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Chapter Twenty

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

Lord John Russell

(June 1846 to December 1850)

Summary. This describes the events that occurred during the ministry of Lord John Russell up to the end of 1850 when the book closes apart from the Famine. The university colleges  had to be established, and appeals to Rome dealt with. Within the nationalist community, after the death of Daniel O'Connell in 1847, a division arose between Young Ireland the bishops' faction led by John O'Connell, and preparations were made for an armed rising in 1848. Poor relief continued on a large scale, but in the commercial sector of the Irish economy normality was quickly restored. The chief issues became Tenant Right and university education.


Russell’s Succeeds Peel

Repeal and Young Ireland        

John O’Connell and Young Ireland

The Rescript on the Colleges

Plans for an Armed Uprising

The Colleges Again

Aftermath of the Famine

Tenant Right    

The Queen’s University and the National Synod


Russell’s Succeeds Peel 

[June 1846] Following the repeal (1846) of the Corn Laws and the fall of Peel's ministry, Lord John Russell put together his own ministry. Lord Lansdowne became Lord President of the Council, and Russell's father-in-law, the Earl of Minto, became Lord Privy Seal. Sir George Grey became Home Secretary, with Sir William Somerville from Meath as an Under Secretary. Lord Palmerston became Foreign Secretary, and George Villiers, 4th Earl of Earl of Clarendon, President of the Board of Trade. The Postmaster General was the Marquis of Clanrickarde. Thomas Wyse became Secretary of the Indian Board of Control. Richard Sheil became Master of the Mint, and the O'Connor Don, and on his death, Richard Montesquieu Bellew, became junior Lords of the Treasury. Most of the above were either Irish, or had extensive estates in Ireland. So during the Famine and the disturbances in 1848 Irish advisors closely surrounded Russell.

            Another Irishman, John William Ponsonby, the 4th Earl of Bessborough, became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Henry Labouchere an Englishman of Huguenot origin Irish Secretary. Sir Thomas Redington from Galway was made Irish Under-secretary. When Bessborough died in 1847 Clarendon became Lord Lieutenant, Labouchere went to the Board of Trade, and Somerville became Irish Secretary. Maziere Brady became Lord Chancellor, and David Pigot succeeded him as Chief Baron of the Exchequer. During the State Trials in 1848 it was noted that the Irish Attorney General, Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, the First Commissioner of Police, the Law Advisor to the Irish Government, the Government's Serjeant (Queen's Serjeant), and the Crown Prosecutor at Clonmel were all Irish Catholics. 

In Rome the old Pope, Gregory XVI, had died and Pius IX (known to Victorians as Pio Nono) was elected. During this period relations between the Government and the Holy See were very good. But as there was a new Pope who appointed different cardinals to different offices, all parties had to lay their disputes and questions before him all over again. Pius was interested in reforms, including political reforms, and was well disposed towards Britain. He sent a young English vicar apostolic, Dr Nicholas Wiseman, as a personal unofficial representative to Lord Palmerston. In Ireland after the Reformation there always existed enough Irish priests to keep sending names to Rome to be appointed bishops to existing sees, and so each diocese had a Protestant and a Catholic bishop. In England this process had lapsed, so Rome had divided England and Wales into four regions, appointed bishops to ancient sees in the realm of the Turks, and sent them to work in England. These bishops were known as vicars apostolic, i.e. vicars of the Pope. As the Catholic Church in England was relatively thriving in the early nineteenth century many felt it was time that the English hierarchy should be restored, and Pius was anxious to secure the advice of the British Government to avoid any possible breach of the law. 

The Government itself was trying to introduce legislation in Ireland and was anxious for its part not to breach Canon Law. Both sides too felt that the time was ripe to take up the question left in abeyance in 1815 by Castlereagh and Cardinal Consalvi, namely, formal diplomatic relations.  The disputes regarding National Education, Charitable Bequests, and the Queen's Colleges showed the drawbacks of passing the legislation first (even if after seeking the advice of the local archbishops) and then needing some friendly Catholic bishop to put their case for them in Rome. (In the matter of the Colleges Dr Francis Nicholson, the Irish Catholic bishop of the Ionian Islands then under British rule, seems to have acted for the Government.) 

Russell sent Lord Minto the following year 1847 to Italy partly to advise the Pope in introducing liberal reforms, and partly to advise on how to go about restoring the English hierarchy. It was felt that any attempt to appoint Catholic bishops to ancient sees like Canterbury or York might provoke a strong reaction from Exeter Hall. But there would be less trouble if Rome created entirely new sees, Westminster, for example, instead of London. It seemed ridiculous that the most enlightened power in the world could neither send even a polite diplomatic note, nor receive one from the Pope. Canning, in particular, was sensitive about this. Any MP like Peel could go to Rome and meet the Pope, but the moment he became Prime Minister all official communication had to cease. The ancient statutes of Praemunire were aimed at appeals over the head of the king of England to a foreign jurisdiction. Russell therefore introduced a Bill to open diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Most of the Tories did not object, though Wellington insisted that it be clearly stated that contacts were being made only with the head of a sovereign foreign state, which of course the Pope was. The Bill passed both Houses in 1848 and received the royal assent. Before anything could be done revolution had broken out in Rome, and the Pope fled. In 1850 the English hierarchy was restored, and Exeter Hall and its associates stirred up a hurricane of anti-popery feeling, so ambassadors were not in fact exchanged.  

            Not all Italians, and not all cardinals, liked these contacts between the Pope and a British Government, which was credited with nefarious plots concerning Italian internal affairs. MacHale and Higgins had to play on this anti-British feeling and fan the suspicions. There was a further result to this diplomatic activity. The anti-popery campaign in 1850 allowed the Irish political clergy to claim that a major attack was being launched on their Church, and to change the non-sectarian Tenant Right movement into a Catholic Defence Association. 

Bessborough arrived in Ireland and took office early in July 1846 and on 13 July Russell summoned the Members of Parliament to continue the session. The first months of the administration were taken up with discontinuing Peel’s emergency measures for Ireland, and putting remedial measures on a firmer and more long-term basis. Peel’s measures had been very successful, and there was no reason to believe that the potato would fail again. Archbishop Murray compared Peel to the patriarch Joseph who saved the Children of Israel from starvation (letter 15 August 1846). 

            The next question, which the Government had to deal with in 1846, was agrarian crime. A. M. Sullivan considered that in the period between 1835 and 1855 Ribbonism was at its most audacious peak. Peel had tried to bring in an Act to deal with open murders in the streets. As the Famine waned so did agrarian crime show its face again. The usual robberies for arms and night attacks on property became frequent in Limerick and Clare, and assassinations common in Tipperary, King's County, and Roscommon. As in the years preceding 1798 it is difficult to decide how much of the motivation was political. Yet having just defeated Peel on the issue the Whigs could not immediately bring in an identical measure before Parliament rose on 28 August 1846. 

