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Chapter Sixteen

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

Peel's Second Ministry I 

(September 1841 to December 1843)

Summary. Peel did not get much support from the High Tories, and almost no support from the Whigs and Catholics. So he was limited in his choice of who he could appoint to public office. Nevertheless, O'Connell and the political priests could make capital from the fact that the Tories were returned to office and proclaim that new penal laws were imminent. O'Connell could make any law plausibly sound like an anti-Catholic law. Peel had no plans with regard to Ireland at all which he rightly regarded as prospering and not requiring any new legislation.A new factor entered the equation and this was the Romantic Nationalism based on race fostered by The Nation. Fanned by O'Connell and the writers of The Nation there was a great surge among the Catholics in the demand for Repeal of the Act of Union.Monster meetings were held which the Irish Government decided were disturbing the peace and the leaders were arrested on that charge.   


The Return of the Tories

Movements and Parties

Ireland on the Eve of the Famine

Peel’s Programme

The Repeal Association and Federalism

Young Ireland and The Nation

The Fallacies of the Repeal Policy

Repeal Year 1843

The Tory Programme

Rome and the Political Priests


The Return of the Tories 

[September 1841] Irish politics temporarily became somewhat complex in the 1840's and events took a different turn. There was of course the sudden and unforeseen episode of the Great Famine that to a considerable extent dominated discussions and absorbed energies for four or five years. But there was also the arrival of a new element, namely Romantic Nationalism. Hitherto, all political discussion was conducted in terms of Whigs against Tories, and the terms had scarcely varied since 1688. It was the world of Castlereagh, Wellington, Peel, O’Connell, Archbishop Murray, the High Tories, and all the other leaders up to this time. The Whigs and Tories were still the two dominant parties, and were to remain so until the 1880’s. The Tory party remained the same coalition of conservatives, those who supported Emancipation, and those who deplored it. After 1829 this was no longer an issue, but the old underlying division remained as one between Peelites and anti-Peelites. (The real split in the Tory Party occurred over the Corn Laws and it was not re-unified until the accession of a new man, Disraeli in 1868.) For many Tories, Peel was still the arch betrayer. Up to 1830, the Tories were the majority party in Ireland though pro-Emancipation Tories tended to outnumber the others. After 1830 they formed a minority, but regularly got thirty or forty seats out of a hundred at a General election. The Whig Party became a coalition of old aristocratic lords and progressive reformers. The Irish Catholics were split into anti-vetoist and vetoists. The former vetoists supported the Whigs, the others O'Connell. Ulster was the stronghold of the Whigs or Liberals, as the name of the Belfast newspaper, Northern Whig reminds us. The policies of the Whigs at this time were famously summed up in the words ‘Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform’. When the moderate Tory Marquis Wellesley was first appointed Lord Lieutenant many of the Catholic bishops found they could work along with the Government. Their acknowledged leader was Archbishop Daniel Murray. They also gave a general support to O’Connell. But a minority, led by Dr. MacHale would not work with the Government. After 1830 Daniel O'Connell for a few years rather half-heartedly led a group seeking repeal of the Act of Union, and this group, though its fortunes varied, could get twenty or even thirty MP's returned to Parliament. It was usually referred to facetiously as ‘O’Connell’s tail’.   

            When Melbourne was defeated in June 1841, he asked the queen to dissolve Parliament. In the ensuing General Election in July 1841, the Tories made massive gains. One Protestant newspaper attributed this victory to the zeal with which the evangelically-minded clergy in England had thrown themselves into the struggle. Some of the Irish Catholic clergy also took part. Dr Michael Blake of Dromore issued a pastoral letter instructing the Catholics not to vote for the Tories but to send 'virtuous and truly patriotic members to Parliament'. Clearly, he did not put the Tories in that category, and regarded virtue and patriotism as much the same thing. He also issued a warning against perjury. The implication now was that any Catholic who voted for the Tories must be taking bribes, and would have to take the anti-bribery oath. Even the liberal Dr Kennedy of Killaloe called his clergy together to discuss how to defeat the Tories. Marcus Costello became Attorney General of Gibralter and disappeared from Irish politics.

            Sharman Crawford stood in the famous radical constituency of Rochdale in Lancashire and was returned. Sheil preferred to contest the borough of Dungarvan and was returned. He represented this borough until his death. Thomas Redington, a Galway Catholic, who had been returned for the borough of Dundalk in 1837, was re-elected there. Sir William Somerville from a leading Whig family was returned in Drogheda.  (His father had been an MP in Meath for many years.) Wyse was defeated in Waterford city but gained the seat on petition. More O'Ferrall was returned in Kildare. Richard Montesquieu Bellew was again returned in Louth. Two Tories, including Col. Bruen, were returned in Carlow. O'Connell was defeated by the Tories in Dublin, but Matthew Corbally, the Earl of Fingall's brother-in-law, stood aside in Meath to allow him to be elected there. The Tories took all four seats in Dublin city and county. Gavan Duffy gloomily observed that almost no Repealers were returned, and that O’Connell had only about a dozen followers in Parliament, including four members of his own family.

            When Parliament re-assembled on 19 August 1841 Melbourne was again defeated on an amendment to the queen’s speech, so the queen reluctantly sent for Peel. Peel had put together one of the most formidable cabinets ever assembled, which included seven past or future Prime Ministers, and five future Governors General of India (DNB). The Evening Packet noted that all but one of them had voted for Emancipation in 1829. Goulburn became Chancellor of the Exchequer, Stanley Minister for War and Colonies, Sir James Graham Home Secretary, and Wellington Minister without Portfolio. He was the only prominent Irishman in the cabinet. Though calling itself conservative, the Tory Party for the future was committed to social reform. Whereas, for the Whigs reform largely meant abolishing ancient restrictions and regulations in the direction of Free Trade, for the Tories reform meant bring regulations and controls up to date. Factory or Shop Acts regulating hours of work, conditions of work, and protection of the workers were now to be typical of the Tories. The Tory attitude towards works was paternal. Socialists were regarded as more extreme and more paternalistic Tories.

            As Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Peel appointed Earl de Grey, believing him to be of liberal cast of mind. de Grey married Henrietta Cole, a daughter of the Earl of Enniskillen, so he was sure to get much advice from the Orange party. As Irish Secretary Peel appointed Lord Eliot (later Lord Lieutenant as Earl of St German's) whose views were close to Peel's own. de Grey usually ignored him. Sugden returned as Lord Chancellor. Blackburne again became Attorney General, but after a year became Master of the Rolls on O’Loghlen's death. Edward Pennefather was appointed Solicitor General, but when Kendall Bushe retired from the post of Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench he was appointed to that post. Devonshire Jackson, a strong supporter of full biblical education, became Solicitor General. In his appointments, Peel had to take what he could get, bearing in mind that most of the Irish Tories detested him. Edward Lucas was appointed Under-secretary. The Law Offices changed hands frequently over the next few years. Peel retained such Catholics as could be persuaded to stay, and Anthony Blake remained as an irritant to the Orange faction. His Irish appointees were competent, but not outstanding. (Edward Pennefather’s nephew Richard was appointed Under-secretary in 1845.) The first sessions of Victoria’s second parliament ended on 7th October 1841, and sittings were not resumed until 3rd February 1842. [Top] 

Movements and Parties  

The Irish Whigs and Catholic Whigs were now one party. Until the rise of Parnell thirty years later, this was the party for most Catholics who wished to take an active part in public life. Most Irish Whigs were convinced of the benefits of the Union, but among their number were those like Archbishop Murray who would really have preferred a native Parliament, but knew such could not be attained without bloodshed. Frederick Conway in the Dublin Evening Post was then the great exponent of Irish Whiggery. This paper was never in its existence a Government paper. He had long since abandoned his enthusiasm for a repeal of the Act of Union. Lord Duncannon, Thomas Spring Rice, Sir William Somerville, the Marquis of Clanrickarde, the Marquis of Lansdowne, the Earl of Bessborough, Maziere Brady who was Chief Baron of the Exchequer and later Lord Chancellor, and Archbishop Whateley were the chief Irish Whigs. Sir Henry Parnell committed suicide in a fit of depression in 1842, and Sir John Newport died in 1843. Among the Catholic Whigs were Sheil, Wyse, Patrick and Richard Bellew, the Earl of Fingall, the O'Connor Don, Richard More O'Ferrall and Sir Thomas Redington. The Irish Whigs followed party policy on such matters as the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Dublin Evening Post and the Northern Whig were their organs. 

