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Chapter Seventeen

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

Peel's Second Ministry II  

(October 1843 to June 1846)

Summary. The trial of O'Connell and his associates resulted in his being put in prison, but he was now visibly a sick man. He was released on a legal technicality on appeal. Peel decided to intervene personally. The Lord Lieutenant was replaced and measures brought in to provide for university education for Catholics and for their charitable bequests. A bill was brought in to provide more secure revenues for Maynooth Catholic seminary. O'Connell had no difficulty in proving that these were really penal laws. At this point the potato blight struck Western Europe and relief schemes were everywhere introduced. The Government also took steps to provide food in those areas where the market or private charity were insufficient.


The O’Connell Trial     

Peel Intervenes

Charitable Bequests     

Other Measures

The Provincial Colleges

Ireland under Heytesbury

 The O’Connell Trial       

[January 1844] It is not necessary to pursue the trial of O'Connell that commenced on 13 January 1844 in detail. He made no rousing speeches in his own defence, nor in favour of Repeal, but just followed the advice of his counsel. The Rent poured in so the defence could pursue its case to any length. Those who observed him closely realized that he was not well. The defendants were free on bail and O'Connell and his son attended Parliament as usual. After the verdict but before the sentence John O'Connell was appointed to serve on a committee of Parliament. It was assumed that the business of the committee would be finished before the judges passed sentence. The Government did not object to him serving. The sitting of Parliament commenced on 1 February 1844. Lord John Russell brought forward a motion critical of the Government’s handling of the case, but the Government won the vote easily.

            The trial came on in February 1844 and the defendants were found guilty of conspiring to intimidate the queen's subjects and to over-awe both Houses of Parliament. The counsel for the defence appealed to the Court of Error (the twelve chiefs justices and puisne judges sitting together) to have the verdict set aside on procedural grounds, chiefly the misdirection of the jury by the Chief Justice (Pennefather.) (A detailed, if partisan, account is given by Duffy, one of the defendants.) The Court of Error rejected the plea, and the defendants came forward for sentence. They were each sentenced to a fine of £2,000 and twelve months imprisonment. The defence counsel then asked for an arrest of judgment pending an appeal to the House of Lords, but the judges rejected this. Most people were surprised at this rejection. The judges were not the Government and this rejection, though technically within the law, smacked of partisanship.

            So, on 30 May 1844 the defendants were confined to Richmond prison. As the law stood, gentlemen were allowed to hire rooms in the prison, and to bring in their servants and members of their families, the sentence being simply one of loss of liberty. They hired the gaoler's house, sent for their servants, and got ready to receive visitors. These came in a flood, with Archbishop Murray in the lead. Duffy says that they had a programme of useful writing to be done, but the many visitors made this impossible. O’Connell was now a very sick man, and took little part in the activities of the prisoners. In addition, he fell madly in love with a lady young enough to be his granddaughter, and devoted most of his attention to her, though she was not interested in him (Duffy). The Young Irelanders believed he was preparing to sell out to the Government, or at least to compromise with the Federalists who were now well organized. In June 1844 the Rent's highest weekly total ever at £3340 was reached. Thereafter it fell off rapidly and was down to £350 by the beginning of October. William Smith O'Brien was chosen to lead the Repeal Association for the moment. Peel had removed de Grey, who was, it was said, in ill health, in July 1844, immediately after the imprisonment of O'Connell, appointing Baron Heytesbury in his place.

            An appeal to the House of Lords proceeded. The appeal was not concerned with the question of guilt, but with whether there had been irregularities in the trial. In the previous year, an eminent Belfast barrister named Joseph Napier (subsequently Sir Joseph Napier and Lord Chancellor) had been defending Sam Grey an Orangeman at the Monaghan assizes. He had been refused leave to challenge a particular juror, so he sued out a writ of error alleging an improperly constituted jury. He took his case to the House of Lords and won. O'Connell tried to secure his services but the crown lawyers had anticipated him. Lord Brougham, a former Lord Chancellor of England, contended that mere technical imperfections in framing charges did not invalidate verdicts if the charges were substantially accurate. However, the Law Lords voted on 4th September 1844 three to two to reverse the judgment, so all charges against O'Connell were dropped. Parliament recessed the following day, 5th September 1844. (In strict law, it seems, a split verdict should leave the judgment of the lower court to stand, but Peel was not prepared to quibble. Also the judgment of the Lords was on a legal technicality not on the substantive charges.) The release of the prisoners as soon as the news reached Dublin was followed by great rejoicing in most of Ireland, and Archbishop Murray presided over a solemn High Mass of thanksgiving. The Morning Chronicle of London remarked with some point that his imprisonment was the best thing that could have happened to O’Connell, for the monster meetings were becoming a threat to him more than to anyone else (cited in SNL 11 Sept 1844). O’Connell made a triumphal progress to his home in Kerry.

            Duffy gives a detailed account of the trial, giving the impression that the Government, the Law Officers, and the judges used every unfair trick that they knew. This was not so. The leading barristers in Dublin were selected on either side. The counsel for the defence were entitled to make as many objections as they could. These finally boiled down to the very general nature of the charges in the indictment, and what was considered misdirection of the jury by a partisan summing-up by the Lord Chief Justice. Charles Gavan Duffy was the ablest, and most balanced of the Young Ireland group. (He was born in Monaghan, and was educated briefly at a local Presbyterian school. Otherwise he was largely self-educated. He began to contribute to various newspapers, briefly edited the Belfast Vindicator, and in 1842 started the weekly Nation. Like many other journalists at the time he studied for the bar. In 1848 he was arrested before the armed rising broke out, and though brought to trial five times he was eventually discharged. In 1855 he went to Australia. In 1871 he became the Chief Minister in the colony of Victoria and in 1872 he was knighted.)

