds for building the workhouses of which there were to be 130 in total. They were empowered to set their own poor rate independent of the Grand Jury rates and to make their own Poor Law valuations of property. Not only possible profits from land but also from easements, rights of way, navigations, and so on, were subject to the assessment, and the value of any property came to be expressed in terms of its Poor Law Valuation, or P.L.V. (Two later developments transformed the Poor Law Board. By one, outdoor relief, i.e. financial assistance to people in their own homes, was permitted, and by another public dispensaries of medicines for the poor were transferred from the counties to the Poor Law Unions. It was renamed the Board of Local Government in 1872 and numerous other responsibilities were assigned to it (Lyons).)  

            Public works were not absolutely rejected unless they were merely  'make-work' schemes. The Board of Works indeed for the rest of the century remained an important vehicle for poor relief in Ireland. Large sums of money were still to be poured out for schemes of public benefit. Indirectly, the Ordnance Survey facilitated land-drainage and railway construction. An immense scheme to develop the whole of central Ireland by improving the drainage and navigation of the Shannon was undertaken. Legislation was passed to facilitate private drainage schemes. Though not intended as measures of poor relief the funding of education and the police from the central exchequer had that effect. Nor were the rights and duties of the county and barony Grand Juries affected. It was always open to the county gentlemen to tax themselves in order to provide useful public works. But such county schemes were naturally unattractive to those liable to be taxed with no hope of personal return. For this reason the Government hoped that most of the county gentlemen would spend their money on improving their own estates, and thus giving local employment. Nor was the amount that both absentee and resident gentlemen spent on improving their estates and providing amenities for their tenants negligible. O'Connell made himself rather conspicuous by his neglect of his own estates. Criticism of improving landlords like Lansdowne or Palmerston came ill from a man whose income from the Rent was at times enormous, yet who did not help by improving his own estates. He was however personally generous to those on his estates in need. (Sharman Crawford was the only person to argue at this time that there was need to give incentives to the tenants to improve their holdings, but his Tenant Right Bills attracted exiguous support.)

There was a fundamental flaw in the Poor Law legislation that was not discovered until the onset of the Great Famine, and this was divided responsibility. The Boards of Guardians were responsible for feeding the poor once they were inside the doors of the workhouses. They were not responsible for, and legally not allowed to undertake, outdoor relief works, which continued to be the responsibility of the Grand Juries. Where Boards of Guardians and Grand Juries worked hand-in-hand in Ireland relief proved no problem. But where a Grand Jury tried to shift the whole responsibility onto the Board of Guardians in the neighbouring town or vice versa, the whole system was liable to collapse. And collapse it did.

            Ireland was a country that took the Christian obligation of alms-giving very seriously. The Poor Law was not intended as a substitute for this spontaneous charity. Neither was it intended as a socialist measure of universal provision for the poor. It was intended merely to provide a safety net for those whose relatives could not support them, or who were not assisted by private charities, or who could not find work on the land, or were unable to emigrate to England or America where work could be found. It was one more in a series of measures to relieve Irish poverty, such as Acts to facilitate the drainage of bogs, or allow the construction of railways, or to give legal protection to loan societies for tradesmen. In the nineteenth century, the emphasis was on relief of the poor through the creation of further wealth; in the twentieth century on the redistribution of existing wealth. Contemporary critics of the Poor Laws like Charles Dickens never faced the question of removing poverty without some means of population control. Nicholls' solution was to force growth of the economy ahead of growth in population and in this he succeeded.