            In the 1840’s, several short-lived movements emerged and were added to the existing groups. The first was a more enthusiastic and dedicated body of Repealers, or Nationalists as they came to be called. They were also called Young Ireland. They contributed to the weekly newspaper, the Nation, which was published by Charles Gavan Duffy, later Sir Charles Gavan Duffy. The name ‘nationalists’ was derived from the Nation, and the political philosophy of that newspaper. Initially they worked with O'Connell and the old Repealers, but a split occurred over the issue whether it would be right to use violence in some circumstances. Another split occurred when some members of Young Ireland broke away to organize a revolution in 1848.

The second group was the clerical supporters of MacHale who wished to take an active part in politics, and in the 1840’s, openly and actively supported O'Connell and his son John. In conjunction with this, they carried on feuds with the Tories, with the followers of Archbishop Murray, and with Young Ireland. They were opposed primarily to Protestantism, and wanted Repeal so that the Catholic bishops could gain influence. They opposed the Government partly because it was Protestant, partly because it was foreign, and partly because the thought National Education might lead to indifferentism in religion, or to proselytism.

            A third strand of politics emerged in Ulster and that was Federalism. Its chief advocate was William Sharman Crawford. After the death of O'Connell in 1847, the failure of an attempted insurrection in 1848, and the retirement of Crawford in 1852, the Whigs and the Tories were again left in possession of the field. The former Repealers gathered themselves round the political clergy now led by Dr Paul Cullen and Archbishop MacHale, and tried to form a Catholic opposition party. (From these groups eventually emerged Nationalists and Republicans. These Nationalists were to advocate only constitutional means, accept the clergy into their ranks, and keep some role for the Crown. Republicans would advocate physical force, accept only a republic, and, as far as possible, keep the clergy out of their councils. This latter branch was to be largely supported among Irish emigrants in America.) [Top] 

Ireland on the Eve of the Famine 

The prospects for the Irish economy never seemed brighter than on the eve of the Great Famine. The census in 1841 gave a return for the population of 8,175,124, the highest figure ever reached. It is disputed whether the peak of the population was reached in the late Thirties or early Forties, for with the advent of steamships emigration was already substantial. Stagecoaches linked all the important towns. There was a well-developed and safe system of banking. Branches of banks had reached 165 by 1850. The new roads had extended commercial agriculture to most parts of Ireland. When railway construction began, Irish firms carried it out. Even heavy constructions of iron were manufactured in Ireland. Canals were well developed. Seaports had been improved, and imports and exports were booming. Every effort was made to discover minerals. Coal, copper, and lead were mined. The production of coal reached its peak in 1850 at 150,000 tons. The tanning of leather was another important industry, being one of the products of cattle-rearing. In every town, boots and shoes were made from the leather. Like many local industries, boot-manufacturing was in the future to decline when faced with imports from England. The same was to happen to the well-developed textile and clothing industries. Waterpower had been developed both in towns and in the countryside. The rivers flowing down the slopes of the hills outside Dublin and Belfast drove chains of waterwheels to power factories. In county Down these mills and factories extended up into the Mourne Mountains. Almost every town in the maritime counties had several small industries providing for local needs. Though there remained considerable tracts in the mountainous and boggy areas in the west and south where sub-division of land was still rife, and where subsistence agriculture prevailed, yet the inhabitants of those regions could obtain seasonal work in the more prosperous areas or in England. 

Proposals were being made to extend the Dublin to Kingstown Railway to Dalkey on the ‘atmospheric principle’. This involved stationary steam engines creating a vacuum in a pipe. Oddly enough, it worked in Ireland, though the principle failed elsewhere. There was then a revival of interest in the promotion of agricultural improvement. Like the Whigs, Peel saw the speed with which the Irish counties wrote to Dublin demanding money while making small effort to help themselves. He had no difficulty in allowing a Treasury loan to the Dublin to Drogheda Railway for that was a genuine investment promoted by local interests. Peter Purcell, the coaching contractor, and the Duke of Leinster, got together to revive the Farming Society. A new farming periodical, called the Farmers Gazette was started, and had a very long life.  Loan Fund Societies were being organized by the gentry and clergy all over Ireland to give loans to small traders or tradesmen in order to buy tools or stock. A Protestant clergyman named the Rev. William Hickey produced pamphlets on farming improvement and opened Ireland's first agricultural college. The National Board of Education was providing for instruction in horticulture in as many schools as possible. A School of Engineering was established in Trinity College, Dublin. The firm of James Pierce of Wexford commenced making horse-driven threshing machines. The first industrial exhibition in Ireland, largely connected with the linen industry was held in Belfast in 1849 and was attended by the queen.

Though not connected with economic improvement cultural societies were formed. In 1840, the Irish Archaeological Society was formed, and in 1845, the Celtic Society, which specialized in printing, books on Irish history. John O’Donovan was the leader in publishing Irish texts. His most famous publication was the Annals of the Four Masters published in four volumes from 1848 to 1851. This was a translation of the Annals of the kingdom of Ireland compiled by four learned Franciscan friars in the reign of Charles I. It is an invaluable source for studying Irish history. He added many footnotes from material that he had gathered when working for the Ordnance Survey. In 1851 a Society for the Preservation of the Music of Ireland was formed. In 1849 the Kildare Archaeological Society was formed. A chair of Irish had just been established in Trinity College as well. The courses were taught by a Protestant clergyman, and were intended to enable ordinands to preach in that language. Lectures in law for students at the King’s Inn were commenced. In 1845, gentlemen connected with the Kildare Hunt held a meeting at Punchestown over jumps. This meeting was to become the centre of racing under National Hunt Rules in Ireland. (Racing at the Curragh, the principal flat-racing course in Ireland had commenced in 1751.) 

The number of corporations in Irish towns was drastically reduced, and both the former corporate towns and other towns had to adopt the new legislation. Some towns adopted the Irish Towns Policing Act (1828) which provided a basic framework for urban government, and then the Towns Improvement Act (1854) which was the principal Act regarding the government of towns for the rest of the century. The Irish Municipal Corporations Act (1840) did not in itself provide a sufficient framework for town government. Additional powers would have to be obtained either by applying the 1828 Towns Act or getting special legislation passed. The Dublin Municipal Act (1850) to give the new Dublin Corporation more adequate powers was passed in 1850, the powers of the Paving Board, the Wide Streets Commissioners, the Grand Jury, and the water suppliers being transferred to it. The major defect of the 1840 Act, as eventually passed, was that various boards and commissions for particular purposes, like a Paving Board or a Fresh Water Board, or a Harbour Board, were not made subject to the new corporations. It should be noted too that the Liberties in Dublin also retained their old jurisdictions. Gas was still provided by private companies. Gas was first used for street lighting in Dublin in 1820, and twenty five years later four gas companies were supplying gas and street-lighting to much of the city within the Circular Road. One of these had laid twenty miles of gaspipes. (SNL 13 Dec 1843).