The Whigs took over Peel’s policy on university education unchanged, and proceed with the arrangements. Peel had already named the presidents of the new Colleges. A Catholic priest, Dr Joseph Kirwan, was appointed to Galway, a Catholic scientist, Dr Robert Kane, to Cork, and a Presbyterian minister, Dr P. S. Henry, to Belfast. Though a rumour circulated in Dublin in 1846 that the old Pope had intended condemning the Queen's Colleges, the Government, and Archbishop Murray, expected a favourable response from Rome regarding them. For the principles were no different from those in National Education, and the safeguards were the same: the appointing of vigilant Catholic bishops to over-see the running of the new system. In fact Rome had condemned the Colleges, rebuked those bishops who had entered into negotiations with the Government without consulting Rome, and advised the establishment of a Catholic University. But the new Pope refused to publish the decision (Kerr 347). 

 Negotiations with the Presbyterians were very complex, for Peel had wished to discontinue the grants for the maintenance of two professorships of divinity in the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and to transfer the professorships to the new college in a manner satisfactory to both Subscribers and Non-Subscribers. It was his policy that the Presbyterians should receive from the Government assistance with the education of their ordinands equal to that given to the Catholics in Maynooth. 

            Contracts were placed for the construction of the buildings. Three different architects designed the buildings, Sir Thomas Deane being chosen for Cork, Joseph Keane for Galway, and Charles Lanyon for Belfast. It may be noted in passing that Irish architecture and design was in a healthy state. After initial hesitancy visible in the Catholic cathedrals in Carlow and Tuam the revived use of Gothic was mastered. Augustus Welby Pugin designed the new buildings put up at Maynooth. Besides cathedrals, and the Colleges, many other large public buildings were being designed and built at this period, notably in connection with the railways. The Gothic style was preferred for ecclesiastic and educational buildings, the Italianate style for railway buildings, and a sober classical style for commercial buildings. [Top] 

Repeal and Young Ireland 

The various parties on the side of Repeal were involved in continuous struggles among themselves. As O'Connell, who had dominated the Repealers for more than fifteen years, was visibly declining his son John endeavoured to establish his claim to leadership in order to keep the movement on the lines of non-violence and respect for the rights of the clergy which his father had preached. The Young Ireland group was not prepared to extend to John O'Connell the respect they had shown to the father. Already, while O'Connell was in prison in 1844, it was apparent that moves were afoot to limit the influence of Young Ireland. Whether Dan or John or both together brought the matter to a head is immaterial; they were agreed on policy. An issue was to be made of whether it was lawful to advocate the use of force even in the most hypothetical terms.  

            Issues which had been coming to a head in the Repeal Association, and which had been put aside earlier in the year when many of the leaders were in London, now came to the fore again. A meeting was held on 13 July 1846, where it was proposed by Smith O’Brien that those Catholic MPs like Sheil and Wyse who had accepted office should be opposed when they stood for re-election as they were bound by Parliamentary rules to do. But O’Connell chose to use the occasion to make a determined stand again the use of physical force. He noted that already in South America there had been 300 revolutions of the kind Young Ireland was said to be advocating. He drew up and proposed a motion to renounce all violence and insisted on a vote. The motion was carried with one person voting against it, a gentleman called Thomas Francis Meagher. By no means all Young Irelanders advocated the use of violence, and Duffy said that the Nation never advocated the use of violence to achieve their ends, but only moral force, education, and conciliation (Nation 18 July 1846). He considered that there was at present no possibility of an armed rebellion succeeding, but the right to use force in more favourable circumstances should not be denied.  

Meagher on 28 July 1846 made a speech, which he did not think went beyond O’Connell’s own 'Mallow Defiance'. John O’Connell denounced him. John Mitchel intervened to explain but made matters worse. Meagher exclaimed 'Abhor and stigmatise the sword! Never' and so got his rather unwarranted nickname 'Meagher of the sword'. Perhaps wisely, John O'Connell cut short such open preaching of treason (or possibility of treason). He claimed this attitude was incompatible with the resolution already passed, and as he was enthusiastically cheered. Several Young Irelanders, Smith O'Brien, Meagher, Mitchel, and Duffy, walked out of the meeting.  

            Dr Higgins of Ardagh and Dr Cantwell of Meath published letters supporting John O'Connell. Ray, the Secretary of the Repeal Association, informed Mitchel that he was no longer regarded as a member of the Association. Letters however poured into the Nation supporting Meagher's stance. Higgins in a letter to O’Connell fiercely attacked the ‘shallow sophistry and flippant impertinences exhibited by the few young men who so childishly style themselves Young Ireland’ (DEP 4 August 1846). He added that he and his clergy had got the Nation excluded from almost all the literary institutions in Ardagh.  

It is difficult to determine when exactly organisations connected with Young Ireland, especially those with a background in agrarian crime began to arm and drill before the formation of the Irish Confederation in January 1847. But it is reasonable to assume that it had commenced as early as 1843 when it was confidently expected that O’Connell would lead an army against the British. Such local activities would not necessarily be brought to the notice of the leadership in Dublin, though O’Connell and the Government would assume the leaders were fully aware of what was going on. Only the assumption that such clandestine drilling was occurring would explain the sharpness of the attack of O’Connell on the Young Ireland leaders, and why Higgins accused them of ‘shallow sophistry’. None of the Young Ireland leaders in Dublin connected with the Nation were in fact at that time plotting an armed rising. The boundaries between violent trade unionism, agrarian crime, and political violence were always hard to define in Ireland. In August Russell introduced an Irish Arms Bill to control the possession of firearms and the importation of gunpowder but he did not proceed with it. The assumption clearly was that some parties were negotiating to procure firearms from abroad. The parliamentary session ended on 28 August.           

In November 1846, members of the Young Ireland group excluded from the Repeal Association met in the Rotunda in Dublin, to discuss the absolute rejection of their letter of Remonstrance by the Repeal Association on 29 October 1846. O’Connell made it clear to Gavan Duffy that a certain kind of ambiguous language in the Nation would have to be completely excluded by its editor (Pilot 7 Dec 1846). A much larger meeting by invitation only met in December also in the Rotund. There were about 2,000 present mostly tradesmen. A deputation from Young Ireland waited on O’Connell but found him absolutely intransigent on the issue of violence. It is strange that Young Ireland persisted in their attitude, seeing they had no intention of resorting to violence, but they were equally determined to retain the option for some hypothetical circumstances in the future. This could only occur if England was embroiled in a foreign war. 

In the meantime the Orangemen sought to strengthen and revitalise their organisation by re-establishing the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Sharman Crawford formed a Tenant Right Association to look for ‘tenant right’. The Catholic bishops held their routine annual meeting on 10 November 1846. The majority of the bishops proposed a Resolution asking the Government to change the National system of education to one based on Catholic principles, but a minority led by Archbishop Crolly objected to this resolution on the grounds that many of the bishops had departed. They also passed another resolution asking for changes in the Charitable Bequests Board. The principal resolutions were concerned with the education of the children of Catholic soldiers. The bishops might be deeply divided, but they carried  on their discussions with formality and respect. 

