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THE IRISH REBELLION,
CII APTER 1.
LIKE the story of a life, the history of kingdoms is generally pregnant with vicissitude. The sudden rise or rapid dissolution of a state is rarely brought about-the fall of empires is gradual—all have their era of danger or prosperity and to avert the one and improve the other is the best test of an able and efficient exec ve.
The most startling period of European history will be found to embrace that stormy interval, occurring between the outbreak of the French revolution, and the legislative act, which, abolishing a faulty home government, made Ireland an integral portion of the British empire. From political evil, political good will frequently arise; and after a painful and sanguinary probation, that consolidation of British influence and power was accomplished, which enabled England in fifteen brief years afterwards to restore the tranquillity of Europe, while her own national dignity was amply vindicated, and lasting advantages secured.
For twenty years before the French revolution broke forth in all its horrors, the evil star of England had been in the ascendant.
The colonies were driven into rebellion; and that discontent which bad government had induced was consummated by worse measures, and the states separated from the mother-country. The temper of the times was unfriendly to concession—when the sword was drawn the scabbard was thrown away—and sanative diplomacy was not the course resorted to by the Court of St. James to reclaim her unruly but ill-used children. To coerce, and not conciliate, was the evil policy of the personages in power bad statesmanship did for America what her own exertions could not have achieved—and England, by rejecting their complaints, forced independence on her refractory colonists.
The successful issue of the American struggle for independence was followed by results more important, though more distant, than those involved in colonial separation. The connection already existing between Ulster and the States was intimate and affectionate : for, the colonists and the northern Protestants were not only united by the bonds of interest, but also by the ties of blood. From every
rooftree numbers had emigrated : the parent, the brother, or the child, although under another sky, were striking for freedom; the very thought that ocean rolled between kindred hearts and spirits, added to the excitement with which the doubtful contest was watched at home; and those, who, under other circumstances, would have looked upon a distant struggle with indifference, ardently sympathized with the revolted colonists in defeat, and openly exulted in their victories.
It was a period (1779) when Britain was sorely pressed, and engaged in a triple conflict. In Europe, France and Spain were arrayed in arms against her; and, worse still, gallant spirits, who, beneath her meteor flag, should have bled and conquered, were banded against her in dangerous and determined hostility. With justice, therefore, the most serious alarm pervaded the empire, and none could be insensible to the danger of the times. The combined fleets of France and Spain were superior to the protecting navy of Great Britain ; the Channel infested with privateers; trade was completely interrupted; the coast exposed to descent; and the regular troops drained from the kingdom, when Ireland was actually threatened with invasion. Fearful of being plundered by the numerous rovers who swarmed the British seas, and whose audacity warranted the apprehension, several of the maritime towns armed for self-defence, *—and Government, thankfully availing itself of their timely assistance, encouraged the rising spirit of national resistance. A body, instituted for passive protection at first, grew rapidly into strength and influence, physical and moral, which, in its earlier application, was admirably employed in the reformation of constitutional abuses and the extension of civil and religious liberty, but latterly, deviating from original principles, became a cloak for revolutionary designs, and eventually rendered its extinction imperative upon an executive, who felt the danger of intimidation from a body taking an armed attitude, and exchanging remonstrance for dictation.
Beyond a summary notice, the rise, progress, and suppression of that political and most influential institution, the Irish Volunteers, would be alien to a work designed to detail the consequences, rather than the causes, of those revolutionary movements, which, gradually deviating from the sound constitutional principles of reform which were propounded by the delegates at Dungannon, in February, 1782, became infected with the unholy spirit of the times, and sought not the reformation of abuse, but the overturn of established government. Justice, however, to the memory of a body, still held by its few remaining members in fond remembrance, requires us to say, that before suspicion had attached itself to men who had been influenced in their formation, by principles whose purity and patriotism were unquestionable, the founders had gradually seceded. Consequences, not anticipated when enrolled, rendered the dissolution of the body most desirable ; the emergency which called them into existence had passed ; to the morals and the fortunes of many individuals the system proved injurious, * and executive security was seriously endangered by the proceedings of turbulent men, who still, and without a plea for its necessity, maintained a threatening position, and, like the beggar in Gil Blas demanding alms, sought concessions with loaded muskets.
* “ This gave rise to the Volunteers, of which numerous bodies were immediately raised, who at first supplied themselves with arms at their own expense; and Government, wishing to encourage the laudable spirit which the Irish nation shewed, distributed immense quantities among them. It is most certain, that these military associations deterred the French from attempting an invasion of the kingdom, which they meditated at that time; and they completely preserved the police of the coun. try. To their immortal honour be it spoken, that, though self-embodied, armed, and disciplined, they not only shewed the greatest respect for the laws, but the utmost zeal in enforcing the execution of them.”-Musgrave.
The Dungannon meeting had appealed to Parliament, and its call for reform, just and temperate as it was, met very properly, with the attention it was entitled to. Emboldened by success, a fresh expe.. riment was made in 1783_-the delegates adopting the infelicitous title of the American Independents, and terming themselves “ a Congress.” The Government appear to have acted on this occasion with vigour and determination, and the prayer of the petition was indignantly rejected. Mortified at this unexpected failure, “ the National Assembly" sought for the causes of what appeared an abated want of influence, and it required but slight inquiry to detect it. The religious prejudices of Protestants, Dissenters, and Roman Catholics, had kept the parties generally aloof. As a small section, the reformers wanted power; and unity of purpose was absolutely essential to success. The Catholics—could a political coalition be brought about-would at once secure for them a numerical preponderance--and thus existing circumstances pointed to an union of interests as the only practical and effective meanst of carrying ulterior objects.
* « The volunteer institution occasioned much idleness and dissipation among the industrious part of the community, and destroyed subordination, so essential to the existence of social order; for persons of low rank, associating with their superiors, lost that respect which they had entertained for them, and were inspired with levelling principles.
" On the 15th of May, 1784, the Belfast First Volunteer Company resolved and agreed to instruct, in the use of arms, persons of all ranks and religious persuasions, who should present themselves for that purpose ; and they offered them the use of their own arms.
“On the 16th of May, 1784, the builders' corps in Dublin resolved, that their drill serjeant should attend at Marlborough green, three days in the week, to teach persons of all ranks and religious persuasions the use of arms.”-Musgrave's Memoirs.
of " As the main strength of the nation in respect to number was conceived to rest in the Romanists, who might constitute three-fourths of the whole population, to give these a proportionate weight in the system, and to interest them warmly in the plan proposed—was an object of primary magnitude with political reformers. For the removal of those legal restrictions and disqualifications by which the Romanists were deprived of what was accounted their due share of political power,