Belfast took steps to get itself included under the Irish Municipal Reform Act (1840), and then got a private Act for Improving the Borough of Belfast (1845) passed. Separately, it had two other Acts passed, one the Belfast Water Commissioners Act (1840) and the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Act  (1847) and under these three acts Belfast was governed even after it became a city (New Irish Jurist 8 May 1903). It had been governed from 1613 by a charter granted to Sir Arthur Chichester for the little settlement that grew up around the castle. The government of the town was to consist of a sovereign and twelve burgesses. These were directly under the control of Chichester’s successors. Following an Act in 1785, a Ballast Board was appointed to attend to the improvement of the harbour. The first Belfast Policing Act for was passed in 1800. It provided for lighting the streets in winter, repairing streets with stones and gravel, cleaning and sweeping the streets, and the provision of fire engines and appliances. The cost of the Act was greater than all the other costs put together. It did not provide for a watch or a water supply. Sewers were not thought of; all waste being collected at night. In 1816, a stipendiary magistrate was appointed and a watch. Then a police office with two cells for temporary confinement was provided, and a House of Correction. The Great Reform Act (1832) allowed a large number of the male citizens to vote. Long-term prisoners were kept in the county gaol at Carrickfergus the county town. By 1841, there were nine constables, each with his own station, and eighteen nightwatchmen. The local police lasted until 1864. A town hall was built in 1834 and the petty sessions court was held there (Belfast Weekly News 6 June 1901).

The development of local government in a new town like Belfast was totally different from that in a place like Dublin that was self-governing since the twelfth century. It was also different from that in a town like Newry, which was a liberty or lordship derived from the suppressed monastery.  It had received a charter similar to that of Belfast in 1613. It adopted the Towns Improvement Act (1828) as soon as it was passed. But the local lords, the Earls of Kilmorey, retained their manorial rights. The rights of the seneschal of the manor were challenged in two cases in 1847 and 1848, and virtually ended. All such local courts were finally abolished by the Probate Court Act (1859) (Canavan). The various Acts concerning the government of towns were permissive, not compulsory, and each local town adopted them as they saw fit. Naturally the results were rather haphazard. Also, as in Newry, particular individuals might have rights that were not extinguished.

            O'Connell's primary aim was to follow up the passing of the Irish Municipal Reform Act (1840) by evicting the Orange faction from the Dublin Corporation. Nothing indicates that he had any campaign for repeal in mind. Indeed nothing indicates that he had any practical campaign in mind. He was aging although in 1843 he was to show astonishing stamina. He had run out of ideas, and some of his younger followers found the incessant repetition of the same generalized speech on Irish scenery and natural resources tedious.  Though the Tories had taken both seats in Dublin in the General Election, they did rather badly in the direct elections to the new Corporation that were held in October 1842. Before these elections took place the Lord Lieutenant issued warrants for the establishment of special courts to revise the lists of burgesses qualified to vote. These revisions took place in October 1841. Whigs and Repealers did much better, and O'Connell was among those elected. Others elected were Peter Purcell, the coach operator, Isaac Butt, a barrister, and Michael Staunton a newspaper proprietor. The Corporation then elected O’Connell the first Catholic Lord Mayor of Dublin for centuries. Instead of taking the office out of the sphere of religion, O'Connell insisted on attending High Mass in his robes because the Protestant Lord Mayors had always attended a religious service in their robes of office. He then had several long-serving officers of the Corporation dismissed because of their political attitudes. (But he retained in the Repeal Association on paid salaries several old helpers who were no longer capable of doing anything.) Sugden, the Lord Chancellor, as was customary, made him a magistrate, along with six other Catholics. Archbishop Murray and Archbishop Crolly attended de Grey’s first levee in November 1841, as did O’Connell in his official capacity as Lord Mayor of Dublin. [Top] 

Peel’s Programme 

[1842] Peel had no personal programme with regard to Ireland, and when Parliament commenced on 3rd February 1842 carried on the programme of the Whigs (DEP 28 June 1842). This parliament lasted quite a long time, almost six years, the next General Election being held in July 1847, with the Whig Lord John Russell succeeding Peel as Prime Minister in July 1846. There were seven sessions of Parliament, with an average length of around 18 weeks. Peel had taken no action during the short session of 1841 that lasted less than six weeks. In the spring of 1842, William Henry Gregory, grandson of William Gregory, defeated the Whig Lord Morpeth in a by-election in Dublin. Though elected with High Tory support he backed Peel. An Arterial Drainage Act (1842) and an Irish Fisheries Act (1842) which the Whigs had been mulling over were passed. This Act concerned fishing in inland waters and estuaries. These were choked with various devices and traps, and mill weirs, the rights for which often dated from medieval times. With water transport growing more important as the economy grew it was felt necessary to restrict or remove obstacles to navigation. Cloncurry considered that the Drainage Act, if carried out, would be of the utmost benefit to Ireland. Like most such Acts, it was permissive, giving powers to carry out large-scale drainage schemes. Railway Acts were of a similar character. In general, Peel lowered tariffs to promote trade and made adjustment’s to Huskisson’s ‘Sliding Scale’ itself part of the Corn Laws which fixed the point at which imports of corn were allowed. To compensate for a temporary shortfall on income he re-imposed Pitt's income tax. Ireland was exempted from this latter. The Tory Party was strongly in favour of protection of agriculture, while some of the Whigs wished to see the Corn Laws abolished altogether. Nevertheless, American corn growers were now able to make a profit selling in Britain even after paying duty of eight shillings and four pence a quarter. The Corn Laws, it was commented in the papers, were causing wheat and oats to be grown on unsuitable land at high cost, resulting in high prices in the shops, and thus an unnecessary burden on the poor. An Act which was to have widespread and long-lasting effects was the Tenement Act (1842). This was the Act which produced the definitive valuation of the Poor Law Unions. Taxation by the standards of the time was rising quite steeply, so in the interest of fairness it was necessary to apply taxation to as many kinds of income-producing property as possible.

Blackburne made attempts to collect the arrears of tithes owed to the Government, and newspaper editors were indicted for 'seditious libel'. On this occasion, a young Catholic editor of the Belfast Vindicator, Charles Gavan Duffy, was charged with 'wickedly and maliciously contriving to bring the administration of justice into contempt'. Duffy had stated as fact what was his personal opinion that the Attorney General and the sheriffs were conspiring to pervert the courts. He was found guilty. As the new Lord Chief Justice observed, he was criticizing the verdicts of juries. He himself (Pennefather) might have doubts about some verdicts of juries but he had to accept them (Pilot 22 June 1842). Nor was Duffy the only Irish nationalist to confuse passionate personal conviction with proven fact. As was becoming frequent in Connaught food for the poor became scarce. In June 1842 there were reports of scarcity of food in Mayo. The earliest potatoes would not be dug until July. MacHale wrote to both de Grey and Peel demanding that the Government intervene. Both replied that efforts should be made locally. This would have involved MacHale coming to terms with the Protestant landowners and clergy and working with them, something he would never do.

            Parliament rose on 12 August 1842. Sir Michael O’Loghlen died on 28 September 1842 universally mourned. When O’Connell’s year of office as Lord Mayor was finished in November he ceased to be a magistrate. No longer were commissions of the peace given for the lifetime of the sovereign. [Top] 

The Repeal Association and Federalism 

On 25 March 1842 O'Connell wound up the Loyal National Repeal Association and founded another Repeal Association, the funds of the old being transferred to the new. (On an earlier occasion, he had similarly changed Associations to exclude a certain speaker who suddenly found that he had not paid his subscription to the new association!) The income of the old Association had been £8567 in 1841. The immediate objectives envisaged for the new association were the abolition of tithes and the obtaining of fixity of tenure for small farmers. This latter was the latest fashionable cause, and had just been enunciated by William Ford. The idea was that if a tenant were given a long lease, with right of renewal, he would be encouraged to improve his holding. This view was opposed by the improving landlord, Mr. Naper of Lough Crew, co. Meath, who maintained that tenants on long secure leases were, in his experience, those least willing to improve. But from 1842, onwards every nationalist movement had to include an obligatory programme designed to enlist the sympathies of the small farmers. (The same phenomenon observed by Mr. Naper was observed on a larger scale much later after the Land Acts. When the tenant farmers no longer had any rent to pay, they worked less. The same was observed in factories in England where it was found that increasing wages reduced output, the workers preferring to take increased leisure instead. But for a long time it was held in nationalist circles that landlordism was the great evil in Ireland, and giving rights to the peasants would cure all evils.)