[January 1847] Duffy published in the Nation on January 11 1847 a letter from the fiery young radical James Finton Lalor advocating the use of force to seize crops, to confiscate the land, for a national rent strike, and for national independence (DNB). John Mitchel, who was to become the chief advocate of a violent solution, was much influenced by this letter. Whatever Duffy might say, by publishing this letter he gave the green light to advocacy of violence. It was Mitchel who was to call for actual fighting as opposed to showing strength. The author of the entry on him in the Dictionary of National Biography considered that he was lacking in judgement, which was perhaps understating the matter. Thomas Carlyle advised him not to tilt at windmills.  The following passage in a letter of his to one of his friends, John Martin, published in the Southern Citizen (Tennessee), is illuminating:

            ‘Further, I have to record that the male passengers on board, being mostly southern gentlemen, were all of them, so far as I observed, men of refined and dignified manners, with that gentle tone of voice and courtesy of demeanour which are characteristic of the South, and which I attribute in great part to the institution of slavery’. (At the outbreak of the American Civil War the Confederate Army rejected him because of his poor eyesight, but his three sons fought in the Confederate Army where two were killed and one wounded.)  

Parliament reconvened on 19 January 1847, and it had to face the fact that the situation was immeasurably worse than when it rose the previous August. In fact the year remembered in Ireland as ‘Black 47’ was just beginning. On 8 February O’Connell made his last speech in the Commons. He set out on a pilgrimage to Rome but died in Genoa on 5 May. The Repeal Association continued to meet but the Rent fell to about £40 a week. The Irish Confederation, as the Young Irelanders, called themselves, also continued to meet. Gavan Duffy, on 20 April 1847 made a speech, the substance of which has been repeated to the present day, that the Famine was caused by English legislation and Whig principles (SNL 23 April 1847). Curiously, about a week later Saunders’ reported on the new school of Irish archaeologists led by George Petrie who were sweeping away the fabrications of the earlier generation of Vallency, Beaufort, O’Brien, and Betham. But it was precisely from this earlier generation that O’Connell and Young Ireland drew their inspiration about an Irish past that was mostly imaginary. The nationalist mythology of Young Ireland was debunked almost as soon as it was written, but this did not prevent its wide acceptance. An attempt to bring the two Associations together was rejected by John O’Connell out of hand. 

The Dublin Evening Post (9 January 1847) reported the first use of an anaesthetic (ether) for a medical operation in Ireland, its use having been pioneered in Massachusetts two years earlier. At this time photography was introduced to Ireland. In February the Post reported that famine was widespread in several counties in the west and south, and in March that a pestilence (famine fever) was raging all over Ireland striking down rich and poor alike. [Top] 

John O’Connell and Young Ireland 

[May 1847] In May O’Connell and Lord Bessborough, who as Lord Duncannon had introduced O’Connell into Parliament died within 24 hours of each other. Lord Clarendon, succeeded Bessborough. He had some previous experience in Ireland, as he had been active from 1827 to 1829 in uniting the British and Irish Boards of Excise. Sharman Crawford’s latest Bill on Tenant Right was defeated. On 23 July 1847 Parliament had run its course and was dissolved, having been one of the longest Parliaments on record, and a General Election was called. 

            Though expelled from Conciliation Hall the Young Ireland faction did not put up candidates against John O'Connell and the political priests. Sir William Somerville was returned in Drogheda, and Sheil in Dungarvan. John O'Connell moved from Athlone to Kilkenny borough that he won. The seat in Athlone was won by an up-and-coming man, William Keogh, and Carlow borough by another like him, John Sadlier. Wyse was defeated in Waterford. (Wyse was never again elected to Parliament. In 1849 he was made British Minister in Athens, and there spent the rest of his life.) Two Tories, Bruen and Bunbury, were elected in Carlow county. Conway estimated that the Repealers had gained six seats over-all since 1841, and the Liberals had gained one from the Tories. Of the 105 elected 44 were new faces. Richard Montesquieu Bellew was unopposed in Louth and succeeded the O’Connor Don who had just died as Junior Lord of the Treasury. Otherwise the ministry was largely unchanged.

 The Repealers under John O’Connell continued to support the Whigs. The Confederates did not set up rival candidates, or even start a rival organisation in the country. The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland sent a public address to the Protestant electors of Great Britain on the need to get written pledges from candidates that they would oppose all further concessions to Popery (Newry Telegraph 29 July 1847). Parliament was not immediately recalled, and did not re-convene until November 1847. Russell at this time dispatched Lord Minto to Rome. The Pope used Dr. Nicholas Wiseman to communicate with the British Government, and was made pro-vicar apostolic of the London District with a view to the restoration of the English hierarchy (DEP 23 September 1847). 

On the 18th September 1847 Finton Lalor and Michael Doheny convoked a meeting at Holy Cross in Tipperary with a view to establishing a Tenant’s League. They did not propose seizing the land, but only to force the landlords to grant fixed and fair rents. But Lalor also envisaged getting rid of the landlords altogether, and did suggest withholding rents from unpopular landlords. They rejected a suggestion from a representative of the Post that they would do better to get together with the landlords in an Agricultural Improvement Society. The reporter for the Post noted the bitter antagonism felt towards landlords in Tipperary (SNL 16 Sept. 1847, DEP 21 Sept. 1847)). Lalor was a strange character. Like Cardinal Cullen he grew up in a family deeply involved in the violent anti-Protestant struggle called the ‘Tithe War’ where atrocities and murders were condoned even if not acknowledged. From this meeting dates the gradual drift of Young Ireland into the hands of extremists like Lalor, Mitchell, and James Stephens who were determined to bring about an armed struggle by whatever means were necessary. Lalor was no organiser and his league soon failed, but that did not matter, for better organisers like James Stephens were beginning to set up their own organisation to prepare for revolution. (Doheny, a young barrister, was involved in the abortive rising in 1848, and along with James Stephens in the similar attempt in 1867.) The London Times reported that Doheny regarded the murder of a landlord as less of an evil than the eviction of a tenant (SNL 24 Sept. 1847). The sentiment would not have been out of place among the agrarian terrorists at any period of Irish history.   

In September too occurred the first meeting of what was to be a more formidable movement when the Desmond or Young Ireland Club was established in Cork. Like the Brunswickers before them, they preferred the name club in order to avoid being suppressed under the Convention Act. Clubs were independent bodies, and as long as they did not elect delegates they were safe. In October there were the first reports of another outbreak of cholera at Trebizond on the south-eastern shores of the Black Sea. [Top]

The Rescript on the Colleges 

 The Irish Catholic bishops met on 19 October 1847, and conducted their usual business. They sent an address of congratulation to the new Pope, and also a letter to Rome thanking it for the letter regarding the Provincial Colleges. (The Minutes of their meetings record only the Resolutions not the discussions. The Rescript from Propaganda on the Colleges was dated 9 October 1847, and referred only to the dangerous nature of the Colleges to the Catholic faith. Rome did not then, or ever, despite intense lobbying by MacHale and Cullen, condemn them as intrinsically evil. The distinction is important, for it implied only that a young Catholic who attended such a College was placing himself in a situation of danger of losing his faith. The normal remedy advised in such case was to make the danger remote by frequent prayer and attendance at Church services.  This logically would imply that the bishops should provide chaplains and chaplaincies to attend to the spiritual needs of the students. This was in fact the line adopted soon after by the Australian bishops to the intense disgust of Gavan Duffy who could see that the Irish bishops could easily do the same. (The English bishops followed the Irish bishops until 1895 when the then Archbishop of Westminster asked the then Pope to allow English Catholic students to attend Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The Irish bishops for the most part gave permission in individual cases to attend even Trinity College, Dublin if there was some particular reason for the request.) 