            In the matter of the charges, there is no doubt that O'Connell's meetings did terrify many of the queen's subjects, and that he knew this was the case, but still conspired with others to hold the meetings. To frame proper charges on that score was difficult, yet a jury which returned a verdict of 'Guilty' could hardly be faulted. The same applied to the charge of the attempt to over-awe Parliament. Many of those who took part in the meetings were determined, if necessary, to overthrow Parliament, and Duffy, for one, in his own defense, would have preferred for political reasons to make this clear. He was over-ruled by his counsel. O'Connell disclaimed any wish for violence in the 'Mallow Defiance'. Yet the majority of the Law Lords conceded that the charges were too broadly framed, and not specific enough, for example by not specifying who exactly was terrified. On the other hand, it could be argued that it should be left to the jury to decide. The Protestant Evening Mail remarked that O’Connell had as much right to benefit from the quirks of the law when they were in his favour, as the Orangeman Sam Grey was when they favoured him. There were few Catholics who were prepared to concede the parity of the cases.

            de Grey’s several blunders played into O'Connell's hands. His first, perhaps, was to bother proclaiming any meeting. The second was to proclaim it at such short notice. There could have been a massacre if O'Connell had not acted so decisively and turned back his followers. No sensible Government puts itself in such a situation. The third was to lay charges against O'Connell at all, especially when it became clear that the charges would be long, wordy, and imprecise. The fourth was a failure to take affidavits from numerous Protestants claiming to be terrified. If they had, they could probably have convicted O'Connell easily of common law offences. Peel had actually advised de Grey to procure such affidavits. The fifth one was to actually imprison O'Connell while an appeal to the House of Lords was still in progress. The sixth was their failure to ensure that they were fully backed by the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The Irish Government might have been strictly legally right on every point, and it seems they were, but they played into the hands of the nationalist propaganda machine at home and abroad.

             de Grey contented himself with the letter of the existing law, and in no way yielded to demands from extreme Protestants. A Protestant Reformation Society petitioned him to refuse all public money to Catholic priests in Maynooth or anywhere else, to promote scriptural education, to appoint a Board of Commissioners to set out the errors of popery, to remove from Parliament all MPs unwilling to pass such legislation, and so on, but he took no notice (SNL 17 Oct 1843). de Grey more resembled Richmond than any other Lord Lieutenant, and using the powers of the state to promote Protestantism was not in the mind of either. But Peel knew that the Richmond era was long past. [Top] 

Peel Intervenes  

We can assume that Peel had not intended taking any direct action in Ireland himself. Under Lord Liverpool, when he was Home Secretary, Wellesley Lord Lieutenant, Goulburn Secretary, and Plunket Attorney General, a systematic programme for Ireland was put into effect. He mistook the character of de Grey who blocked every one of Eliot's proposals. Not only was no legislation to improve the lot of Catholics introduced, not even a single Catholic was awarded an office.

            Now in 1844 Peel had to take the initiative; under his direction the whole cabinet and the officers in the Irish Government became much more favourable to the Catholics. Peel's biographer attributes the initiatives to Peel himself, and Duffy spoke of them as concessions won from Peel (Gash, Duffy). (Since the start of the Protestant Volunteers in 1779 there were always those who described any favourable legislation as 'concessions wrested from the Government'. If one reads the speeches of Lord North on the repeal of the Navigation Acts, or those of Charles James Fox on an independent Irish Parliament we find only genuine concern to right perceived injustices or inequities.) But it was a joint effort of the cabinet and the Irish Government, where Eliot, at last, was given a free hand. The parliamentary leader of the Irish Tories was Sir Frederick Shaw, the Recorder of Dublin, an open-minded man like Peel himself. Nor were there any major changes in direction by Peel. All his life Peel had been a reformer, as William Pitt had been. He was only opposed to radical reform, and was always ready to bring in practical ones. In this, his most famous disciple, Gladstone, followed him. 

          [July 1844]  The incoming Lord Lieutenant was Baron Heytesbury, a retired diplomat, who arrived in Dublin in July 1844. The Attorney General, Thomas Cusack Smith, had impressed Peel by his defence of the policies of the Irish Government during a debate on Ireland in the Commons, and this speaks well of his ability and moderation. (He was a hot-tempered man, who, during the trial of O'Connell, relapsed into the archaic practice of sending a hostile message to an opposing counsel. O'Connell had himself tried to do this with Saurin thirty years earlier, but fashions had much changed. His impetuous act cost him the Lord Chancellorship, but he was made Master of the Rolls in 1846.) Richard Wilson Green remained as Solicitor General.

            By the beginning of 1844 Peel had arrived at some agreement with the cabinet concerning measures to be put forward in Ireland. Peel and the cabinet then discussed what further should be done. Peel, especially, was sensitive to the criticism that the Emancipation Act (1829) had done very little for the Catholics, nor had it lived up to the inflated claims made for it beforehand. Various proposals that had been put forward when the Whigs were in office were re-examined.

             The Whigs, and some others, like William Smith O'Brien, were reviving the idea of State Provision for the Clergy. The idea behind this was that the priests were not leaders of the agitation, but were forced by economic necessity to go along with their flocks. At one stage, indeed, in the struggle for Emancipation, O'Connell had threatened to put a financial squeeze on all priests who did not support his views. But by 1840, it was often the priests who were giving the lead. Peel was against all official recognition of Rome and of the Catholic Church, and so did not seek concordats, vetoes, or state payment of the clergy. The Catholic bishops totally rejected the idea of accepting payment from the state.

There could be no reasonable complaint however about changing the law to allow the Catholics themselves to establish endowments for religious or charitable purposes. Such could be endowments to provide for the maintenance of a parish priest, or for a Catholic professorship at a college, not to mention bequests for masses. [Top] 

Charitable Bequests       

That most likely to please the Catholics and be passed by a Tory House of Commons was a reform of the Charitable Bequests Board on the lines suggested by the Irish Catholic bishops in 1840. Most bequests for religious and charitable purposes in Ireland were legal. There was no Act, as in England, outlawing 'superstitious bequests', i.e. bequests for the saying of masses. By the Registration of the Clergy Act (1703) bishops and regular clergy were not allowed to reside in the kingdom, and the banishment of the regulars was re-iterated in 1829. But priests were allowed to reside in Ireland, to have a mass-house, and to say mass. And since 1750, various Governments had been treating with bishops under the title of 'Doctor'.

            Charitable Bequests were regulated in Ireland by a Board of Commissioners, set up by the Irish Parliament, and reorganized in 1799. It was given certain equity powers, particularly that of cy pres ('as near as possible'), to dispose of bequests where the intentions of the testator could not be carried out. All the members of this Board were Protestant clergymen and the Catholic hierarchy had suggested that the law should be changed to allow Catholics to be appointed. There was a popular suspicion or prejudice that the Commissioners diverted Catholic bequests to Protestant purposes. A Catholic religious Order could not hold property as a community or corporate body, even its church, so systems of trustees had to be set up. Each trustee named other persons to succeed him or her as trustee if he or she died. The system was complicated but workable DEP 24 Dec 1844).