            In a speech in the House of Commons in 1843, it was reported that about £200,000 was collected annually from taxation, county rates, and private subscriptions to public institutions to help the sick. In Ireland there were for the gratuitous relief of the sick poor 41 general infirmaries, (i.e. about one for each county or city), 88 fever hospitals, 626 dispensaries, 11 lunatic asylums supported largely by the county rates, and 9 institutions in Dublin supported by parliamentary grants. In addition, there were many private institutions, notably parish orphanages, which subsisted entirely on private donations (SNL 9,10 Feb 1843). In 1843, Peter Purcell in an open letter to Lord Elliot claimed that collecting the poor rate from the cottier class cost more than was obtained. Also, he claimed, the hope that local ratepayers would try to keep down the rates by providing work on their land was not realised. Rather, when the workhouse was there employers felt there was less need to make employment (SNL 5 Jan 1843).

It was often felt that programmes of public works should be undertaken in addition to the provision of workhouses, but the two objections mentioned in Nicholls' Report remained unanswered. The first was that Irish county Grand Juries had a bad reputation for squandering public money. The other was that the Irish counties felt it unnecessary to tax themselves if money was made easily available from the Treasury. One would claim that five million pounds would suffice, another ten, another twenty, and so on. The Government, as already noted, always made money available for worthwhile and potentially profitable schemes where advances from the Government could be repaid from profits resulting from the improvements. It was noted that even Nimmo's roads did not always achieve their aim. The roads into Mayo, to which the Government had contributed nine tenths of the cost, did not result in the development of commercial agriculture. On the other hand, the road into Iveragh in Kerry had proved a great success.

             There were various contributory causes to the Great Famine and among them must be listed the failure of the Mayo county Grand Jury and other Grand Juries to maintain and further develop the roads begun by Nimmo. (Also in Mayo, there were difficulties about collecting the Poor Rate. If, as seems likely, Mayo was the chief focal point for the disaster of the Famine, the reasons for that go back a long time.) The brown, or unbleached, linen industry was strong in north Connaught in the eighteenth century, but it died out as demand for brown linen fell. The great linen industry in Ulster in the nineteenth century was in white linen. Alternative cash crops like the production of butter, eggs, feathers, and salt fish, would have eased the scarcity when the potato failed, as would a whole-hearted co-operation between the clergy of all the Churches and to local landowners and merchants to provide roads, jobs, credit, markets, and other assistance. The fishermen found it impossible to get credit to buy salt for salting, but no co-operatives were started. One can think of many things Archbishop MacHale could have done with his money instead of spending it on diocesan schools. [Top] 

Education Again           

Disputes over education continued. In the 1820's the Government had engaged directly in consultations with the three main Church bodies with regard to education. At first the Catholic clergy accepted, if not exactly welcomed, the National Education Act (1831) and submitted proposals for parish schools which would be eligible for financial support. One Irish religious teaching Order, the Irish Christian Brothers, refused to have anything to do with the national system, but Archbishop Murray persuaded most of the others, especially teaching Sisters, to avail themselves of the benefits of the Act. The Christian Brothers always ran large schools in the towns, never in country parishes. However by 1837 open opposition to the Act was being voiced by Archbishop MacHale, who went so far as to report the affair to Rome for its judgement on whether it was lawful for a Catholic bishop to participate in the scheme. (It has been observed, it would seem correctly, that MacHale objected to the authority the Act seemed to give another bishop - Murray - to decide what books could be read in MacHale's diocese. This was stretching both the Act and Canon Law to an extreme degree.) Under MacHale, the bishops of Connaught made the following demands: - in mixed schools the Catholic priest should be able to block appointments and dismiss teachers; all books containing religious and moral instruction must be approved by all four Catholic archbishops; in schools where there were no Protestants, the Catholic priest should appoint and dismiss teachers, be free to enter the school at all times, and all books for religious or moral instruction should be written or selected by the Catholic bishop of the diocese; two Catholic laymen and one Catholic bishop from each province should sit on the National Board; instructors of Catholic trainee teachers in religion, morals and history, should be Catholics with a certificate of character from his bishop; the should be a model School in each Province for training teachers (DEP 10 March 1840. Note what was said above about the influence the Catholic clergy were seeking). Mulgrave replied courteously, but was unable to accept their requests. MacHale’s representations had considerable force in Rome for it was decided to condemn the system, and Archbishop Murray was privately advised to withdraw from the Board in advance of the condemnation. He refused to do so and wrote a strong reply to Rome in March 1839 (Meagher 59). The letters between Murray and MacHale on the subject were published in the daily papers at the time. (DEP March 1840) The Pope then judged it better to leave each Irish bishop to decide for himself. The Rescript was received by the Irish Bishops on 2 February 1841, and assented to, MacHale drafting the reply. MacHale withdrew from the scheme and attempted to provide Catholic schools in his entire diocese by means of a teaching Order of Brothers. His successor, forty years later, reversed his strange and educationally disastrous decision that can be explained only by blind bigotry. Not only was his diocese in one of the poorest regions of Ireland, it was also an area where the Bible Societies had many schools. 