The O’Connell faction was still led by him, but he was now ageing rapidly and the leadership of his faction passed into the hands of his son John O'Connell. Others in this faction were O'Neill Daunt, who had once been his personal secretary, Dr. John Grey, a very young man who now owned the Freeman's Journal, Richard Barrett, editor of The Pilot, and Thomas Matthew Ray the secretary of O'Connell's various Associations. O'Connell had found him in the Trades Political Union. Fund raising, i.e. the Rent, or O'Connell Tribute, was managed by Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick who was allowed to keep a proportion of the takings. Fitzpatrick's father had done much for the old Catholic Committee, but it is doubtful if he was ever paid. The accounts of the Repeal Association were published in April 1842, and all expenditures were accounted for.

The clerical supporters of MacHale supported O'Connell but sought primarily the due influence of Catholic bishops. Besides MacHale, the leading bishops in this grouping were Dr William Higgins of Ardagh, Dr John Cantwell of Meath, and Dr Michael Blake of Dromore. They were soon to emerge as strong opponents of Young Ireland, while MacHale refused even to consider Federalism.  

As the Repeal movement grew, Sharman Crawford’s Federalists concentrated their efforts on securing a middle way between Repealers and Unionists. In this way, they hoped to more easily reach their other aims such as Tenant Right and liberal reform. In July 1840, Crawford began a Constitutional Association. Its aims were to secure parliamentary reforms similar to those advocated by the Chartists, and to obtain a federal constitution for the United Kingdom, with a subordinate Parliament in Dublin to deal more ably and expeditiously with Irish affairs. Under such a constitution there would be an Imperial Parliament such as then existed, but in addition there would be a subordinate Parliament to deal with Irish needs.

Crawford outlined the arguments for Federalism. Firstly, it was not possible to return to 1782, for conditions had changed too much. Secondly, a system of two independent Parliaments under the crown would deprive Ireland of all influence in Westminster and the monarch would always listen to the most important Parliament. Thirdly, a campaign for full Repeal was only antagonizing formerly sympathetic British Members whose support was essential to get pressing reforms passed. Fourthly, a Parliament of only Irish members would soon institutionalize sectarianism in education. Fifthly, a mere moral crusade would never achieve anything, and O'Connell knew it. When the Repeal campaign inevitably fails will the Repealers fight, and if not are they deluding the Americans from whom they were collecting money? O’Connell should stop humbugging the people of Ireland (DEP 16 Oct 1841, Pilot 18 Oct 1841). O'Connell was attracted to the idea for a time, but Young Ireland felt that if such an idea was accepted there would be no room for their own vision. Like Isaac Butt, another Protestant thirty years later, Crawford saw a federal parliament for Ireland as a means of reconciling all the factions in Ireland. But unlike Butt, violent extremists never hijacked his movement.

            Crawford saw as suitable matters for a legislature in Ireland  education, relations between landlords and tenants, drainage and land reclamation, the construction of railways, and so on. He assumed that these matters would be more easily dealt with in a Parliament composed solely of Irishmen. But in practice in Westminster, few except Irish MPs attended debates on Irish domestic matters, so it is hard to see what practical difference the change would make. Indeed, in the eighteenth and the twentieth century the most important economic weapon of 'patriotic' Parliaments was the use of tariffs against British goods until twice they were abandoned as doing more harm than good. Crawford seems not to have considered the point.

            Crawford had once gone to speak at one of O'Connell's meetings in Dublin. With incredible shortsightedness O'Connell began to banter him, and the episode was noted as a warning in all the Protestant newspapers, both Whig and Tory.  Crawford himself bitterly resented the slight, and from 1840 onwards heaped scorn on O'Connell's ideas for Repeal and said openly the he was merely 'humbugging' the Irish people. Dr. Kennedy, the Catholic bishop of Killaloe, one of Archbishop Murray’s strongest supporters, wrote to O’Connell (10 March 1843) putting the case for Federalism. He began by congratulating O’Connell on accepting the principle of Federalism. He pointed out that accepting a subordinate Parliament would avoid the disheartening difficulties that resulted from the present campaign. Firstly, it would not bring the total opposition of the rest of the United Kingdom as the present campaign was doing. And the appalling danger of a sanguinary and devastating civil war would be avoided. ‘It is true that a dependent parliament would not be either so valuable or so flattering to our national pride as an independent one, but it would be a vast improvement on our present wretched condition, while the struggle for its attainment will be far more hopeful and infinitely less dangerous’ (DEP 14 March 1843). [Top] 

Young Ireland and The Nation  

Young Ireland grew up around some young writers who in 1842 founded a newspaper called the Nation. This was not a name they applied to themselves but others called them that on analogy with 'Young England' or 'Young Italy'. The prime mover behind this magazine was Charles Gavan Duffy, until recently editor of the Belfast Vindicator. He was a young Catholic from Monaghan, born in 1816. He had learned journalism on Michael Staunton’s Morning Register in Dublin. Under Staunton, that newspaper was worthy but dull. Duffy felt that something more lively, idealistic, and in tune with modern 'nationalistic' views was required. He was joined by Thomas Davis, a young Protestant writer from Cork, the son of a military officer, and John Blake Dillon, a Connaughtman of rather Benthamite outlook who looked to nationalism to rid Ireland of abuses. These young men believed above all in moral uplift. They expected personal and public probity, honesty, sobriety, and truthfulness from everyone. Others who assisted them were James Clarence Mangan, a drug-addict who was an excellent poet, O'Neill Daunt, and John Cornelius O'Callaghan. In their names, the first edition of the Nation appeared in October 1842. Other writers who came later were Thomas MacNevin, Michael Joseph Barry, and Denis Florence MacCarthy. These worked together on the Nation and knew each other well. They were to form a kind of inner clique in Young Ireland from which latecomers like Meagher or McGee felt excluded.

            When the paper first appeared on 15th October 1842 it was an instant success. It was a weekly tabloid written in a sprightly style. Ten thousand copies were run off and sold. All over Ireland illiterate men gathered to hear the paper read to them, though one may doubt if they understood what was being said, or even if the writers themselves understood half of what they were writing. It is worthwhile, after a century and a half, analysing the doctrines of Young Ireland in a wider European context. It called for a national party to unite all those who had not private vested interests in maintaining the old system of Whiggism and Toryism. ‘Out of the contempt for mere party politics will naturally grow a desire to throw aside small and temporary remedies – to refuse to listen any longer to those who would plaster a cut finger or burn an old wart and call this doctoring the body politic – and to combine for great and permanent changes… For this national party in Ireland we believe it indispensable to its usefulness to claim, now and always, the right to stand at the head of all the combined movements of reformers in this country’ (From the editorial of the first issue of The Nation 15 October 1842). As an example of the romantic historical poetry we may quote the following:

I walked entranced

Through a land of morn;

The sun with wondrous excess of light

Shone down and glanced

Over seas of corn

And lustrous gardens aleft and right

Even in the clime

Of resplendent Spain

Beams no such sun upon such a land;

But ‘twas in the time

‘Twas in the reign

Of Cahal Mor of the wine-red hand (Nation 18 July 1846).

            Generations of Irish schoolchildren were to learn that poem. Cathal Crove Derg O’Connor was an Irish chief who fought sometimes against the Normans and sometimes with them depending on his own self-interest. But the poets of the Nation were not interested in brutal facts of history, but in romantic imagery.