          Under Peel's projected Charitable Bequests Act, there would be a different Board of Commissioners, similar to those administering the Maynooth grant and National education, and including Archbishop Murray and Archbishop Whately, with several other Catholics and Protestants. This Board could itself act as trustee for any charities that might be established by Catholics. This did not include the support of friars, to whom the old rules would still apply. (The Government recognized the continuing residence of friars within the kingdom, but did not act, despite strong demands by the anti-popery faction to have the relevant clauses in the Emancipation Act enforced.)

            Peel went a small but significant step further. Archbishop Murray would be addressed by the title 'Most Reverend', implying recognition of his episcopal status. When the Whigs came to power they followed this up by referring in a minor Act of Parliament to the Catholic archbishops of Dublin, following which Murray was advised by Dublin Castle that it was appropriate that he be accompanied by a chaplain when he called at a levee.

            Cusack Smith was asked to draft the Bill. The power of cy pres was to go. On the Board, at least five of the members were to be Catholics. The Commissioners could hold bequests from any part of Ireland in trust. One wonders if either Peel or Cusack Smith realized that this would mean making Archbishop Murray the trustee in MacHale's diocese. Other clauses stated that the statutes against friars remained, and (to prevent Jesuits or others working on the fears of dying persons, as they were supposed to do) a clause, number 16, was inserted that no bequest made within three months of dying was valid. That, in essence, was the Bill.

            When O'Connell heard that Peel was proposing to introduce a Bill modifying the law on Charitable Bequests he asked permission to introduce a Bill of his own just to get it printed. Peel courteously acceded to the request. This has all the appearance of a spoiling tactic by O'Connell. The idea behind O'Connell's Charitable Bequests Bill would be to rush in with a Bill, taking good care not to assemble support for it, and to insert clauses objectionable to many Tories like the recognition of the Irish Catholic hierarchy and the abolition of the statutes of mortmain. When his Bill was rejected, as it was bound to be, he could them claim that the Government was hostile to the Catholic religion. (As dioceses or religious Orders were corporate bodies, they never died. Consequently, land bequeathed to them tended to accumulate. Giving land to the Church was compared to giving it into the hand of the dead mort main. The original statute of mortmain was passed in 1279.) His Bill was predictably rejected. O'Connell could then tell the Repealing bishops that if there was a native Parliament his Bill would have been passed, and the bishops would have complete control over their own affairs.

            When Peel's Bill was published, it became clear that many people, including Archbishop Murray, distrusted his intentions. It was central to Peel's plan that Murray, of all people, should sit with Whately on the Board, and it required much explanation and persuasion to bring him round. The first bishop to announce that he would give the Bill a trial was the Primate, Archbishop Crolly. Murray's objection was almost exclusively to clause 16, for it would prevent a Catholic penitent making restitution of property unlawfully obtained on his deathbed. Anthony Blake suggested, and the Government concurred, that in such a case he could charge his estate to the proper amount. Murray withdrew his objection.

The Commissioners for Charitable Bequests were Archbishop Whately, Primate Beresford, the Dean of St. Patrick's (Rev. Henry Packenham), the judge of the Prerogative (Ecclesiastical) Court, (the Rev. Pooley Shuldam Henry), the Chief Baron of the Exchequer (Mazier Brady, a Whig), and the Master of the Rolls (Blackburne, Whig/Tory) on the Protestant side. The Catholic Commissioners were Archbishop Murray, Primate Crolly, Dr Cornelius Denvir of Down and Connor, Sir Patrick Bellew (Whig) and Anthony Blake (Whig/Tory).

            What nobody had foreseen was the fierce, blind prejudice of MacHale, and his determination to secure for the Irish Repealing bishops the ultimate arbitration of what was lawful and unlawful in religious matters in Ireland. Also, as in the matter of education, the fact that Archbishop Murray could act for him (even if only in secular matters) in his own diocese infuriated him. He subsequently took the same attitude towards Cardinal Cullen.  He had a score to settle with Crolly as well because of his interference at the Pope’s request in Tuam.

 MacHale in characteristic oratorical style reminiscent of the great eighteenth century orators wrote on 2 July to Peel denouncing the Act as ‘atrocious, surpassing in its odious provisions the worst enactments of penal times, and developing a maturity of wicked refinement in legislation which the most clumsy artificers of the anti-Catholic code would in vain attempt to rival’ (SNL 5 July 1844).  He called the Act 'the most insidious attempt yet, following veto and state provision, to corrupt the Catholic Church'. (Perhaps for connoisseurs of rhetoric the gem of MacHale’s oratorical flights of denunciation is his attack on Archbishop Whately’ textbooks for the National Schools. He complained of some leading Catholics who knowing ‘as much of the canonicity of the Sacred Books as of the Cosmogony of the Budists, ladled a la Soyer out of the steaming cauldron of this heterodox prelate the most deleterious doses of uncatholic doctrine for the caged urchins of those anti-national schools. It is no wonder if famine should come upon the land, and if divine wrath should be enkindled, when such scenes are acted before high heaven, on the theatre of Catholic Ireland. W.J. Fitzpatrick, Memoirs of Richard Whately p118 –Soyer was a famous chef at the time.)

            MacHale and the other Repealing bishops were determined on two things: that there should be a native Irish Parliament with a majority of Catholic MPs and that those MPs would take their instructions on all moral issues from their bishops. It is rather odd to find a Protestant like Richard Barrett accepting this and lecturing Davis that Ireland was a Catholic country and therefore he should follow the wishes of the majority, and also accept the direction of the Catholic bishops. In his youth, O'Connell himself would never have accepted such a condition, but now he was old and waited to see the reaction of MacHale.

            O'Connell, by now in prison, obliged him (24 August 1844) by giving a professional legal opinion in the sense he required. MacHale denounced the Bill in Rome as an attack on the Catholic Church, but Anthony Blake, anticipating such a move, had acted earlier. Dr Paul Cullen was active in Rome trying to persuade the Pope that the Act was an attack on the Church (DEP 31 Oct. 1844; Paul Cullen in 1820 at the age of seventeen went to Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1829, and was appointed vice-rector of the Irish College in Rome). Blake was fortunate as Rome was just about to send the instruction to the MacHale faction to avoid politics. Rome did not act. But the main campaign was fought in Ireland. Murray and Crolly had to be forced to drop their acquiescence in the Act if the religious and moral struggle against the Union was to retain credibility. A public campaign of unbelievable ferocity was whipped up against them in the Press. A visiting bishop, Dr Walsh of Halifax, Nova Scotia, commented that the ordinary people meant well but

            the schemes and practices of some of their leaders, both lay and clerical, were most uncatholic and dishonest. I was never more disgusted with some of the legerdemain exhibited on the occasion’ (Broderick). He complained to O'Connell and noted that he was ashamed of the actions of his followers. One of the rumours circulated was the Archbishop Crolly was mad.