The most formidable and long-lasting objections to the National Board came from the clergy of the Established Church. Without the support of Archbishop Murray and the moderate Catholic bishops the Board might have collapsed. The opponents of the Board in all denominations believed that the Government would then be forced to support denominational schools. The objection of the former group was based on the removal of their right to supervise all education. That they had de facto control because the principal Commissioner was archbishop of Dublin did not satisfy them. By the end of the decade, various diocesan education societies had been established to promote schools under the direction of the Protestant clergy. Anglican parish schools in England had been the chief beneficiaries of the money voted by Parliament for education, and the clergy hoped for a similar Act in Ireland. They were very disappointed when Peel, the betrayer, betrayed them again and said that he supported the National Board. In 1838, the diocesan societies were merged into an Irish Church Education Society and it continued, in conjunction with the Kildare Place Society, to refuse assistance from the Board for the next twenty years. In the larger towns and in Ulster the Society was moderately successful. But in many parts of the West, it had to depend on the Bible and Missionary Societies to provide schools in which the Bible was taught as a textbook.

            For some years, the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster refused to apply to the Board of National Education for support for such schools as they might found, for they believed that it was not allowed to teach the Bible. A motion at a General Synod demanding that Dr Carlile should resign from the Board was defeated, and he continued to act as go-between with the Board. In 1840, the Synod agreed to apply to the Board for assistance and to abide by its rules. Each side claimed that it had not backed down and had made no concessions. It may be that a practical solution was arrived at, even if not openly acknowledged, that the Bible could be read in periods of common instruction if Catholic parents did not object. (In those parts of Ulster they were not likely to object.) The submission of the Presbyterians disappointed the Evening Mail which pronounced that now there was no possibility of securing state support for denominational education. 

            In 1838, the National Board opened a training college for teachers in Marlborough Street, Dublin. The original staff, strangely, were all Presbyterians, including the Rev. James Carlile. The original course, open to those with some experience of teaching was five months, but this was quickly regarded as insufficient. Later a more elaborate system of training extending over several years was adopted. There was no objection to Catholics, and Patrick Keenan was made headmaster of the Central Model School in Dublin. He was later Resident Commissioner and knighted. He was the most famous of all the Resident Commissioners. Model Schools were established in various parts of Ireland to give preliminary training before candidates went to the training college. They were intended to exemplify best teaching practice. Most were in Ulster after the Presbyterians embraced the national system. After 1850, the Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Cullen, forbade the employment of any teacher who had been trained in Marlborough Street. (As the ban was not repeated in the decrees of the Plenary Synod of 1927 it was deemed to have lapsed (Irish School Weekly 18 Jan 1930). In 1838, the Board set about implementing a vast scheme of agricultural instruction. A college for teaching masters the elements of agriculture was set up with a model farm at Glasnevin, whose most famous pupil was Vere Foster, who was to become a noted educationalist. It was re-named the Albert College after the Prince Consort. Unfortunately, this scheme had later to be abandoned when the Treasury, following objections by the Liverpool Reform Association, decreed it to be in competition with commercial colleges. Of the colleges, only the Albert College and the Munster Institute survived. Though in some places gardens attached to local schools survived. It is significant that the Munster Institute was the only one that received local support. It specialised in teaching hygiene to dairymaids. 