They were caught up in the spirit of Romantic Nationalism. This had been developed in Germany under the influence of Romanticism, and as reaction to the occupation of Germany by Napoleon's troops and to the spread of French culture. Romanticism itself was a reaction to the rationalism and order of the Enlightenment. In place of reason it exalted emotion; in place of orderliness it stressed freedom, both personal freedom and freedom of nations. It expressed itself in poetry rather than in prose. It looked to nature, especially the wildest places in nature, rather than to art. (The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Slieve League in co. Donegal was mentioned.) Romanticism was already to be found in Irish literature in the poetry of Thomas Moore, but the present wave of political Romanticism or Romantic Nationalism, came to Ireland through France. Duffy notes about a visit to Darrynane, O'Connell's home in Kerry: 'We were all young and all nationalists, and our course lay through some of the finest scenery and most memorable places in Ireland'. Again, Duffy notes that O'Connell had appealed to the material interests of the people, but 'Passion and imagination have won victories which reason and self-interest would have attempted in vain'. And again, 'The new school of historical literature in France, and the daring politics of the Opposition under Louis Philippe, were made texts for lessons of hope and self-reliance from time to time' (Duffy). Davis believed that measures for material improvement introduced by the Whigs threatened 'to corrupt the lower classes, who are still faithful and romantic'. A military struggle was not an essential part of nationalism, but Davis especially had little confidence in a purely moral crusade (ibid.)

            But there were several other factors involved in Romantic political theory. One was the notion of the 'nation' or the 'race', though the relationship between these was not decided. A race was a distinctive set of people, distinguished in practice by their language. Thus, there was a Teutonic race, an Anglo-Saxon race, a Latin race, and a Celtic race. A nation was a smaller grouping of these. There could be various Celtic or Teutonic nations. It was assumed that these were obvious. A nation was composed of a distinct Volk or people, and each people had its own distinct Geist or Esprit or Spirit. This Spirit had to be manifested in laws that flowed from the Spirit. This is patently derived from Baron de Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois - The Spirit of the Laws, published in 1748. The German philosopher, Georg Hegel, taught that each Geist could only develop properly if the Volk had its own State or Reich. Otherwise, it could not be free.

There was another stream of Romanticism mixed in with the others and it was derived from Jean Jacques Rousseau's theories of a primitive happy state. In Ireland, this state was envisaged before the coming of the invader. The eviction of the invader would therefore remove all evils, economic and moral, and restore the primitive happy state. (Similar theories are to be found in the contemporary Karl Marx. Also consider the influence on Hitler’s believe that a single Volk i.e. all German-speakers in Central Europe should belong to one Reich and the belief that removing the Jews would restore the German spirit.) Education was to form an essential tool for nationalism. All Irish children were to be educated together in nationalism, and Young Ireland would provide the books. These proposals almost immediately brought them into conflict with MacHale's group of bishops who believed strongly that only Catholic bishops and priests could provide suitable reading for the young. (Archbishop Whateley’s views were no different.)

            One may question how much of this was understood and appreciated by the ordinary reader, or how much it was just pandering to xenophobia and populism and making it sound respectable. Or how much it was pandering to a desire for violence and making it too sound respectable. The writers of the Nation were very highly-principled and motivated individuals and it did not occur to them that others might act from baser motives while justifying their actions with rhetoric developed by Young Ireland. Nor did it occur to them that the Whiteboys and Ribbonmen might become their most ardent disciples, as they had been of Wolfe Tone. Nor did it occur to them that possibly more Protestants would embrace their cause if some material advantages to themselves could be demonstrated.

            This lengthy description of the theories of the Young Irelanders is necessary, not because of their influence at that period, which Duffy and Davis wildly exaggerated, but because they were eventually to provide the philosophy, or perhaps sophistry, on which a modern Irish independent state was formed and Ireland partitioned. For their success depended on the vast bulk Irishmen, Catholic and Protestant, accepting the theories they proposed. Otherwise, objectors would have to be coerced, a point they perhaps did not consider sufficiently.

            The writers for the Nation failed to notice all those they were not reaching. O'Connell, his son John, and the bishops distrusted its tone. Sales of the Pilot, now more than ever the organ of O'Connell and his episcopal associates, did not fall off. Nor did the sales of the pro-Whig Dublin Evening Post which had become the organ of Archbishop Murray’s supporters. The Northern Whig steadfastly opposed Repeal. Above all, there was no diminution in the sales of the Irish Tory papers like the Evening Mail and Evening Packet. The Nation claimed a weekly circulation of 10,000 but the High Tory weekly, the Warder had over 7,000 though Catholics outnumbered Protestants by at least 3 to 1. The London Morning Chronicle expressed an opinion that many would see as accurate: 'Young Ireland writes very sonorous verse and invents history with entertaining facility'. To succeed, Young Ireland would have to persuade the vast majority of the Irish people in the national interest to cast aside their critical faculties and swallow romantic poetry as fact. But at an early date, Bishop Higgins forbade the Catholics in his diocese to read the Nation. [Top] 

The Fallacies of the Repeal Policy          

The logical argument for maintaining the Union and against nationalism was put strongly by Conway later in the decade. He contended that the nationalism being advocated was mere provincialism. There was no clear distinction between British and Irish cultures, in language, literature, institutions, or even between the peoples. Between Britain and Ireland there simply were not the differences such as were to be found between Dutch and Belgians, or Spanish and Portuguese. Indeed, there was a certain absurdity in advocating Irish nationalism by writing in the English language and using English poets as models. The supposed special Spirit national of Ireland was largely synthetic.

             He then dealt with what he called the Repealers' fallacies. The first of these was the fallacy of the absentee landlord - that estates would be better managed if landlords lived on them. But actual observation showed that there was no connection between good estate management and the residence of the owner. Nor did the simple transfer of cash in the form of rents injure the Irish economy as the mercantilists maintained. The second fallacy was that of Protectionism. Keeping out English goods meant that the Irish had to pay more for worse goods. It was possible, but hardly reasonable, to exclude French wines and grow grapes under glass in Ireland. On the other hand, Irish manufacturers had full access to all the markets in Britain and the British colonies, and gained these benefits while paying lower taxes than the British. The third fallacy was that during the Famine Irish lives were deliberately sacrificed to increase British profits by keeping up the price of corn. On the contrary, keeping up the price of corn attracted food into the country from outside. The fourth fallacy was that if the Government had spent money on railways more lives would have been saved. The money thus spent would have gone to places which were not too badly affected by the Famine. The fifth fallacy was that a native Irish Parliament would provide a remedy for Ireland's ills. On the contrary, it was more likely to make matters worse by acting on the fallacies just outlined. The sixth fallacy was that Ireland had abundant national resources that were being neglected. Actually, Ireland was rather deficient in natural resources. Investment for purely patriotic reasons was not likely to be profitable. The seventh fallacy was that of 'Ireland for the Irish'. Britain could act on that and send all Irishmen working in England back home. The eight fallacy was the 'Non-exportation' fallacy, that Ireland should keep her food at home to feed the Irish. This would result in no imports with the result that the Irish poor would have to buy badly-manufactured or produced objects at dearer prices. The ninth fallacy was that of two independent Parliaments linked only through the crown. Conway maintained that it had worked during Grattan's Parliament, because of wholesale bribery on the part of the crown. The tenth fallacy was that Acts of Parliament were a substitute for hard work. (DEP Oct 1847).

Most of the arguments are, of course, arguments for Free Trade against Protectionism. But on the other hand, most of the practical arguments for Repeal were Protectionist ones. Various books were being produced, in accordance with the political predilections of the authors, showing either that Ireland benefited by the Union or did not. It was a question of picking your statistics. Yet, Dr Michael Blake, in the General Election of 1841, supporting the Whigs and Repealers against the Tories, said they would get ‘cheap bread, cheap sugar, cheap and better timber, free trade, manufactures encouraged, rackrents reduced to a proper standard, wages more sure to the poor man because the small farmer will be better able to afford them, a better and more friendly understanding will be established between landlord and tenant, and those agrarian cruelties, which chill the blood with horror, will, it is hoped, entirely cease in this Christian land (DEP 29 June 1841). He obviously knew as little about the basic laws of economics as O’Connell, MacHale, or the Young Ireland leaders.