            The general committee of the Repeal Association on which Young Ireland was well represented favoured the Bill. O'Connell was now backing the clerical part of the Repeal movement against the Young Irelanders. He did not attack the latter directly from his prison. Without saying anything beforehand to the committee of the Association, one of O'Connell's 'tail' attacked the Bill. His son, Daniel O'Connell, Junior, also without consulting the committee, moved a vote of thanks to him. Barrett (in prison along with O'Connell), in the Pilot the following day, lauded both of them. The Young Ireland group knew that this could not have been done without the knowledge and consent of O'Connell himself.

The bishops of MacHale’s faction too were intent on whipping Young Ireland into line. By the end of the year, priests were openly attacking Young Ireland, saying that various articles that had appeared in the Nation were uncatholic. Davis was so mortified at this course of action that he felt like resigning from the Repeal Association. From now onwards there was bitter war between the Pilot and the Nation. The Charitable Bequests Board functioned as intended. There were in fact no religious grounds for objecting to it, only political ones. [Top] 

Other Measures             

Though not primarily connected with the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in Ireland, the Dissenters Chapels Act (1844) was of the greatest assistance to them, for it meant that the Subscribers could not take away their chapels and other assets. Unitarians were legally recognized in 1813, but some court decisions tended to regard as invalid trusts held by them dating from before that year (DNB Edwin Wilkins Field). The Act legalized peaceful possession for twenty five years.

The Party Procession Act that had been re-enacted annually for several years prohibiting party processions, especially Orange processions, was again passed. Another minor Fisheries Act (1844) gave control some controls over inland fisheries to the Irish Constabulary. The Astronomer Royal made an attempt by carrying thirty chronometers from Greenwich to Valencia Island to establish the exact longitude of that place. Russian astronomers were making a similar attempt to determine the longitude of the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Siberia. This would enable geographers to determine the exact dimensions of the Eurasian landmass. The Dublin to Drogheda line was completed. A decision of the Rolls Court, 7 November 1844 confirmed the validity of bequests for masses in Ireland. The decision repeated the earlier decision of Lord Chancellor Manners in 1823 on the same point (SNL 8,15 Nov. 1844).

 O’Connell was now veering towards Federalism (DEP 15 Oct., 2 Nov. 1844). The Rent had fallen back to about £200 a week. As O’Connell’s powers waned his place was increasingly taken by his third son, John. The latter favoured the political bishops, and strongly suspected tendencies towards the use of violence or towards indifferentism in religion among the Young Irelanders. From this arose the split in Catholic nationalism that persists to this day between constitutionalists who always consult the bishops, and revolutionaries who do not. In a letter to Duffy on 5 Nov. 1844 William Smith O’Brien said he foresaw a priest party and an anti-priest party, and he was proved right. But the anti-priest party never adopted the liberal or anti-clerical opinions of their counterparts on the Continent. For their part the Young Irelanders were worried that Protestant Repealers were being led on to establish a Catholic ascendancy.

[1845] The Charitable Bequests Act (1844) came into force on 1 January 1845. On 1 February 1845 Thomas Fremantle replaced Lord Elliot as Irish Secretary. On 4 February, Parliament opened, with Peel proposing to deal with academical instruction in Ireland, consideration of the report of the Devon Commission, and amending the law on the Bank of Ireland. Thomas Wyse was insisting that something must be done to improve higher education in Ireland, and MacHale expressed his determination to stamp out Mr. Wyse’s fooleries, i.e. any education not under the direct control of the Catholic clergy (Letter to Dillon Brown 28 Jan. 1845 in DEP 1 Feb. 1845). On 20 March 1845 Wyse presented a petition from the province of Munster, praying for the establishment of provincial colleges in Ireland.

            Peel aimed also at improving the financial situation of Maynooth. The Government under William Pitt had established and built Maynooth in 1795 and provided a grant, voted annually, for the maintenance of the professors and students. As was usual in those days, for example, in the building of roads and piers, no money was provided for upkeep and maintenance, nor could the college be endowed. The result was that education in Maynooth ‘was conducted with sordid economy, on a small annual grant, which at each renewal was made the subject of offensive controversy in the House of Commons’ (Duffy).

            On 3 April 1845 Peel set out his Maynooth Act (1845), to the displeasure of many of his own followers like Frederick Shaw. He proposed to raise the annual grant from £9,000 to £26,000, to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund and not subject to an annual vote, and also to give a lump sum of £30,000 for buildings. He made his Bill a money Bill so that the Lords could not dismember it clause by clause. They could only vote on the general principle. Wellington, with the aid of Spring Rice (now Lord Mounteagle of Brandon), pushed the Bill through the Lords. MacHale, for once, did not object. O'Connell, at first, considered it a bribe to the clergy but when he got no support from MacHale he desisted. Wellington, when moving the Second Reading in the Lords on 2 June noted that he had not personally approved of the founding of the College, but the king, George III and the Archbishop of Canterbury had approved of it.

In May 1845 Peel decided to carry further the reform of English banking which he had undertaken the previous year and apply it to Irish and Scottish banks. The Irish banks had developed well, with no great difficulties, since 1824. The Bank of Ireland worked with the joint-stock banks, and acted as a lender of last resort of its own accord. Ireland, unlike England, had escaped the worst financial storms, and had safely weathered such slumps or financial crises as occurred, for example in 1836. The currency too was stable. Nevertheless, Peel felt it better to set precise enforceable limits to the amounts individual banks could lend, to consolidate Irish banking legislation, and to remove the right of the Bank of Ireland to exclusive banking within fifty Irish miles of Dublin. As a result, Newry, which had been just within the fifty-mile limit, for the first time got banks (Newry Telegraph 18 May 1847). The Bank itself proposed, and Peel concurred, that the oaths imposed on Catholics should be removed. The Irish Bank Act (1845) passed without difficulty. To bring the registration of marriages in Ireland more into line with English practices the Registration of Marriages Act (1845) was passed and the General Register of Marriage Office was opened in Dublin. But as Corish noted the presence of a civil registrar was not required at all marriages, and Catholic priests were reluctant to register marriages they conducted. (This was from a wish to avoid recognizing the rights of the civil power in the matter Corish 220.) [Top] 