            The Government and Archbishop Murray were rather taken aback when Pius IX in October 1847 authorised the issuing of a Rescript (1847). The Rescript said it recognised the probity of those bishops who approved of the proposed Colleges, but expressed surprise that anyone should enter into negotiations with a secular Government without consulting the Holy See. (That is scarcely a fair way of describing what had occurred, and one wonders what exactly Dr. Paul Cullen had told the Holy See.) It recommended that all Catholic bishops should withdraw themselves from these institutions which were dangerous to the Catholic faith. Once again one wonders what exactly Cullen had said, for even living in this world can be considered dangerous to religious beliefs. (Cullen himself had been educated in a school run by Quakers, a fact well-known and commented on  the time.) During this period even level-headed bishops like Dr Charles MacNally of Clogher (Monaghan) felt that there was danger of proselytism even in the distribution of famine-relief by bodies like the Quakers. Finally, the Rescript recommended that the Catholic bishops should themselves establish a Catholic University like that of Louvain in Belgium. One newspaper considered that Dr Higgins of Ardagh and Cullen had misled the Holy See by their boasts of numerous existing 'Catholic colleges'. There were indeed several Catholic academies or grammar schools, but all were small, with low educational standards, and all were struggling to survive financially. 

            Conway of the Post told his readers (Whigs) that some of the bishops had called on him to explain the effects of the Rescript (1847) in layman's terms. Conway was kept closely informed about the progress of the bishops’ meeting which was unusually long, lasting from the 19 to the 26 October, and included a deputation to the Lord Lieutenant with regard to victims of the Famine. Only Catholic bishops were withdrawn from working with the Colleges. Therefore both priests and laymen could attend them either as students or members of staff. As it stood the Rescript was a victory for the minority group of bishops. Conway reported that Archbishop Crolly, who was chairing the meetings, refused another debate on National Education, but Bishops Cantwell and Higgins managed to get a resolution on it passed (Minutes 23.10.47; DEP 26, 28 October 1847). But it was likely that MacHale would renew his campaign to secure a more categorical condemnation. The Government took this view, and reviewed the Statutes of the Queen's Colleges to make them more acceptable to the Catholics. [Top] 

Plans for an Armed Uprising 

In November there were renewed reports of robberies for arms and night attacks on property especially in parts of the South. Parliament opened early, re-assembling on 18 November 1847 because of the Famine. Another reason was the growth of agrarian crime that might need special legislation. Fr. Theobald Mathew preached against such crime. The Queen’s speech was transmitted from London to Liverpool by the electric telegraph the lines for which were laid along the railways. The Government immediately brought in a very limited Bill against agrarian crime, the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Act 1847. Several baronies were proclaimed under the Act in December. MacHale wrote to Russell with regard to the agrarian disturbances. Parliament recessed on 20 December 1847.

In the autumn the Council of the Confederation drew up their plans with regard to how an independent Irish parliament might be achieved. In December 1847 John Mitchell withdrew from them and in February began publishing his own paper The United Irishman in which he openly preached rebellion.

 [January 1848] On 3 January 1848 Cardinal Fransoni, the Prefect of Propaganda sent from Rome a letter to Archbishop Crolly for transmission to the other bishops warning them that priests must not take an active part in politics, and churches might not be used for secular purposes. (Propaganda was the papal ministry dealing with the foreign missions. The churches in the British Isles were placed under it.) Murray commended this letter to his own clergy (DEP 8,10 February 1848). Like most documents at the time it was quickly leaked to the press. In February 1848 revolution broke out in France inaugurating ‘The Year of Revolutions’. By March France, Austria, and Hungary had declared themselves republics. Unrest sprang up in the Papal States. There were popular uprisings in Poland, Hanover, Bavaria, the Rhineland, and Lombardy. Meagher threw in his lot with Mitchel.

Parliament re-assembled on 3 February 1848 and was still concerned with the Famine. Sir William Somerville brought in a Landlord and Tenant Bill (1848) but landlord interests defeated it. A Bill establishing diplomatic relation between the United Kingdom and the Papal States passed its third reading in the House of Lords and received the royal assent on 29 August 1848. This move was fiercely opposed by MacHale’s faction which feared any interference from the Government in religious matters, and the introduction of the veto by the back door. In March, the authorities in Dublin followed the example of London and swore in special constables, but St Patrick’s Day (17 March) passed off without disturbance. Murray signed the public declaration of loyalty, and wrote to Conway saying he remembered the violent disturbances of fifty years ago. On 23 March 1848 Smith O’Brien. Mitchel and Meagher were prosecuted for sedition. They sent a delegation to France, but Lamartine, the head of the provisional republican government in France absolutely refused them any assistance. 

Spurred on by the many examples of popular uprisings on the Continent Mitchel’s faction gained the upper hand, most of the Confederation gradually joining him. Even Gavan Duffy was drawn in to the plans for an armed uprising. Thomas Redington sent out a circular on 24 April 1848 advising them to swear in special constables. Russell’s government decided to bring the medieval laws against treason for which the penalty was death more up to date. It introduced the Crown and Government Security Bill, more commonly called the Treason Felony Act (1848). The aim of this Act was to make lesser treasonable acts against the crown into lesser crimes called felonies, which would be punishable only by terms of imprisonment. A result of this was to make those convicted under this Act into ordinary convicts or felons, which was resented by those who considered themselves as warriors fighting for freedom. But the aim of the Act was both humanitarian and practical, for juries were more likely to convict on non-capital charges. Mitchel’s seditious writings became mere felonies. During the Second Reading of the Bill Smith O’Brien said he was loyal to the queen but not to the Parliament in Westminster. O’Brien, Meagher, and Mitchel were indicted under the new Act. In May Mitchel was convicted and sentenced to transportation to a penal colony for fourteen years. Leading barristers defended O’Brien and Meagher and the juries fail to agree so they were discharged. Conway considered that some of the jurymen were swayed, not by the evidence, but by their politics. In one trial there was one dissentient juryman and in the other two (DEP 20 May 1848). In April an event occurred which was to have little immediate effect but which was to be immensely influential in the future; a committee was established to free Ireland. Confederate Clubs were being established in many parts of Ireland. 