            [1843] O'Connell did not show any urgency to start a Repeal campaign in 1843. In his annual New Year's Letter to the People of Ireland (Pilot 6 Jan 1843), he promised that a native Parliament would extinguish tithes, give fixity of tenure, and protect native manufactures. This was followed by another letter in which he reviewed the British disaster in Afghanistan, the unprofitable treaty in China, and the envisaged shortfall in the revenue, and considered that this would make 1843 the Repeal Year. He then sailed to England to take part in the anti-Corn Law agitation. Far from proclaiming 1843 'the Repeal Year' as is often stated, he showed slight awareness of the events that were about to happen. Duffy is doubtless right in his contention that it was his young helpers from the staff of the Nation who generated the enthusiasm and organized the events. But they knew that without O'Connell they could not succeed. [Top] 

Repeal Year 1843         

The first major episode was a debate on Repeal in Dublin Corporation which began on the 28 February 1843 and which lasted three days on a motion for Repeal of the Act of Union. The Lord Mayor, now Alderman Roe, a Whig, deplored bringing political motions into their chamber but nevertheless permitted the debate. The Repealers obtained valuable publicity, especially when the Corporation voted for Repeal. This was merely a publicity coup, for had Repeal, as such, been an election issue there is little doubt that the Tories would have won, but it provided valuable publicity nonetheless.

            The next item on the agenda was a 'monster meeting for Repeal' to be held in Trim, co. Meath on 19th March, a Sunday. The Repealers announced an attendance of 30,000 so we can assume that a crowd of several thousand was present. This was good but not outstanding. It was probably also much smaller than a quite average Orange meeting in Ulster. On the 30 March 1843, the first stone of a building to be called 'Conciliation Hall' was laid. Duffy states that the movement had outgrown the Corn Exchange that O'Connell had used as his headquarters for over fifteen years. But it is also possible that the corn merchants who owned the Exchange and used it for their regular business no longer wished to lease to O'Connell. Fortunately for O’Connell, the Rent was now flowing in so that it was possible to plan a new building. From £60 a week in October 1842, it had grown to £239 in the first week in March, and £683 in the first week in May.

            More and more people either joined the Repeal Association or expressed support for it. Dr Higgins of Ardagh stated that all the Irish Catholic bishops were now ardent Repealers. This was overstating the case. It is probably true that they all supported Repeal, or Federalism, if it could be obtained without bloodshed. Archbishop Murray made it clear that he was taking no active part in politics. Only a small number of the bishops actually took an active part in the agitation. These included Higgins of Ardagh and Cantwell of Meath but many priests took an active if less public part, for example, by helping to organize local meetings. A few Ulster Protestants, including John Mitchel from Newry, joined the Association.

Saunder's Newsletter, in August, published a list of the meetings that O'Connell had attended in person by that date, and gave the reported attendances at Repeal meetings. They numbered 32 in all, and were scattered all over Ireland. There were meetings at Dundalk and Carrickmacross on the borders of Ulster, in Skibbereen in the far south of Cork, in co. Dublin, and in co. Sligo, besides numerous places in between.

            The first really big meeting was in Limerick on the 19 April when it was announced that 120,000 people were present. It was followed by one in Kells, co. Meath, with 150,000, and another in Carrickmacross also with 150,000. Charleville, co. Cork, claimed 200,000 while Cork city claimed 500,000. The great meeting at Tara, the reputed site of the palaces of the High Kings of Ireland, on the 15 August, Lady Day, generally observed as a holiday, was asserted to have amounted to a million people.

            A writer for the Northern Whig attended one of the monster meetings and said that in his opinions the meetings were indeed very large, perhaps amounting to 50,000. Most people attending could not hear the speeches, nor did no even bother to listen. They were there either to express general sympathy with the cause or to see what was happening. It should be remembered that before the Repeal of the Corn Laws not much hay was made in Ireland. There was consequently little work to be done on the farms between the spring sowing and the harvest.

            The Rent continued to soar. In mid-May it was £696, but by the end of May £2,205. The first week in June produced £904, but the third week over £3,000, the highest figure for the period. Friends and foes watched the weekly figures like a barometer. By the middle of August, the figure was down to £913.

            The anxiety of Orange faction was increasing as the Evening Packet reported:

            ‘From east to west and from north to south the utmost anxiety prevails among the loyal and attached friends of the Church and the throne for their own safety and the preservation of the peace of the country which are menaced and endangered by the agitation for a repeal of the legislative union’. The Evening Mail added that all Protestant periodicals were calling on Peel to 'do something'. Conway, in the Post observed that the officials in Dublin Castle were in a constant state of alarm because of the reports they were receiving from the country areas. No obvious attempts were made by the Orange Order or other bodies to organize themselves or to collect a Protestant Rent. Perhaps they thought that in case of civil disturbance the Irish Tory Government would be forced to call out the yeomanry. They took comfort from the fact that if the Government called for their assistance, there were 150,000 Protestants ready to fight.

            Neither Peel, nor at first the Irish Government, were disposed to take the agitation too seriously. But they played into the agitators’ hands when the time came round to renew the mailcoach contracts. Ireland's leading coach-operator, Peter Purcell, tendered for his usual contracts, but a Scottish contractor named Croal tendered lower, and was awarded the contract. Purcell maintained that he was intending to use inferior coaches, which may or may not have been true. But O'Connell and the Repealers were able to use the contract to show the way Irish jobs were being taken by foreigners.

            On the 9 May, Peel told the Commons that he was authorized by the queen to say that every necessary step needed to preserve the Union would be taken. With regard to the monster meetings, he directed the Lord Lieutenant to 'take any affidavits offered by respectable and trustworthy persons that a danger to the peace was apprehended'. The Government was to await and not to seek out such affidavits. The local magistrates would forward such affidavits to the Lord Lieutenant who would take appropriate action. No affidavits were received. Some magistrates who advocated Repeal were removed from the magistracy, the Government maintaining that there was a precedent in the removal of some Orangemen who were too vocal politically. Some other magistrates like William Smith O'Brien and Lord Cloncurry resigned their commissions of the peace in protest. Lord Eliot was authorized to introduce an Arms Registration Bill and this was passed.

            Some military preparations were made, but the numbers of troops in Ireland remained low. In 1815, there had been 36,000 troops in Ireland and barrack accommodation was still provided for that number. By 1822, there were 21,000 troops, and by 1830, there were 16,000. In 1843, there were 21,000 soldiers and 9,000 policemen. There were 42 regimental depots in Ireland for recruiting purposes. As one regiment was sent overseas another was brought back to the British Isles to build up its strength. Later as agrarian crime increased and there was increasing talk of armed rebellion the strength of the armed forces was built up reaching 50,000 in 1848. 'War steamers' were dispatched to the western coasts, and their smoke smudged the sky for no very clear reason (DEP).

            In October, de Grey determined to ban a monster meeting to be held at Clontarf. He travelled to England to consult Peel who was on holiday and presumably, he was authorized to act if he felt it necessary. Neither Peel nor Lord Eliot thought action was necessary. Wales had become very disturbed during September 1843 and O'Connell was able to contrast the peaceful situation in Ireland. There had been Chartist riots in Newport in Wales in 1839, but the present riots, known as the 'Rebecca Riots' were concerned with destroying tollbooths and tollgates.

            Some of the organizers of the proposed meeting at Clontarf had advised the people to come in 'military array'. This was afterwards said to mean only marching in regular formation but unarmed, but there was a fundamental ambiguity with regard to the use of force in all the mass meetings. Davis felt strongly that there was little point in demonstrations of force if you did not intend using it. But in this he slipped into precisely the same blunder as Wolfe Tone: the people against whom the force was to be used were other Irishmen. At the very last moment de Grey proclaimed the meeting and issued 50 rounds of ammunition to each member of to the armed forces.  The Post queried under what Act the proclamation was issued seeing that Peel had refused to introduce a Coercion Act. O'Connell averted a possible bloodbath by sending out men on horseback along all the approach roads to turn back the people, and the Post commented on the ineptitude of the Government which had left the proclamation to the last possible minute.