The Provincial Colleges  

For his next measure Peel took up Wyse's proposals for colleges of higher education in his Provincial Academical Colleges Act (1845). On 9 May 1845 the Home Secretary Sir James Graham introduced the Government’s proposals for higher education. Three colleges of one university were to be established, to be called the Queen's Colleges, on the model of London University with its two colleges. The practice in Scotland that had five small separate universities was rejected. The university, like London's, would be secular, and there would be no religious tests either for the faculty or the students. Divinity would not be taught, but it would be allowable for Catholics to endow professorships, and the college authorities would have to provide rooms. (This latter proposal was not out of the way. When Trinity College, of Dublin University, endowed professorships, say, of engineering, it was normal to allocate a salary of about £300 a year plus the use of a lecture hall to the professor.) The colleges would not be residential and students would live in private accommodation. The Bill passed through Parliament without difficulty. Wyse, Sheil, and Richard Bellew spoke in favour. The Maynooth Bill, the Colleges Bill, and the Banking Bill went through their various parliamentary stages almost simultaneously.

            The ultra-Tory Sir Robert Inglis, speaking for the clergy of the Established Church instantly denounced the Bill. He claimed: 'a more gigantic scheme of godless education has never been proposed'. Catholic and Protestant bishops united in denouncing them as 'Godless colleges'.

            Crolly summoned the Catholic bishops to discuss the Bill, and they met on 21 May 1845. The principles were identical with those in national education, and one would have expected that the bishops who favoured the one would back the other. But this was not so. Several bishops adhered to MacHale on this issue who had opposed him on national education. MacHale wanted the bishops to get back to the declaration of principles made in 1826 that he maintained they had since neglected. In particular, he drew up a list of subjects, history, logic, metaphysics, moral philosophy, geology, and anatomy, which should be taught only by Catholic professors to Catholic students. (The grounds for objection to anatomy are not obvious. Regarding geology, Protestant professors might teach Lyell's Principles of Geology which demonstrated the slow formation of rocks, without mentioning the biblical 'Seven Days') As in 1826 Murray knew that such proposals had no hope of acceptance, but went along with the memorial to the Lord Lieutenant. The Government considered the objections, and introduced some changes designed to protect the morals of young men away from home. (A rather lame explanation which eventually came from the Holy See as to why it permitted national schools but not university education focussed on the fact that the students were living away from home.) O'Connell, for no obvious reason, told MacHale that the ministry was pliable and he had only to stand firm and make his own terms, i.e. get denominational education. But Peel was standing firm, as he always did, on the principles of the Report of 1812 about the advisability of educating all Irish children together.

Dr Cullen was on holiday in Ireland, and he consulted Higgins and Cantwell, and on his return to Rome put their case strongly to the Holy See. Murray and Crolly, confident that Rome would decide consistently, also appealed to Rome for a decision. They did not require actual approval but only that Rome would allow each bishop to decide for students from his own diocese. MacHale and Cullen had to get a positive condemnation applying to all dioceses stating that the colleges were, in their words, intrinsically evil.

            Young Ireland backed the colleges. They wanted to see all the youth of Ireland educated together in the principles of nationalism. O'Connell insisted on denouncing the colleges, and Duffy (perhaps correctly) saw this as virtually abandoning Repeal altogether. He could not possibly hope for Repeal if he attacked people like Davis who seconded him so ardently. Davis, on this occasion, when O'Connell was no longer in prison, felt that the Repeal Association would lose all credibility with Irish Protestants if free discussion was not allowed in the Association, and if everyone had to bow to the dictates of MacHale. O'Connell rose to reply and fiercely attacked Young Ireland. The latter were astonished to find him deliberately mis-stating and misrepresenting the Bill. Duffy's mature comments, made many years afterwards, were still tinged with bitterness. The Irish Catholic bishops in Australia a few years later had rushed to co-operate with the newly founded Australian universities that provided much fewer moral safeguards for youth. What MacHale and Cullen succeeded in doing was ensuring that positions all over the Empire would go to young Englishmen and Scotsmen, while Irishmen, of greater natural ability were passed over because they had no degrees (Duffy). (The question again arises, was O'Connell, at this stage deliberately trying to scupper the Repeal movement that had got out of hand? The 'Independent Opposition' with a distant hope of Repeal, which eventually emerged under MacHale and Cullen, was much closer to his ideal.)

            Two sets of Irish bishops were now presenting to Rome totally contradictory versions of the Government's Bill. The Government itself had no intention of infringing Catholic discipline or canon law in any way and was ready to make minor adjustments if the Holy See pointed out anything it specifically objected to, or any canon actually over-ridden. 

            But, it may be asked, how did these contradictory views of Peel's intentions arise. Archbishop Murray, as a younger man, was unwilling to give the Government (or Canning) credit for good intentions, but he was reasonable enough to listen to them and to hear their own explanations. One might still object to the veto, but one would know exactly what one was objecting to. Both Murray and MacHale had ample opportunity to know Peel's views on Ireland, for they had been printed in the Irish newspapers off and on for thirty years. Peel had not the slightest intention of interfering in any way with the Catholic Church.  From the very start he had adopted the practice of his predecessor, Wellesley-Pole, of according to Catholics all that they were entitled to under the law. Sometimes he even went beyond that, as when he added to the endowment (under a Protestant will) of the Dunboyne Establishment for the education of Catholic priests. He passed the Emancipation Act. At Tamworth he declared that the Conservative Party should be one in which Catholic gentlemen could feel at home. Murray, if he was in doubt, consulted the Law Officers. But MacHale preferred his own blind prejudices. He preferred to believe that Peel did not grant anything willingly, but that it had to be wrested from him, that he was a persecutor and a supporter of persecutors. He ignored explanations of the Law Officers even when they appeared in the newspapers. (Judgments on Peel's actions in this book are based on a study of his speeches concerning Ireland over his entire political career.)