On 1 May the Earl of Enniskillen, as Grand Master, sent a circular letter to the Orangemen of Ireland calling on them to support the government, and urged all Protestants to join the Order which was now legal. A Protestant Repeal Association was started which Sharman Crawford refused to join (SNL 10 May 1848). On 24 May the Dublin Improvement Bill was introduced to enable Dublin to act as an effective municipal authority, though it was to be two years before it finally passed. At the end of May there was a second meeting of the Protestant Repeal Association and it claimed to have 1500 members. In June Chartist disturbances were noted in England. The Government, using powers under the Treason Felony Act instituted searches for arms, and several thousand people rushed to hand in various kinds of firearms. John O’Connell’s Repeal Association met on the 5 June 1848. The Rent was now down to £13 a week. John O’Connell proposed starting a new Irish League, and Dr Cantwell of Meath wrote supporting him and pledging the support of MacHale and those bishops who agreed with him. Conway noted that O’Connell was relying on the support of the Catholic clergy. He also noted the danger for the Confederate Clubs, like trade unions and Ribbon Societies to degenerate into combinations for private revenge or individual rapacity (DEP 24 June 1848). He also noted that the Confederates were partly driven by a personal dislike of John O’Connell, who was a rather overbearing character, and partly by a determination to exclude priests from Irish politics. Great efforts were made all over Ireland to bring about a reconciliation between the Old Repealers and the Confederate Clubs, but O’Connell, not without reason, felt that this would just give more influence to the Clubs who were refusing to rule out recourse to arms. On 6 June 1848 he dissolved the Repeal Association.  

Meanwhile the Government was still pursuing the cause of the Colleges, while at the same time trying to establish diplomatic relations with Rome. Clarendon asked the Catholic auxiliary bishop of Corfu, Archbishop Nicholson, to present the Government’s case regarding the colleges to the Pope. (Corfu was in the Ionian Islands off the coast of Greece, and temporarily under British rule.) In March (1848) Clarendon sent the revised Statutes to Murray for his comments before transmitting them to Rome by Nicholson. He apologised for the delay that was caused by the press of more urgent business. MacHale and Higgins set out for Rome to oppose the revised Statutes in person. They had an audience with the Pope in April. Conway gave it as his opinion that MacHale never even bothered to read them. Dr Maginn of Derry complained to Dr. McNally of Clogher that Dr Higgins in Rome did not send copies of the revised Statutes to the Irish bishops, as it might be that the bishops could concur with them (Maginn to McNally 9 June 1848; Clogher Diocesan Archives). Their letters at this period show that they thought that Archbishop Murray was lobbying furiously for the Government. In fact he was not, but perhaps it would have been better both for Ireland and for the Catholic religion if he had lobbied vigorously, and cleared the Pope's mind of the fantasies about the proposed Irish Louvain. 

[June 1848] In Paris in June 1848, an attempt by the Communists to take over the revolution resulted in immense slaughter in the streets, and the Archbishop of Paris was murdered. The Government knew that a revolution was being prepared. John Pitt Kennedy was entrusted by the corporation of Dublin with the task of making the city safe. The Orange Order offered its services to Clarendon, who declined their offer. Kennedy however allowed them to enrol individually as volunteers and allowed them £600 of his own money to purchase arms. This he did to keep the Orange Order submissive to the Government, and Clarendon accepted his explanation (Kennedy DNB). Saunders’ Newsletter noted that there were 15 Confederate Clubs totalling 4,000 men in Cork alone (7 July 1848). The date of the rising was fixed for 8 August. In the first weeks of July several of the Young Ireland leaders were arrested on various charges, and various places were proclaimed. The Government hastily passed a Suspension of Habeas Corpus Act (1848) to enable it to round up the remaining leaders. It was promulgated in Dublin on 29 July 1848 to be valid until 1 March 1849. The revolution was nipped in the bud. Meagher and Smith O’Brien tried to carry on. On 5 August 1848 O’Brien led a body of his supporters to attack a group of policemen at Ballingarry, co. Tipperary, but the attack was easily beaten off. The leaders either fled the country or were arrested and tried. Because of the new Act they were only tried and sentenced for felonies. Though the attempted rising was to occupy a prominent place in the mythology of Irish nationalism, it was insignificant at the time. As was common with agrarian crime small local outbreaks continued for some time afterwards. The affair was handled entirely by the constabulary. Saunders Newsletter noted that most of the important persons involved on the Government side in the trials were Catholics (30 September 1848). Clarendon had ensured that there were plenty of troops in Ireland, but they were not needed. 

On 5 September 1848 Parliament rose after a session of 170 days. [Top]           

The Colleges Again 

    Dr Higgins wrote to Dr Edward Maginn of Derry on 14 September 1848:          You can scarcely conceive the unjustifiable means resorted to by our blind and unprincipled opponents. Everything that systematic lying or British intrigue could effect was called unscrupulously into requisition (MacNamee). He further advised Maginn and their other supporters to get to Dublin a few days in advance of the opposing bishops assembling for the annual conference so as to be able to co-ordinate their tactics. Elsewhere, Higgins attacked Gavan Duffy as 'a Voltaire, a Diderot, a Delambert', 'an infidel and a rebel’, 'one who was seeking to overthrow Catholic faith and morals' etc. Duffy supported the Colleges so we can be sure that his support was brought to the Pope's attention. Duffy actually was a strict practising Catholic. 

            The second Rescript (1848) arrived in October 1848 still repeating the condemnation. It did have a little clause that we may suspect was put in at Cullen's behest, for it coincided closely with his views. It was that the meetings of the Irish bishops should in future be held in more regular form, i.e. in synodical form. Rome was not in favour of a national synod, nor was MacHale (unless he was going to win) nor Cullen (for the same reason), but the clause was to prove useful. MacHale held a provincial synod which decreed that any priest who took an active part in the working of the Queen's Colleges was to be suspended from priestly duties. But the bishop chiefly concerned, the bishop of Galway, disagreed and sent a protest off to Rome. Conway published a letter from a Catholic priest pointing out that a bishop could, in his own diocese, give dispensations from decrees of provincial synods.           

            As, at this point, the Pope had to flee from Rome further discussion was broken off. The Pope left Rome for the coastal town of Gaeta on 24 November 1848. The Pope did not immediately seek British protection as Pius VII did in 1815 but he positioned himself where he could easily step on board a British ship if that proved necessary. It was curious, but from 1690 onwards the king of England was the only one the various Popes wished to be under obligation to. For they were the only ones who would not make excessive demands in return. 

            The presidents of the three Colleges with their advisers proceeded with the selection and appointment of staff to the Colleges, and drawing up the common curriculum. In January 1849 the names of the various professors were published. In October 1849 the admission of students commenced. Murray again made it clear in the pages of the Post that it was lawful for Catholic youths to attend the Colleges, and further stated that he was informed that a highly-placed ecclesiastic in Rome believed that the Irish bishops should accept a fait accompli and appoint deans of residence for the Catholic student hostels. The formal opening of the Colleges took place in December 1849 and just then the president of Galway College, Dr Kirwan, died. [Top]                       

Aftermath of the Famine 

        [Autumn 1848] By the autumn of 1848 the worst of the Famine was over. The potato harvests in 1847 was quite good, and the other crops did quite well also. But in 1848 the potato failed again. But by this time the relief schemes, public and private were fully working. The Government’s relief administered by a commission under Sir John Burgoyne was wound up in October 1848 and all relief for the future reverted to the Poor Law Unions though there were still massive numbers seeking relief, still nearly 800,000 in July 1849. Increasingly, outdoor relief was abandoned. In October 1850 the figure had fallen as low as 2,249. By September 1850 the total Poor Rate actually collected in Ireland had risen from £359,870 to £1,561,846 (DEP 25 January 1851). It was recognised of course that some of the poorest unions would still need support. The Rate in Aid Act (1848) allowed a levy of one ninth on the whole property of Ireland to go to those unions where their outlays far exceeded their taxable capacity. (It was felt better to levy this rate than to apply income tax to Ireland, for the sum raised would be spent within Ireland.) Expenditure in the Unions peaked in 1849 but this was attributed to the need to extend accommodation in the workhouses and to provide fever hospitals. 