            The Bible Societies went their own way with regard to education. Their sole purpose was to teach the illiterate people, especially those who principal or sole language was Gaelic to read the Bible in their own language. The Irish Society was now nearly twenty years old when it held its 18th meeting in the Rotunda in Dublin on 17 March 1836. The Report to the meeting claimed it had 637 schools with over 18,000 pupils, 13,000 of which were adults. Of these 50 were in Connaught, with 1540 pupils, 850 of whom were adults. The schools were particularly numerous in Cavan and neighbouring counties. The Report claimed that the Irish Society filled the roles of a Sunday School Society, an Adult School Society, a Scriptural Readers Society, and a Bible Society. They had few school buildings, no desks, forms or tables, they did not teach writing, arithmetic, or geography, but only the word of God. Teachers could be farmers, labourers, teachers, or tradesmen of good character. The only requirement was that they be able and willing to teach reading of the Bible. They taught in any cabin available, or even in the open air. They taught on Sundays, holidays, or after working hours. Payment was by result, and inspectors examined the numbers taught, and the progress made before paying the teacher. The Report noted that the resident clergyman might not be aware of the existence of a school in his parish. It also noted the persecution of those who attended their schools, some being beaten up and even forced to emigrate (SNL 13 Mar. 1836). [Top] 

The Clergy and Politics 

On the question of a Poor Law Archbishop Murray was appointed to the Commission of Inquiry now almost as a matter of course. There were Catholic MPs to represent their constituents, and the long-serving Anthony Blake, the Catholic Chief Remembrancer, was well placed to convey the views of the Catholic hierarchy to any administration in office. Several leading Catholics were appointed to office, both with the Government and in the counties. Many Catholics felt that the political priests could safely withdraw from politics knowing that the Government would consult them on any major issue. In Parliament, one or more Catholic MP's were automatically appointed to any Committees dealing with Irish affairs.

But some Catholic priests were beginning to feel that they should participate directly in the democratic process, invariably on the Repealing or nationalist side. For them an independent Irish Parliament meant a Catholic Parliament, whose members would accept instruction and guidance from the Catholic clergy. In the event, that did nor occur, but it was what the Catholic political priests were seeking. Closely connected with the dispute among the Catholic bishops regarding education were the related disputes about Repeal and the political priests. These were not logically but practically connected inasmuch that those who supported MacHale on one point were likely to support him on the other as well. In 1834, the bishops had agreed that Catholic priests should take no active part in secular politics, but it soon became clear that those bishops, like Dr MacHale or Dr. Michael Blake of Dromore, who supported O'Connell and Repeal, were prepared to interpret the decision with some latitude. Neither saw any objection to priests or bishops displaying their political convictions publicly, for example by attending a Repeal dinner, or one in honour of O'Connell. Nor, like Dr. Edward Nolan of Kildare and Leighlin, did they object to a priest doing more in cases of crisis, with his bishop's consent of course. Neither MacHale or Blake in fact attended many public meetings, but complaints were made to Rome (apparently by some English Catholics) that MacHale was actively engaged in politics. A letter was sent to MacHale by Rome warning him not to take an active part in politics and he replied that he did not do so. This letter was not published, nor was O'Connell, who was asking MacHale for open and active support, aware of it. Between 1835 and 1841 there seems not to have been much actual political activity by Catholic priests.

