My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 9
HOW THE DECAY OF O'CONNELL'S POPULARITY BEGAN
The Whigs come into office—Speeches of O'Brien and Grattan on the danger to the National Cause—O'Connell's recent declarations with respect to the Irish elections—His conduct when the ministerial elections arrived Dungarvan abandoned to the Master of the Mint—Public indignation—O'Connell's son refused as a candidate at Dundalk—O'Connell's private letter to the Irish Attorney-General—The Peace Resolutions designed to drive the Young Irelanders from the Association—Declarations of Mitchel and Meagher—Smith O'Brien's absence and my remonstrance—My letter on the policy of the Nation in '43 and '46—The false charge of the Pilot refuted—Mr. John O' Conn ell demands that either his father's friends or the Young Irelanders quit the Association—"The Sword speech"—Secession of Smith O'Brien and the Young Irelanders—Dr. Cane's advice—The Bishop of Ardagh and the parish priest of Clones on the situation—Letters of the Bishop of Derry, of Grey Porter, and of John Martin—Bishop Blake's remonstrance with O'Connell suppressed—O'Connell denounces the Nation for having committed high treason—The Dublin Remonstrance of 1500 Repealers flung in the gutter—Meeting of the Remonstrance—The Bishop of Elphin's denunciation of the Young Irelanders—First public meeting of the Young Irelanders—O'Connell would have them back, but John declines—A deputation to O'Connell—Negotiations and final rupture—Place-begging and its fatal consequences in 1834 and 1846.
This controversy had scarcely terminated when news came across the Channel that the Peel Government had fallen, and Lord John Russell was engaged in forming a Cabinet. Smith O'Brien and Henry Grattan spoke at the Association with a vigour and directness worthy of its best days. The Whigs, O'Brien said, were better than the Tories, but they were more dangerous; they would sap the popular strength by proposing good measures which they probably could not carry, and by distributing good places. For himself he had broken with them for ever, relinquishing the chance of office, which was not beyond his scope, because he believed that the Association and the people would be faithful to the National cause to the end. They would soon have the opportunity of expressing their feeling at the re-election of Irish members who formed part of the new Government. He did not think the Association had acted wisely in the case of his imprisonment, but he retained no feeling of enmity, and would work cordially with those who had counselled that policy. Henry Grattan contrasted the conduct of men like Swift, Lucas, and Grattan, whom the British Treasury could not purchase, with the conduct of those who betrayed their country. Some of them died obscurely in foreign countries, some suffered agonies of shame and self-reproach, and one conspicuous offender died by his own hand. These speeches greatly increased the difficulty of the task which O'Connell had set himself; but unfortunately both gentlemen assumed they had done their duty adequately, and retired to the country.
When O'Connell returned to Dublin public attention was fixed on the course he would take on the Ministerial elections. The policy of the Association had been proclaimed and insisted upon, in no case more rigorously than in the battle of the hustings. O'Connell had specified some of the men now claiming re-election as persons who must be peremptorily excluded from Parliament, unless they declared themselves Repealers. As it would be impossible to understand the conflict which followed without completely realising this fact, I borrow a couple of paragraphs from a former narrative referring to a period a few months past:—
"O'Connell still held occasional meetings and banquets in the country. His constant theme was the necessity of a Parliamentary party; 'with sixty-five members he would carry Repeal and restore the Parliament to College Green.' When he abandoned the policy of the Mallow Defiance,, the only alternative, if he continued a Repealer, was a Parliamentary party. If he would not fight, then he must persuade or coerce the Legislature; there was literally no third method. He recognised this necessity so clearly that after his Federal proposal had failed it was the topic to which he constantly applied himself. At local meetings and banquets he exhorted constituencies to insist upon their representatives supporting the National cause or to cashier them. In Sligo he promised that there should be seventy Repealers in the next Parliament; the Clare election had carried Emancipation, and the election at which seventy Repealers were chosen would carry Repeal. In Galway he exhorted the people to elect members of the Repeal Association, two for the city and two for the county. In a public letter he bade the Whigs 'not to lay the flattering unction to their soul that this rule would be relaxed in the slighest degree'; and he warned the most gifted of them, Richard Sheil, in language which subsequent events rendered memorable, that even he must cease to sit for an Irish constituency unless he returned to his original faith as a Repealer. 'Sheil is a brilliant orator (he said); I love, I regard, and I esteem him; but when I tell him from this spot that he shall not continue to represent Dungarvan if he does not become a member of this Association, I speak a truth most unpleasant to me, but one that assuredly will be worked out.' These were promises sufficiently specific, and the time was near at hand to give them effect."