As had been predicted at the start of the Famine only those with few acres who depended on the potato for a large part of their sustenance, suffered materially. Cultivation was maintained. The rest of the Irish economy was unaffected. The acreage under potatoes fell sharply in 1847 to 284,000 acres, but by 1852 was back to a more normal 877,000 acres. The numbers of cows and sheep held scarcely varied as the richer farmers owned these. But the numbers of pigs and poultry did. The number of poultry dropped from about 8.5 millions to about 5.5 millions and then rose again to over 8 millions. The number of pigs in Ireland was put at 1,413,000 in 1841, 622,000 in 1847, and 1,073,000 in 1852. Pigs too were fed on potatoes. The number of cattle rose from 1,863,000 in 1841 to 3,095,000 in 1852, reflecting a change in the pattern of agriculture following the repeal of the Corn Laws. The growing of wheat  declined thereafter in the whole of the British Isles until just before the Second World War. The number of cattle in Ireland reached a peak just prior to the First World War. (No figures can be entirely accurate, even those of the tillage census. These here are quoted from Marmion who was citing official sources and can be regarded as reasonably reliable.) Irish agriculture, at least as far as the commercial farms were concerned, continued to improve. Most farmers introduced the improved breeds of shorthorn cow and the Cheviot and Blackface sheep. 

            The structure of land-holding changed. Marmion gives figures for 310,375 holdings under 5 acres in 1841 and 81,561 in the same category in 1851. Thus the aim of progressive landowners for the previous thirty years of eliminating sub-division and tiny uneconomic holdings was largely realised. 

            The construction of railways went on without interruption all through the Famine years. At the end of 1846 120 miles of railway had been constructed. In 1847 89 miles were added, in 1848 150 miles, and in 1849 134 miles. By  1852 there were 680 miles of railway in Ireland, with 139 in course of construction. A total of £14,250,000 had been spent on them. The Great Southern and Western Railway linked with the Waterford and Limerick Railway in 1848 providing a line through to Limerick. The line was then rapidly pushed on to Cork, which was reached the following year. The Midland Great Western  Railway asked for a loan from the Government to enable it to complete the line to Galway, which was reached in 1851. The line to Belfast caused the most problems because of three major obstacles in its path. There was the river Boyne that had to be crossed by bridge and viaduct, a solid granite ridge in south Armagh, and immediately following  a deep ravine. A cutting had to be blasted through the ridge, and a viaduct constructed over the ravine. Apart from the Boyne Bridge that was not completed until 1855, the line to Belfast was open in 1852. These were the major lines radiating from Dublin. Cork, Belfast, and Londonderry were provincial centres from which local railways radiated. In 1849 the great Britannia tubular bridge over the Menai Straits was lifted into position, so completing the railway from London to Holyhead. Charles Wye Williams and Thomas Spring Rice finally completed the great work of improving the navigation of the difficult river, the Shannon, which had been the subject of many attempts for over a century. With the aid of advances from the Treasury of over half a million pounds. Ships of 100 horsepower could now reach Athlone, in the centre of Ireland, from the sea. (With the coming of the railways, Athlone was connected directly with Dublin, and this proved a more popular route, as there were 14 locks on the river.) 

            Though deplored by nationalists emigration continued at a high level almost up to this day. The natural increase in the population always exceeded the rate at which jobs could be created either by the reclamation of land or by industrialisation. All the Churches set their faces totally against any consideration of family limitation. (Not until about the 1920's were Catholics advised even to space out their children through abstinence.) So for the future emigration was to provide a safety valve. But looking at the country over-all, in 1850 there seemed every reason for confidence in the future. 

            The non-agricultural side of the Irish economy was still healthy and was affected only indirectly by the failure of the potato crop. Ireland, at least in the coastal counties, like the contemporary United States, had many industries like spinning, weaving, boot-making, clothes making, leatherwork, and so on. In some respects, the Irish economy was equal to the best in the world. Irish companies built Irish railways. Even heavy ironworks associated with railways were manufactured in Ireland (Keenan). Except in the north-east the growth of industry did not maintain its momentum in the second half of the century. Industrial processes were more and more concentrated in large factory, with machinery powered by steam. Proximity to sources of cheap coal was an advantage that Most of Ireland did not enjoy. It became possible to supply better goods at a cheaper price from factories in England than from local small-scale manufacturers. It is to this, rather than to after-effects of the Famine, or to emigration, that Ireland’s relative failure in the second half of the century must be attributed. [Top] 

Tenant Right    

             After 1846 the issue of Federalism faded and Sharman Crawford devoted most of his attention to Tenant Right. With the total collapse of the Repeal Movement in 1848 following the abortive rising, the land question became the major issue in 1849. The idea was a popular one, and it was observed that many, especially clergymen, who knew little of the issues or problems involved, rushed to jump on the bandwagon. There was no easy solution, though Crawford introduced three Bills, Peel one, and Russell one. In 1846 Crawford founded a Tenant Right Association. The early Tenant Right Movement was concerned strictly with agricultural improvement and the avoidance of famine. It was not concerned with landlordism, or tenancies, or evictions as such.  

            The idea was intuitively attractive. For fifty years it had been noticed that average agricultural yields in Ireland were far below the best yields. Secondly, the biggest landowners were the chief improvers and sometimes, in a county, the only improvers (Keenan). In Mayo, the Marquis of Sligo, and, in Galway, Lord Clancarty, used the most up-to-date methods while the local tenants used centuries-old methods. During the Famine, the Lord Lieutenant sent round Gaelic-speaking 'farming instructors' to inculcate modern methods. But there seemed no reason why farmers with, perhaps from fifteen to one hundred and fifty acres should not improve their land if they had some incentive. Famine, fever, government measures and emigration, both to the towns in Ireland itself, and to the towns in England and abroad, had more or less solved the problem of the cottiers who supported themselves with a potato patch and casual labour. But the need to improve not only the productivity on farms, but to train farmers to grow a greater diversity of crops, was also seen to be essential. 