            What is even more strange was how this narrow-minded intolerant bigot, MacHale, (for that is what he was) managed to infect so many other bishops with his prejudices. MacHale did not think it possible that an English Protestant could act in good faith. As he once put it, Aut ulla putatis dona carere dolis Danaum? (Do you think that Greek gifts ever lack trickery or treachery?) Some years later he finished the quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid, by advising Pius IX ‘time Anglos et dona ferentes (Fear the English even when they are bringing gifts. The original in Virgil was Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, I fear the Greeks even when they are bringing gifts, the reference being to the Trojan horse.) To us, nowadays, Duffy's remarks are only common sense, and Duffy was a very loyal Catholic. But a majority of Irish bishops refused to see the common sense. It would seem that a resonance had arisen between MacHale's prejudices, O'Connell's rhetoric, and Young Ireland's ideology which prevented them from giving a reasonable consideration to any proposal coming from the Tories.

            There is another interesting question that has been neglected in the discussion of MacHale's opposition. That is why Peel established three Colleges instead of two. Trinity College would obviously do for the Established Church. One college would be required in the south as a 'Catholic' college, and another in Belfast to serve both sets of Presbyterians. Scotland, it is true, had five small universities. The University of Dublin, with its single college of the Most Holy Trinity, was only slightly smaller than Oxford and Cambridge, with their numerous colleges. But there were simply not enough students from Catholic grammar schools to supply two colleges, not counting those who went to Belfast, Trinity, or the Scottish universities. Galway had drastically to reduce standards in the early days to keep itself going. Cullen and MacHale complicated matters by starting their own 'Catholic University’ that could not confer degrees.

            The Colleges Bill passed all its stages in Parliament and received the royal assent before Parliament rose in August. The Irish Government set about the task of establishing the Colleges. Sites had to be identified and acquired, architects had to be engaged, and most importantly, staff of sufficiently high calibre had to be recruited. Archbishop Crolly accepted the Act and determined to have the northern college in Armagh, not Belfast. [Top] 

Ireland under Heytesbury 

In 1844 the Post reported that Ribbonism too was reviving. In July 1845 parts of Cavan were proclaimed, apparently because of clashes between Orangemen and Ribbonmen. In February 1844 O'Connell issued a letter denouncing incendiarism. In January 1845, Dr William Kinsella of Ossory wrote a pastoral letter against Whiteboyism. In June 1845 agrarian disturbances appeared in Longford and Leitrim. In 1846 there was widespread combination with murder and intimidation among the workers who were being assembled to construct the new railway lines, and among Doyle's old adversaries, the miners. In 1846 sectarian disturbances again broke out in Cavan. The outbreaks were as yet fairly sporadic. Agrarian crime had been rife for several years before the political uprisings in 1798, and again before the attempted political rising in 1848.

            At this point Peel decided to emend the existing legislation to make convictions in certain cases, such as daylight assassination, easier. Typically, in such cases there were no witnesses willing to testify. He had been considering this measure for some time, and it was not connected with any disturbances in the country. Parliament was not convinced of the need for any changes and the Bill was defeated.

            Richard Barrett's Pilot continued to be the vehicle of the clerical party even when O'Connell was visibly failing and after he died. Barrett staunchly backed O'Connell, his son John, and the bishops, and violently denounced Young Ireland, and Davis in particular, for daring to attack the aged leader. He also pointed out that some of these Young Irelanders had had revolutionary ideas in 1843 and wished to secure an intervention by the French. At a meeting of the Repeal Association in June, John O’Connell gave a lengthy speech against the Colleges. The Tory Evening Mail found much interesting matter in the Pilot.  The Pilot in its turn found interesting matter in the Tory papers. It cited the Dublin Monitor's views on the Nation. According to it, Young Ireland did not join with O'Connell in 'the unscrupulous repudiation of the Bequests Bill', or in his attempt to represent the Maynooth Bill as 'cunningly planned device for the corruption of the clergy' (Pilot 16 May 1845).

            In Ulster, the Presbyterians were moving more and more in the direction of the High Tories. Since the Rev. Dr. Cooke had won his victory over the Rev. Henry Montgomery regarding subscription he had become the dominant figure among the Presbyterians in Ulster. He was resolutely opposed to Repeal. In 1841 he issued a challenge to O’Connell who was on a visit to Belfast to publicly and fairly debate the issue, but O’Connell refused. Cooke’s prestige soared accordingly. 

The disputes between the Subscribing and Non-subscribing Presbyterians continued. In 1835 Montgomery formed an association of Non-subscribing Presbyterians, those of the Remonstrant Synod, the Synod of Munster, and the Presbytery of Antrim. In 1836, Cooke finally succeeded in getting subscription enforced in the main body. Cooke then (1838) turned his attention to getting the non-subscribing lecturers expelled from the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, but Montgomery defeated him on that. In 1840 Cooke formed the General Assembly of Irish Presbyterians by linking up with the Secession Synod. The General Assembly voted to establish its own college (known since as the Assembly's College) in which young men would be taught by 'orthodox' ministers. In 1844 the Non-subscribers were in danger of losing their meeting-houses. As noted above legal decision in England indicated that a sect could not hold on to its chapel if it differed fundamentally from the intentions of those who originally built the chapel.  Montgomery's congregations were now vulnerable to attempts by Cooke to take their chapels from them. Peel sided with Montgomery, and passed a Dissenters' Chapels Act (1844) to allow them to keep chapels of which they had peaceful possession. Another question arose which affected both sets equally and that was the validity of marriages celebrated by Dissenting ministers. (Strictly speaking marriages conducted by Presbyterian ministers were as legally valid as those conducted by Catholic priests, but Presbyterians who married in this manner could be cited in a court of the Established Church for fornication.) Peel passed a Marriages Act (1844) to ensure their legal validity. Catholic marriages before a Catholic priest were always regarded as valid, but not mixed marriages. (Catholic priests were put on the same basis as Presbyterian ministers with regard to mixed marriages in 1870 Corish 220ff, New Irish Jurist 19 Sept 1902). These dissentions were to complicate the Government's task in providing for the education of the Ulster Presbyterians.

            There were no developments in the Established Church. Whately continued to support the Government and the rest of the clergy were still more or less in opposition even though the Government was now Tory. 

            The Repeal agitation was gradually having its effect on the Orange faction. In August 1844, Conway in the Post claimed that the lodges were re-organizing. The Government assumed that the Orange Order had disappeared, and that it was illegal. The Grand Lodge of Ireland had dissolved itself in compliance with the wishes of William IV. Then Parliament, in the seventh year of William IV had made it unlawful to sell liquor to illegal bodies. Another Act of the 2nd and 3rd of Victoria had suppressed the Order, and another had made party processions illegal. But the Evening Mail stated the actual state of the law. Victoria's Act and the Party Processions Act had both lapsed, while the Order had never been declared illegal, and so could still purchase liquor. Furthermore, the Mail observed, the policies of Peel were causing a revival of the Order, and anti-Peel Tories were being put up at by-elections (Mail 18 July, 11 August 1845). Heytesbury and Sugden removed various magistrates from the bench for attending Orange meetings. In July 1845 there were Orange riots in Armagh. On the 12th August there was a great Orange rally at Enniskillen. In October the Grand Lodge of Ulster was restored. 