The Presbyterian ministers did not in this decade involve themselves in political agitation, but in the following decade many of them joined in the campaign for Tenant Right which could be regarded as a social rather than a political issue. As with the Catholic priests the Government normally tried to include Presbyterian clergymen in any public inquiries. Unusually, Dissenting clergymen could be elected to Parliament. Among the Presbyterians the Non-Subscribers had left the Synod of Ulster and formed the Remonstrant Synod. But the other main body, those Presbyterians belonging to the Secession Synod, began to grow closer to the Synod of Ulster. The Secession Synod arose from a dispute over matters of discipline in the Scottish Kirk a century before, but the original causes of dispute had largely disappeared. The Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod came together again in 1840 to form what was called the General Assembly of Irish Presbyterians. The Rev. Henry Cook became the dominant figure in the new body. When Peel came to deal with Irish education it was the General Assembly principally he had to consult with regard to Presbyterian interests.

             The political position of the Protestant clergy of the Established Church, as far as politics was concerned, was unchanged. They could not be elected to Parliament, but they could become magistrates and also take an active part in politics within their own counties. Several bishops took their seats in turn in Parliament each year. The archbishop of Dublin was almost ex officio a member of any Government to the extent that he was a privy councillor (and therefore consulted before any proclamation was made), had direct access to the Lord Lieutenant, and could, as was traditional, be appointed to the Commission of State which exercised power as a Lord Justice when the Lord Lieutenant was out of the country. But the majority of the clergy did not co-operate either with the Whigs or with Peel. The Established clergymen were therefore closely involved in opposition politics. (These clergymen seem to have been commonly referred to as ministers, like the Dissenting clergymen, and not as parsons, vicars, rectors, or priests.)            

            Archbishop Whately was probably the most able clergyman in Ireland in the nineteenth century, but the Whig Governments (or Tory for that matter) could do little to help him. The Government continued to appoint Tories to the various bishoprics. Some of Whately's assistants were made bishops, but he had very few supporters. Whately's work included reforming the Church, implementing the Church Reform Act (1833), acting as Chief Commissioner for National Education, and Commissioner for Poor Law Inquiry. He established a theological course for ordinands and tried to have a period of study in a theological college a condition for ordination. The other bishops did not agree with him on the last point, but his ideas were adopted in practice. He developed the curriculum of Trinity College, introducing the study of statistics and engineering. Some of his clergy suspected him of heresy or even of infidelity to the Christian faith. Presumably, this was because he questioned the literal truth of the whole Bible.

            A more typical Irish Protestant bishop was Dr Richard Mant of Down and Connor. He was an Englishman, sent to Ireland to try to introduce a more professional spirit among the Irish clergy. He insisted on the exact observance of canon law, and civil law in so far as it applied to the Church. He tolerated no departures from the Book of Common Prayer, nor did he allow non-ordained preachers into the pulpits of his diocese for any reason. Many people at the time, even clergymen, saw little difference between the clergy of the Established Church, Dissenting ministers, and Methodist preachers. His views on the nature of the Church seem to have been largely pragmatic, and he opposed the Oxford Movement that sought to clarify the nature of the Church which everyone was busy defending. But it is symptomatic of the times and the place that his enforcement of the Book of Common Prayer was regarded by some as Popery!

            The general attitudes of the Protestant clergy of the Established Church were well described by Mant's biographer:

            ‘The pretending prelates of the Roman schism, encouraged by the Act of 1829, were increasing their numbers and usurping the titles of Irish sees. The Church of Ireland was mutilated by the forcible suspension or abolition of ten out of twenty two bishoprics, the revenues whereof were confiscated to form part of the required fund [for general Church purposes]; and the incomes of the parochial clergy, already impoverished by the successful agitation against tithes, and by a forced composition on disadvantageous terms, were rendered prospectively liable to an oppressive tax’ (Mant)

Others might not have seen them like that but that is how they saw themselves. 

            The High Tories in Ireland and the clergy of the Established Church may have been in a minority in Ireland but they were allied with and defended by the Tories in England. These latter had a large majority in the House of Lords and so could reject any Bill sent up from the Lower House. Peel and Wellington realised the impropriety of the Lords rejecting every proposal of the popularly elected chamber, and exercised what control they could over their supporters.



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