            In English farm usage the head landlord was responsible for all capital development, draining, fencing, the construction of roads, farmhouses, farm cottages, and farm buildings. When he made improvements he raised the rent to correspond with the expected increased productivity. In Irish farm usage, it was the tenant who was responsible for making all these improvements. On, say, a lease of twenty-one years he would not be willing to spend money of his own on improvements if he was not likely to get the lease renewed, or only at a higher rent corresponding to the expected productivity. A hypothetical but common situation of farm ownership in Ireland was described in the London Athenaeum and reproduced by Saunders' Newsletter (8 Feb. 1848). An English duke owns a townland of 800 acres in Ireland in fee simple. About 1690 it was leased to A on a tenure of lives renewable forever at the very low rent of £50 a year. About 1790, when the commercial return from Irish farms had greatly increased, A sublet the whole to B on a similar lease for £400 a year. B then sub-let 200 acres to C on a long lease and a still higher rent, and C sub-let again to 20 tenants on short leases also at higher rents. For practical purposes, C is the landlord to whom the twenty cultivators pay their rents. Though the owner in fee (the duke), and the two intermediate landlords, get their shares in the rent, they are powerless to intervene until the leases are renewed. C wishes to improve his 200 acres, but the nature of the lease prevents him. B is now bankrupt. A would be willing to help, but if he did he could not raise the rent to recover his outlay. 

             Those who advocated 'Fixity of Tenure' as a solution thought that if the tenant had a sufficiently long lease he would make improvements. Others argued that experience showed that those tenants on long secure leases did least. By 1846 this solution was out of favour, and most favoured a solution which allowed reasonable compensation to a tenant who undertook capital improvements. Experience in the eighteenth century showed that, in a time of growing trade in agricultural produce, long leases at low rents benefited the tenant or cultivator, but not the owner. There was a system working in Ulster, called 'Tenant Right' or 'Ulster custom’ that seemed to give good results. In later years this was sometimes described as 'fair rent, free sale, fixity of tenure', but this was after objectives had crystallised. A reporter for the London Times noted that in Ulster there was little agreement on how the proper compensation to the tenant should be calculated. In east Ulster the actual cost of the new buildings was taken into account. In mid-Ulster, it was the increase in rateable value that was taken into consideration. In west Ulster the compensation was based on intangibles like 'goodwill' and 'peaceful possession'. In other words the outgoing tenant designated his successor and was remunerated for this. As O'Connell remarked this seemed rather similar to agrarian crime, and he could have been right. Two disadvantages of  Ulster custom were noted. The first was that the incoming tenant had to spend his capital recompensing his predecessor and so would not be able to work or stock his farm properly for many years because of the initial capital outlay. In England, though the rent was higher the incoming tenant spent his capital on acquiring working stock. The other disadvantage was that there was no return for an improving landlord. 

            In 1844 Crawford, following on favourable remarks in the Devon Report, brought in a Tenant Right Bill (1844), but it was defeated. In 1845 Peel and Stanley brought in a similar Bill. In 1847 Crawford re-introduced his Bill but got only 25 votes for it. In 1848 a Parliamentary Committee was appointed to study the matter. It reported that plans for compensating the tenant for his improvements had much to recommend them, but considered the matter was best dealt with on a voluntary basis. Crawford and Smith O'Brien brought in another Bill, which was defeated by 145 votes to 122. Russell and Sir William Somerville also tried to draft a Bill that Parliament would pass, but they too failed. 

            The Government then turned to a way that would release development capital on Irish farms, namely a Bill to allow the sale of encumbered estates. An encumbrance was a charge on the revenue of the land. The most usual one was a mortgage payable to a moneylender. But there could be charges such as the provision for life to a widow after her son had inherited the farm, or a charge on the person inheriting to provide dowries for his sisters. A large part of the annual income from a piece of land could be swallowed up by these encumbrances. An Act was passed in 1848 but it was defectively worded so another Encumbered Estates Act (1849) was passed in 1849. When estates were sold under this Act the purchaser received the fee simple of the estate freed from all charges or legal encumbrances. 

            The Tory  Evening Mail was opposed to tenant right. It preferred the introduction of  English farm usage  by which the landlord paid for all improvements, and the tenant, though paying a higher rent, could use his capital to buy stock. Nor did all the Ulster Presbyterian ministers back Crawford. The Rev. Henry Cook equated Tenant Right with 'communism, socialism, and Feargus O'Connorism (Chartism)'. What he meant by the first two is anybody's guess. The words were new at the time, and came from France, so they had probably something to do with popery! 

Crawford introduced his Bill for the last time in 1852 and it was again defeated. He lost his seat in the General Election in that year and retired to his estates at Crawfordsburn in county Down. In the anti-popery outcry that followed the restoration of the English hierarchy, the Catholic Defence Association, an organisation largely managed by the political priests, replaced the Tenant League. The movement for tenant right collapsed as quickly as it had arisen. 

            An interesting comment on Tenant Right appeared in the Post in 1852:

            ‘The lands about the lovely little village of Collon which form a portion of Lord Massarene's estate [formerly John Foster's] are known to be naturally the most sterile and stubborn in Louth or Meath, yet still, by the industry and contentment of his Lordship's happy tenantry - resulting namely from a recognition of tenant right on these lands - they are rendered capable of producing matchless crops, so as to yield a fair reward to the tenant and a regularly and generously paid rental to the landlord’ (DEP 2 October 1852).

The High Tories were  often good landlords, and their tenants satisfied. There could well have been considerable truth in the frequently made allegation that such tenants were intimidated by the political priests and their supporters into voting against their own landlord's interests. 

            [1849] Parliament re-assembled on 1 February 1849. The suspension of Habeas Corpus was extended for a further brief period. Collections were made to send to the Pope to support him in Gaeta.   

In 1849 the Orange processions were again held with great enthusiasm. The celebrations were marred by an affray at Dolly's Brae in county Down in which some persons lost their lives. Anywhere in south Ulster along the boundary between Orangemen and Ribbonmen one might be doubtful as to whom was to blame. The Orangemen were however blamed, and some Orange magistrates, including the Earl of Roden, were removed from the commission of the peace on the grounds of negligence. This was hardly fair, for one should always remember the ever-present murderous provocation of the Ribbonmen. The Government  again  banned party processions.

            In 1849 the cholera came again to Ireland, and Dr Maginn and Primate Crolly caught the infection and died. MacHale's group, deeply involved in the struggle over the Colleges, had to get a priest favourable to their own views appointed archbishop. Archbishop William Crolly died on 6 April 1849 at the age of sixty-nine. The clergy in Armagh preferred Dr Dixon of Maynooth College, but the Ulster bishops preferred Dr O’Hanlon, also of Maynooth. As both of these were regarded as sympathetic to the late primate’s views (and Archbishop Murray’s) MacHale’s faction launched a campaign to have both of them blocked. They suggested that their own agent in Rome, Dr. Paul Cullen of the Irish College, Rome, who strongly supported their campaign against the Queen’s Colleges, as a neutral compromise candidate between the other two and Rome duly appointed him. MacHale and the others who proposed him were shortly to regret their action for he was a cold, narrow-minded, suspicious, and autocratic man. The Repeal Association virtually came to an end when its secretary resigned to seek employment in March 1849. 