            Sharman Crawford had been gaining some support for Federalism. On his release from prison O'Connell returned to Kerry in September 1844 and from there announced that he could see considerable merits in Crawford's arguments. He also instructed Ray that abuse of Crawford was to cease. Smith O'Brien, too, said he was willing to consider the federal solution while preferring simple Repeal. O'Connell accepted one of Crawford's main contentions, that under Grattan's Parliament, the Irish had no control of any kind over British foreign policy, or the making of foreign treaties, or access to the trade with the colonies, nor over who was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

            Young Ireland became really alarmed. From the time of his arrest O'Connell had definitely, if not publicly, been backing away from the Repeal issue. There was no repeat of the so-called Mallow Defiance during the trial, which was conducted on purely orthodox lines. On his release he had done nothing to capitalize on the swell of public feeling in his favour. He had stopped the monster meetings, he had failed to back the arbitration courts (alternative courts set up by dismissed Repealing magistrates), he let drop the idea of a Council of Three Hundred to manage Irish affairs in Ireland. Now he was proposing to merge with the Federalists. Young Ireland suspected that in such a merger Crawford would be very much the senior partner (after O'Connell's death the only partner), and there would be no room for people like themselves. They concluded that they must dispute this issue directly with O'Connell.

            The latter backed down and began to cover his tracks. He announced that there were grave defects in Crawford's plan. Duffy, though not himself favouring Federalism, maintained that the point should be fairly argued, and not hooted down as it had been the previous year. He recognized that there would be less opposition to it than to simple Repeal.  Crawford then published detailed version of his scheme and asked him what specifically he objected to. Duffy was prepared to extend an olive branch and assured O'Connell that he respected his great desire to maintain the connection with Britain. The proposal to unite Repealers with Federalists was quietly dropped to the great relief of the Orange party. 

Parliament was prorogued on 9 August 1845. O’Connell, as was his custom, went to his estate in Kerry. The Government continued with its plans for the Colleges, and commissioners were appointed to find appropriate sites and construct the buildings. Archbishop Crolly with other gentlemen went to see the Lord Lieutenant to try to get the northern college built in Armagh. However, Cork, Galway, and Belfast were selected. A Catholic priest, called Dr Kirwan, was appointed president of the Galway college and accepted. It had been expected that Dr Cooke would be offered the presidency of Belfast College, but this was offered to another Presbyterian minister, Dr Pooley Shuldam Henry, minister in Armagh. Professor Kane was made president of the college in Cork. (Professor Robert Kane, author of ‘The Industrial Resources of Ireland, was professor of chemistry in the Apothecaries Hall, and was knighted in 1846.) The architect Pugin was engaged to add to the buildings at Maynooth, and had to limit himself to the grant of £30,000 for Peel would give no more. £2,000 of the grant was taken by the Board of Works for repairs to the existing buildings. 

Thomas Davis died of a fever on 16 September 1845. He was unusual in the Repeal Association in that he was a Protestant. As a prominent member of Young Ireland, he gave balance to the movement, and showed that it was not for Catholics alone. His vision of a new Ireland meant that it would have to be, if not a secular state, at least a non-denominational one. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and a man of considerable learning. He was a man of rather extreme political views, and prepared for armed combat if necessary. Gavan Duffy’s first wife died of consumption (tuberculosis) aged twenty five. On 10 October Richard Barrett started a magazine called Old Ireland to oppose the Nation, to be what he regarded what the Nation should have been. It was however little more than a weekly edition of Barrett’s Pilot. 

            The Irish economy continued to prosper though the great problems of a massively growing population and a stagnant economy in Connaught remained unresolved. Had the potato failed even a decade later, when the railways had brought the cultivation of cash crops to Connaught, the outcome might have been very different. On 6 September the Post noted that there were gratifying reports of a good harvest coming in. But on the 9 September it reported an alarming ‘potato pestilence’, but the editor did not think that Ireland need worry. By the 30 October the Post noted that famine threatened parts of Ireland, and that he was receiving numerous letters on the subject for his readers.  

            Unlike in England, the repeal of the Corn Laws, introduced three decades earlier chiefly to stimulate the growth of the Irish economy, was not a burning topic. The great objection to the Corn Laws was that they made bread dear for ordinary working-class people. In Ireland most of these ate potatoes, so the issue did not arise until the potato failed. Ireland, like many other parts of the British Isles, benefited by Protection. High returns on cereal crops meant more employment on the land. Money in the farmers' pockets meant more work for tradesmen. It was recognized that wheat was being grown on unsuitable land that would give a better return from cattle. But on the other hand, cereals could be processed within Ireland, while cattle had to be driven to slaughterhouses close to the markets in the industrial towns in England. Nobody who could afford it would buy salted meat when they could buy fresh. The pig producers had however considerable success in developing alternative means of curing. (Frozen and canned meat from the Southern Hemisphere were not yet a serious threat.) 

            Just before the outbreak of the Famine the 'Railway mania' reached Ireland. The papers were filled with prospectuses for projected companies. In 1844 the sum of £800,000 was subscribed in Ireland itself towards the construction of the Great Southern and Western Railway, the original 'trunk line' to the south. In the parliamentary session of 1845 the Railway Committee of the Commons allowed the Bills for twelve Irish railways with a total length of 560 miles to go forward. The Midland Great Western Railway acquired most of the land it required for its line from Dublin to Galway cheaply by buying up the moribund Royal Canal. (It did not get running powers on the canal itself which therefore remained separate.) Great battles, legal and wordy, were fought between these two railway companies to determine the boundary between their spheres of influence. Most of the work brought to Ireland was in the eastern part of the island. The railway construction workers were a new kind of labourer. They were fed on a rich diet of beef and alcohol and they worked extremely fast and efficiently. The earliest railway constructors in France had refused to employ the undernourished French peasants on the arduous work, but in Ireland Irishmen were used from the start. From this point of view the proposal to use emaciated labourers to construct the railways was unrealistic. Where the railways were being constructed money flowed into the adjoining regions all through the Famine.