            O'Connell had to explain his conduct at the next meeting of the Repeal Association and his explanation was accepted. But many of the Young Ireland party considered that he had acted wrongly in backing down and that he should have resisted. Looking back on O'Connell's career it is obvious that he always intended that force would never be used in any circumstances. But many of his hearers went through the summer believing that though he would never be the first to resort to violence yet that he was prepared to fight if attacked.

            Dr Higgins expected the Government to try to disperse the meetings by sending in the dragoons: Speaking at the meeting in Mullingar on 14th May he said,

            ‘If they attempt, my friends, to rob us of the daylight, which is, I believe, common to us all, and prevent us from assembling in the open fields, we will retire to our chapels, and we will suspend all other instruction in order to devote all our time to be Repealers in spite of them…if they bring us for that to the scaffold, in dying for the cause of our country we will bequeath our wrongs to our successors’ (DEP 16 May 1843). One observer claimed that the extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide were spoiling for a fight, but Duffy denied this. As far as the leadership of Young Ireland went this was probably correct. But as far as the rank and file of the movement was concerned, there were probably very many that wanted a straightforward fight against the Government and Orangemen combined.

            There was a traditional ballad called the Shan Van Vocht (the Poor Old Woman or Mother Ireland) to which balladeers added relevant contemporary verses. One verse catches O'Connell's mood exactly.

            Victoria is our pride,

            Says the Shan Van Vocht

            Who would then bewail

            With the British queen to sail

            Under the banner of Repeal

            Says the Shan Van Vocht? 

Note the pronunciation of Repeal. But there was another version: 

            Where will the coaches run?

            Says the Shan Van Vocht.

            Through Limerick and Clare,

            On the Curragh of Kildare,

            Oh! that I'll bar, I swear,

            Says the Shan Van Vocht. 

The allusion in the last line was to the stopping of the daily mailcoaches that was to be the signal for the general rising in 1798. Duffy maintains that verses like these were manufactured by the Government to discredit the Repeal movement, but on the other hand, he says that he and all his associates had assumed that O'Connell would fight if attacked. He quoted his words at Mallow, the so-called 'Mallow Defiance':

            ‘Do you know I have never felt such a loathing for speechifying as I do at present? The time is coming when we must be doing. . . We will violate no law, we will assail no enemy; but you are much mistaken if you think that others will not assail you. (A voice - We are ready to meet them.) To be sure you are. Do you think I suppose you to be cowards or fools?’ (Duffy).

            Almost every observer considered that O’Connell  was on a deliberate collision course with the Government, hoping to provoke a conflict. Each side of course expected to win in the ensuing conflict. Dr Higgins was fully prepared to be attacked, but considered his flock, led by the priests would be slaughtered, and so become martyrs. Archbishop Murray regarded as foolish this whipping up of expectations that could only be realized through bloodshed. Duffy himself complained that if O'Connell had never intended fighting, as manifestly he did not, he should have made that absolutely clear from the start. The monster meetings would have been smaller but his constitutional protests would have been taken more seriously. O'Connell never actually said he would use force; he just let others put that construction on his words if they wanted to. It is reasonable to assume that as the meetings progressed and expectations rose he was like a man riding on a tiger whose chief preoccupation was how to alight safely. Peel, who knew O’Connell of old was unimpressed, and doubtless had a very good idea of the actual size of the meetings, and was prepared to let the movement blow itself out. He knew that O’Connell would find a way of retreating gracefully. But de Grey, probably urged on by the Home Secretary Sir James Graham, a man of notably adversarial character, decided to suppress the meetings by proclamation.

As always, the sincerity of O'Connell's beliefs must be questioned. The Government in the end came to the rescue, if not of his campaign, at least of his reputation. It indicted him and various others on charges of conspiring to disturb the peace. This moved the campaign into the courts where O'Connell was at home, and where the verdict could turn, as it eventually did, on technicalities. The trial, the imprisonment, and the appeal kept up the Repeal agitation for another two years, and the Rent poured in. However it would appear that about December 1843 O’Connell suffered a massive stroke. The extent of this was not recognized until a post mortem was performed after his death. But it is noteworthy that the spark had gone from him, and he was buffeted about by forces he was no longer able to control.

            Because of the mistaken analysis of Young Ireland, people like Duffy believed that O'Connell should have resisted. All Ireland, in their opinion, was ready to back him. The Irish soldiers in the army would not fire, nor would the Ulster Presbyterians back the Government. (In 1798 the attempted rebellion was put down largely by the Irish Catholic soldiers in the militia regiments in particular the Monaghan militia. But perhaps, even in Duffy’s day that fact was being suppressed.) The Orange party, on the other hand, felt that the hour was ripe to crush this entire disturbance. The Government had plenty of troops, horses, and field guns. If more were needed, there were 150,000 Orangemen trained in the yeomanry.

            More prominent people joined the Repeal Association, including William Smith O'Brien and the Catholic Archbishop Michael Slattery of Cashel. [Top] 

The Tory Legislation      

Parliament had resumed its sessions on 2nd February 1843. Peel had no particular programme for Ireland, and debate in Parliament was centred on the growing question of the repeal of the Corn Laws. O’Connell went to Westminster to participate in the debate. The main debate regarding Ireland was over a private member’s bill to regulate medical charities in Ireland. In Ireland at the time there was a total of 774 institutions for the gratuitous relief of the sick poor, 41 infirmaries, 88 fever hospitals, 626 dispensaries, 11 lunatic asylums and nine diverse institutions in Dublin supported by parliamentary grants. The others were charges on the counties and towns. In addition a sum of £200,000 was collected for the relief of the sick. The annual expenditure on the infirmaries was £45,000 of which £2887 was from private subscriptions, £3,172 from parliamentary grants, and the remainder from Grand Jury assessments. For fever hospitals, the annual cost was £27,000 of which £7,168 was from private subscriptions and the rest from the county rate. The cost of the dispensaries was £73,100 of which £34,727 was from subscriptions and the rest from the rates. The proposer of the Bill contended that this money was not well spent, but with some reorganisation could be better spread out across the country (SNL 9 Feb 1843). Lord Eliot concurred and said that the proposed Bill closely resembled one he had attempted to introduce, but there had been much opposition to it from magistrates and the legal profession. The Bill failed in committee, it being felt better not to proceed with it during the excitement caused by the Repeal movement. Eliot had also come to the conclusion that the Bill could not achieve its intended aims. The Government itself finally passed a Medical Charities Act (1850) and a Dispensaries Act (1851) to deal with some of the points raised. In the latter year, dispensary districts as opposed to local dispensaries were established covering the whole country. It should be noted that there was one public infirmary in each county where the destitute were treated free. The rich were attended to in their own homes. The poor mostly relied on the apothecaries, and where they existed on the dispensaries. These dispensaries were established by volunteers, and though they received aid from the county, were at times supervised by persons with no medical qualifications.

Lord Eliot’s Arms Act (1843), though bitterly contested was eventually passed. It required the registration of firearms and placed restrictions on the manufacture and importation of arms and ammunition. In the Commons he and Peel defended the system of National Education. On the 4th July 1843 William Smith O’Brien, seconded by Thomas Wyse, moved for a Parliamentary Committee to consider the state of Ireland. The motion led to a general debate in which the Government spokesmen defended their record. Lord Elliot noted that in the previous session the Government had introduced 23 measures of benefit to Ireland. The motion was defeated. The Irish Presbyterians Marriage Bill (1843) legalizing marriages by Presbyterian ministers was passed. Sharman Crawford introduced a Landlord and Tenant Bill that got little support. He noted that if a tenant made improvements his rent was raised when his lease expired, leases being of 21 or 31 years. Also, especially in the western counties there was an abundance of land that could be improved with slight outlay. Peel sympathized with his aims, but could not agree with the means he proposed (DEP 12 Aug. 1843). To avoid having to collect excessively small sums for the Grand Jury cess and Poor Law cess, these were made payable by the lessor, not the lessee in holdings under £4 a year in value. Parliament rose on 24 August 1843, so members of the Government had dispersed by the time of the Clontarf meeting in October.