            The Commissioners of National Education noted in their Report in 1849 (published 1850) that their model farm at Glasnevin was now extended to 128 acres and was well attended. There were thirteen model agricultural schools in full operation in connection with a national school, and ten more were being planned. There were 34 ordinary national schools attached to ordinary national schools. This was one of the best ideas produced by the National Board, and it is a pity that instead of making agricultural instruction universal, the existing schools were allowed later to wither away. 

Late in the session Sir William Somerville introduced a bill to abolish the fiscal functions of the county Grand Juries, and to put the management o counties on a proper modern foundation. Surprisingly, it was to be fifty years before it was passed. Parliament was prorogued on 1 August 1849, and on 2 August Victoria visited Ireland and was welcomed enthusiastically. Sentiment was not as united as in 1821. MacHale had decided for himself that the Famine was entirely the fault of the 'British' Government and so refused to sign the loyal address of the Catholic bishops or welcome her. She arrived at Cove, in Cork harbour, which was thereupon re-named Queenstown. She then travelled in her yacht to Waterford and on to Dublin. Fourteen Catholic bishops signed the customary loyal address, among them Dr Blake of Dromore who normally voted with MacHale. Murray was invited to a private levee along with the Earl of Fingall. He was also invited to an official dinner along with Lord and Lady Bellew, Sir Patrick having being raised to the peerage the preceding year. When she visited Belfast she was shown around the new College about to be opened which still bears her name as The Queen's University of Belfast. 

Crawford's Tenants’ Right Association received a boost as many Presbyterian ministers gave their support. In September 1849 three priests in the parish of Callan in Kilkenny started a parish Tenant Right Association, and many other priests followed their example. In 1850 these southern societies combined with Crawford's association to form the Irish Tenant League. By then, as Saunders' observed everyone was jumping on the bandwagon and bringing enthusiasm but often little knowledge or common sense. 

 [1850] Parliament re-assembled on 31 January 1850. The Catholic Defence Association superseded the non-sectarian Irish Tenant League. In February, Archbishop Murray made it clear that Catholic laymen were not prohibited from taking part in the Colleges; only the clergy were forbidden. There was no sin, censure, or excommunication for attending them. Only the bishops were formally forbidden to take any part in establishing them. On 24 February 1850 Dr Paul Cullen was consecrated archbishop of Armagh in Rome. But it also seemed, and some persons in Rome were of this opinion, that the Colleges having been established, the clergy should play their part to mitigate the alleged evils (DEP 12 February, 5 March 1850). In March the Party Processions (Ireland) Act (1850) was passed, and the following day Clarendon issued a proclamation calling it into force. In April 1850 the Pope returned to Rome. In July Sir Robert Peel died unexpectedly as a result of a fall from a horse at the age of sixty-two. Despite the collapse of the attempted revolution agrarian crime and the Ribbon organisation did not disappear but was considered to have reached its greatest extent and influence in 1855. By 1863 the number of outrages was a quarter of those in 1849. This was to some extent attributable to the prosperity of Irish farming in the immediate post-Famine period.            

Parliament rose on 15 August 1850 completing the first fifty years of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that commenced on 7 February 1801. [Top] 

The Queen’s University and the National Synod 

[August 1850] MacHale’s faction had come to the conclusion that the best way to enforce their views regarding the Queen’s Colleges was to hold a national synod. Rome disliked national synods, fearing that they would lead to breakaway national churches. But in this case, it reluctantly gave permission, but insisted on appointing Archbishop Cullen as apostolic delegate who would convoke the synod in the dual capacity of primate and apostolic delegate. The National Synod met in Thurles college commencing on 15 August 1850. The Irish Constabulary provided a guard of honour for the opening ceremony. There is no doubt the Cullen misled the other bishops with regard to the views of the Holy See, pretending that the Rescripts were immutable. In fact, had the bishops wished to change their stance, and for example appoint chaplains, they were free to do so, but would have to get Rome’s permission first (Keenan 1 (Details of the discussions were immediately leaked to the press.) It is not clear if any of the decisions would have been different if Cullen had been more open and truthful, but it is possible that a majority of the bishops might have settled in this case, as in the cases of National Education and the Charitable Bequests for some toleration. Rome would have accepted either verdict.) Murray's supporters appealed to the Holy Father personally to allow some discretion to the local bishops, for example to appoint deans of residence, but the Holy See confirmed the decisions of the Irish bishops without alteration. On 9 September 1850 an address to the Catholics of Ireland on the proposed Catholic University was drafted. Murray signed it among others. But as Conway noted in the Post, there was not the remotest chance that the Government would grant it a charter to confer degrees. The synod closed on the 12 September. 

Also in August 1850 the Queen's University of Ireland as distinct from the constituent colleges was inaugurated. Lord Clarendon became Chancellor. The University Senate was named as consisting of the Lord Chancellor (Brady), Archbishops Whately and Murray, the Earl of Rosse (astronomer and constructor of the world's largest telescope), Lord Mounteagle (Spring Rice), Lord Chief Justice Blackbourne, Chief Baron Pigot, and the Master of the Rolls (Cusack Smith). (Chief Justice Doherty was dying.) 

            Among the Visitors of the University were the Duke of Leinster, the Earl of Fingall, and Nicholas Ball. The Visitors for Cork included the two bishops of Cork and the Catholic archbishop of Cashel, Dr Michael Slattery. The Visitors for Belfast included the two bishops of Down and Connor, and the two primates. The Visitors for Galway included the Catholic bishop of Galway, Archbishop MacHale, and the Protestant bishop of Tuam.  MacHale, Slattery, and the new Catholic primate, Paul Cullen, promptly refused to act. But Murray and the other three Catholic bishops were prepared to accept the offices until specifically told by Rome not to. 

            In the initial four years 1683 students were admitted, of whom 758 were in Belfast, 546 in Cork, and 379 in Galway. By 1901 total University enrolment had risen to only 2,200, a figure which by then included those of the Catholic University which had been incorporated into the system as University College, Dublin. It is probable that this low figure was caused directly by the refusal of the Catholic bishops to co-operate with the Government in the training of teachers, and the failure to get sufficient teachers in Catholic grammar schools with degrees in the subjects they taught. 

Benjamin Lee Guinness of the famous firm of brewers in Dublin became the first Lord Mayor of the reconstituted Dublin Corporation under the Dublin Municipal Act (1850). The Tories had a large majority in the new Corporation. In October Archbishop Murray assured a layman that he was free to send his son to one of the new colleges. On 24 September the Pope restored the Catholic hierarchy in England. It was decided that new dioceses should be formed entirely different from the old dioceses now under Protestant bishops. In London, for example, Westminster was chosen as the name of the diocese. Though the Act establishing diplomatic relations with Rome was never put into practice, Lord John Russell appointed the Irish Catholic Richard Lalor Shiel to be the British Minister Plenipotentiary to Tuscany at Florence.  One of the minister’s duties was to maintain indirect contact with the Papal States. Dr Nicholas Wiseman was appointed first Archbishop of Westminster. His first pastoral letter (7 October 1850) struck a note of triumph ‘ out of the Flaminian Gate of Rome’ caused a serious Protestant backlash that was to affect Irish Catholics in the next decade.



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