            [1846] In January 1846 Heytesbury cut the first sod of the Midland Great Western Railway. Work on the Great Southern and Western had begun a year earlier and by the middle of 1846 the line was open to Carlow. (The spur to Carlow into a great flourmilling area was constructed before continuing the main line to Cork.) The Dublin to Drogheda Railway line was completed in 1844 and a different company to construct the Junction Line to connect with the Ulster Railway at Portadown was floated. The Chester and Holyhead Railway Company (soon to be absorbed into the London and North Western Railway) announced that it intended to construct a deep-water pier at Holyhead equal to that at Kingstown. The electric telegraph was creeping along the railway lines in England, and the Irish companies hastened to erect them too. Plans were put forward in 1846 to lay a telegraph cable under the Irish Sea. The Belfast and County Down Railway hoped that the terminus would be at Donaghadee and placed wires along its track to Bangor. The Midland Great Western Railway placed telegraph lines along its track to Galway hoping to attract packets carrying mails or urgent news across the Atlantic into the harbour there. [Top]

Peel’s Defeat     

Parliament commenced its 1846 sitting on 22 January 1846. Peel, because of the situation in Ireland, immediately proposed the repeal of the Corn Laws, again splitting the Tory Party. With the help of the Whigs under Lord John Russell, Peel secured the repeal of the Corn Laws, opening the United Kingdom to the free import of grain. (It was not envisaged then that British markets would eventually be swamped by vast imports from the United States, Canada, and Australia. The sources envisaged for the cheaper wheat lay largely in eastern Europe and the Baltic states.)

On 14 February 1846 Henry Pelham, 12th Earl of Lincoln and heir to the Duke of Newcastle, replaced Thomas Fremantle as Irish Secretary. He was in office for just a few months. Parliament was largely taken up with the crisis in Ireland, It was generally regarded that the Government had dealt successfully with the failure of the potato. Peel had to turn his attention to the spread of agrarian terrorism, and his proposal to introduced the traditional remedy, another temporary anti-terrorism act led to the fall of his ministry. Peel was aware of the problems of Irish terrorism, and the reluctance of the local magistrates to deal with it since he first arrived in Ireland thirty years earlier. He had devoted much thought over that period as to how best to deal with the problem. At first there was little opposition in Parliament when he introduced his Coercion Bill (1846) in February, many Whigs supporting him. Lord Cloncurry, now aged 73, who had been arrested on suspicion more than once in 1798 was one of the first to voice opposition. The Whigs however rallied around Lord John Russell to defeat the Government on its Second Reading on 25/26 June 1846. For Russell the issue was more a tactical one than any objection in principle. Oddly enough, the chief opposition to the Bill came from a group of Tories that included Disraeli. Disraeli strongly opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws. 

The disputes in the Repeal Association between the Young Ireland party, and the ‘Old Ireland’ party that centered on John O’Connell continued, but the Repeal Association was inactive. Daniel O’Connell spent most of his time in the first half of 1846 in Westminster, where famine relief bills, the repeal of the Corn Laws, and Peel’s Coercion Bill occupied his time. John O’Connell and William Smith O’Brien were also active in Parliament.

 MacHale and those bishops who sided with him were, in the latter part of 1845 and early 1846, in close correspondence with each other and with Dr Paul Cullen in Rome about getting Rome to condemn Peel’s colleges. He and Archbishop Slattery of Tuam sent a formal complaint to Rome in January 1846 (Kerr 344). They continued sending letters to Rome on the subject during the rest of the year. The nub of their argument was that the system under the National Board had become in practice denominational, but the colleges were not, and the Catholic students were away from home. To which it could be replied that any dangers could be met by providing Catholic halls of residence and Catholic chaplaincies. MacHale had always argued that Catholics could raise enough money for an independent Catholic university, so by his argument, there should be sufficient money for halls of residence and chaplaincies. But MacHale did not want Peel’s scheme to succeed. Throughout the spring and summer of 1846 letters from members of MacHale’s faction poured into Rome. The bishops on the other side, believed that Rome would decide consistently, and also that it was a matter for each individual bishop in whose diocese a college was sited. But they also took care to inform Rome of their position. It was unfortunate that the violently anti-Protestant Dr Cullen was one of those that Rome relied on for advice, and he put forward the suggestion that the Irish Catholics should do as the Belgians had done and improve the own colleges. (In Belgium the bishops had founded Louvain University). The problem of course, as Archbishop Murray well knew, was that such a do-it-yourself solution had been already tried, and had almost immediately been abandoned for lack of financial support. Yet MacHale informed Rome that the Irish Church would have no difficulty in raising the necessary money. (MacHale’s successor in Tuam had to abandon his disastrous attempt to fund even primary education from the resources of the diocese alone). 

The Farmers’ Gazette noted that the shorthorn cow was being everywhere adopted in Ireland, eclipsing all other breeds. It also noted that Irish farmers were slow to adopt the growing of turnips. The Trades Political Association had been replaced by the Incorporated Guild of Trades that confined itself to normal trade union affairs. The Trades Political Union was no longer in existence, though its leader John O’Brien was still corresponding with Sir Thomas Fremantle. The Trades Unions opposed the Corn Laws because they made food dearer in towns. A decision in the Court of the Queen’s Bench decided that a trade guild still had the right to regulate its own trade for its own members despite the Municipal Reform Act (1840) had removed such rights from city and town corporations (Dublin Argus and Trades Gazette 21 February 1846). 

In the midst of all these disputes and these enterprises came ominous reports of a 'potato cholera' which was destroying the potato crop all over the world. The first reports of a failure of the potato crop came in September 1845. It must be remembered that while the Great Irish Famine brought 3 millions people, three eighths of the population on to relief schemes, 5 million people were largely unaffected. These three million of the poorest people in any case rarely involved themselves in national affairs. They were largely illiterate and often spoke only Gaelic. They took no part in the campaigns for Catholic Emancipation or for Repeal. Indeed the whole province of Connaught took little part in the campaign for Emancipation. The people who were concerned in national affairs, whether of Church or State, were educated, reasonably prosperous by the standards of the time, farmers, businessmen, tradesmen, merchants, professional people, and the land-owners. These who had incomes not dependent on the potato were little affected by its failure, and pursued their normal interests, both political and religious. 

The Great Famine will be dealt with in the following two chapters.  The chronological narrative following on the accession of the Whigs under Lord John Russell to power following Peel’s defeat will be resumed in Chapter twenty. 




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