In the course of and 1842 and 1843 two changes were made in the constabulary. A detective division was formed in the Metropolitan Police, and a mounted troop was formed in the Irish constabulary. The Government preferred an open detective branch to a secret service. It consisted originally of twelve constable and a superintendent. (By 1914 the number of detectives had increased to 48. Weekly Irish Times 14 Aug 1914; 20 Mar. 1920). The trials of the atmospheric railway between Kingstown and Dalkey proved successful. Agrarian terrorism was again making its appearance.  

In October 1843, about the time of the arrests, de Grey appointed a Commission of Inquiry into the tenure of land in Ireland, in response to the growing Tenant Right movement.  The Tory landlords were the great promoters of improvement in agriculture and  estate management. The High Tories' ideals concerning land  was to see resident landlords, capable estate agents (Irish if possible, but failing that Scottish), large holdings for tenants, drainage, fencing, intensive agriculture using the latest methods with abundant hired labour, and a protected market for corn. Whether 'Tenant Right' would help or hinder the improvement of agriculture was an issue which divided them. They were practical men who believed in hard work, improved farming, and industrial practice, sound banks and sound money, and church-going. They did not believe in airy-fairy notions of nationalism, or ancient glories, or the wonderful future that Repeal was supposed to bring.

The Earl of Devon, an improving landlord, was made chief commissioner, and John Pitt Kennedy,  secretary of the 'Devon Commission'. Kennedy who was from Donegal, had been a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers before retiring from the army. He had returned to Ireland to devote himself to the improvement of agriculture. In 1837 he was appointed inspector general by the National Board of Education with the aim of promoting the teaching of agriculture in its schools. He secured the appointment of inspectors with a knowledge of agriculture in each county, and established an agricultural college at Glasnevin. Peel though very highly of him (DNB). The Catholic Thomas Redington was also made a commissioner. 

            The Report of the Devon Commission (1845) , after a thorough inquiry, was published in February 1845 printed in five folio volumes. It reviewed what had been done regarding land tenure over the previous thirty years. It recognized that sub-letting and sub-division had to be ended, but considered that giving a gratuity to departing tenants was not sufficient. There should be schemes for assisted emigration, land reclamation, and judicious use of public works. The Report judged that some form of Tenant Right or compensation of the tenant for his improvements was advisable. It disapproved of open drains at the sides of fields as inefficient. From this time onwards, most farmers began putting covered stone drains into the middle of the fields. 

            Irish farmers could be divided by size into three classes, large, medium and small. The first were the large farmers and landowners with over 500 acres including desmesne lands. This latter was the parts around the ‘big house’ and included, gardens, shrubbery, lakes and ponds, woods, and paddocks for horses. Many of these large farmers were devoted to agricultural improvement, and tried to have the best breeds of animals, the best kinds of seeds, the latest agricultural equipment, and the latest techniques. They formed the backbone of the Farming Societies. Some had other estates in England or Scotland, and tried to make their Irish estates as profitable as their other estates. But the bulk of their income came from rents. The second category was between say, 50 and 500 acres. These were much more numerous, and at every period produced the bulk of the crops sent to market. These can be regarded as the typical Irish commercial farmer, and were virtually unaffected by the Famine. The third class were those with less than fifty acres. There were an enormous number of these but many of the holdings were tiny. Those with between 10 and 50 acres would be classed a comfortable small farmers. They produced and adequate amount to provide for their families even in bad years, but the quantities they produced for the market were not really significant. Nor was this group much affected by the Famine. Those with under ten acres numerically formed the majority of the farmers, but they produced almost nothing for the market. By and large, they produced just enough of a commercial crop to pay the rent and to get a bit of cash for luxuries like tea, alcohol, or tobacco. Assuming that the usual S-curve of adoption of innovation applies, the great landowners would be the early adopters. The commercial farmers would be the main body of adopters after the initial doubts were overcome. The last to adopt change and improvement would be found among those with the smallest holdings. These usually depended or part-time or migratory labour to pay the rent, or contented themselves with rearing a single animal like a pig to get cash. These were the types of smallholders that priests sixty years later used exhort from the altars to spray their potato patches. The production of potatoes from their tiny holdings was estimated to be a quarter of what was possible. The great aim of the Tenant Right Movement was to give incentives to smallholders to adopt improvements in farming.

            Though the innovators in Ireland were often abreast of developments in England and Scotland, the bulk of Irish farmers were regarded by observers as being anything from twenty to fifty years behind. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Irish agriculture was still regarded as needing protective tariffs so the Corn Laws were passed. By 1845, most Irish farmers felt that they could cope without protection. (This was before the import of wheat from North America, and wool from the Southern Hemisphere became a menace.) Nevertheless, Irish agriculture cannot be said to have been brought up-to-date until the widespread adoption of the shorthorn cow, or at least shorthorn bulls, from 1860 onwards. About that time the Danish farmers came to Ireland to study Irish agriculture, and soon began to displace the Irish from British markets with their superior skills. But on the eve of the Famine, it can be said that Irish agriculture, though it had still some ground to make up, was in a healthy condition, and was producing sufficient commercial crops to feed its enormous population even if one of the main crops failed. Improvements in the quality of output were matched by demands for higher quality of food in the markets. Heavily salted provisions were no longer considered satisfactory.

Strangely, but luckily, there were no major outbreaks of diseases in animals in the first half of the century. Murrains in cattle had been common earlier, but the first major outbreak of a plague in cattle was the outbreak of rinderpest in 1865. (It should be noted that improvements in farming in the British Isles were far in advance of most of the Continent. Germany was considered particularly backward.) [Top] 

Rome and the Political Priests 

Complaints had been made to Rome that some Irish political priests, and MacHale in particular, were devoting too much time to secular politics. As noted earlier, the Holy See sent a fairly routine and innocuous letter to MacHale warning him that a priest should not become too involved in secular affairs. During the height of the Repeal agitation in 1843, de Grey suggested to Peel that the Foreign Secretary should take the matter up with the Papal States to get the Pope to restrain the Repealing clergy. Peel was not anxious to get involved but allowed the negotiations to go ahead. It so happened that both Governments had similar problems. Revolutionaries wishing to overthrow the temporal power of the Pope were operating in Malta. If the British Government restrained them, the Pope would issue an instruction in the form of a Rescript to the Irish clergy. Dr. Cullen in Rome kept the Repealing bishops in Ireland informed more or less accurately of what was happening and also painted a rosy picture of what the Repealing clergy were doing.

(A Rescript differed from a motu proprio in that it was technically a reply to a question sent to Rome by some member of the Church. Motu proprio means ‘of his own accord’.)    

            The Rescript (1843) directed to the Irish bishops arrived in November 1843 reminding them of their obligation not to involve themselves excessively in political matters. But, though the mind of the Holy See was clear on the matter, there was little further it could do. There was no actual canon against taking a part in democratic politics, and provided the time spent on such was not excessive there was little anybody could do to get the bishops to heed the instruction. (There was no allegation  that a bishop was neglecting his diocese, or that the undoubtedly inflammatory language used by some priests was any worse than what was commonly printed in the Freeman's Journal.) Crolly, as Primate, was the person selected by Rome to see that its instruction was complied with. (The title of primate was merely honorific and a primate normally presided at the informal meetings of the bishops.) This brought him into direct conflict with MacHale, who violently resented Crolly acting in his diocese and province. MacHale did not forget this when the issue of the Charitable Bequests Board arose. Higgins and Cantwell denied that they were 'excessively addicted to politics' while other bishops, like Blake of Dromore, took care to avoid public meetings with their hissing, jeering and booing, but acted behind the scenes. 



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