It was believed to be altogether impossible that O'Connell could abandon these specific pledges without abandoning at the same time the National cause. Upon the transactions which followed I am willing to rest entirely the question whether O'Connell had made a secret compact with the Whigs, one of the conditions of which was to secure the election of Whig Ministers for National constituencies. Let it be assumed that all else which I have recorded in recent chapters the abandonment of O'Brien to the Sergeant-at-Arms; the pointing out the Nation for prosecution; the excluding the Nation from the Repeal Reading-rooms which it had created—let it be assumed that all this, and the shameful silence of Conciliation Hall on great practical issues were subtle strokes of policy to promote some great public end, but the Ministerial elections remain, and the painful and fatal contrast between O'Connell's conduct in Conciliation Hall and his correspondence in private at the same moment with Whig Ministers. The generous reader will naturally mitigate his censure on the story about to be disclosed by the memory of O'Connell's great services, by the knowledge that be had fallen under the influence of his feeble and malicious son, but let him not forget also that a group of young men who had given their lives to the public cause, and older men like O'Brien and Grattan, were struggling, not for any personal end, but against what they believed to be, and what indeed was, the ruin of their country. For the emancipator, the guide and father of his people, was about in his old age to make a wreck not only of us but of himself, of the cause to which he was pledged, and of the people who loved him so tenderly. At the next meeting there was an immense crowd, and a vivid interest in the expected speech of O'Connell. The Whigs, he declared, had an opportunity of doing great service to Ireland; there were eleven measures which he wanted them to pass in the current session of Parliament. As we had already reached the 6th of July, to expect eleven important measures to be passed in the month that Parliament would still sit was being exigeant with his friends. But we now know what the most suspicious scarcely foresaw, that the session would pass, and the Parliament would pass, and the lives of O'Connell and Lord John Russell would pass without one of these measures becoming law, without indeed one of them being so much as proposed to Parliament.
At length he took up the question of real urgency, the Ministerial elections, and moved that the General Committee be instructed to obtain candidates, and make arrangements for securing the election of Repealers, wherever it was possible. He would not, however, sanction vexatious opposition, which could not serve the cause. A voice—one of those anonymous warnings which often interpret the popular will in a critical crisis—cried out "Dungarvan." "Yes," O'Connell continued, "certainly 'Dungarvan.' If they could get a Repealer elected, they would, of course, do so. If necessary, he would go himself to Dungarvan for the purpose, but he would not sanction vexatious or bootless opposition." Dungarvan was a constituency where the Repealers had a majority of nearly two to one, and the defeat of Shiel, who was still loved by the people, would have marked in a signal manner the depth of the National sentiment. The writ had already been issued, but the committee, who were ordered to consider the question, was not called together till four days later, and when it met O'Connell expressed his fear that it was too late to find a candidate. There were several men in the room who were candidates a little later, among them his son Daniel and Thomas Meagher. John Augustus O'Neill, a conspicuous Old Irelander, admitted on a subsequent occasion that he would gladly have stood if he had been asked. To bring the matter to an issue, one of the Young Irelanders proposed that O'Connell's relative, Captain Broderick, then present, should be despatched to Dungarvan, and aided with all the influence of the Association, but that experienced gentleman, who knew the state of the case, declined to stand. The committee, after a long contest, adjourned, and before it reassembled Shiel was member for Dungarvan.
There were other Whig elections pending, but after the experience of Dungarvan the hope of winning them was faint. In Dundalk, where Monahan, the Whig Attorney-General was a candidate, the Nationalists vehemently demanded a Repeal candidate from the Association, and at length O'Connell's youngest son was sent to them; but it marks in a signal manner the effect produced on the public mind by the Dungarvan transaction, that he came back to report that the constituency declined to have him. Their objections were finally overcome by a painful and protracted negotiation, but their existence is a fact of signal significance. O'Connell's communication with the Whig leaders in Dublin at this time was probably managed chiefly by verbal instructions through a trusted agent, or, if there was correspondence, it will only be disclosed to a future generation. But one letter has escaped to the public, so painfully and shamefully conclusive that a hundred would not make the case clearer. While O'Connell appeared to be carrying out the policy of opposing all Whig candidates by Nationalists, while he moved a resolution directing the General Committee to find candidates to defeat the new Ministers, the most unhappy man wrote this letter to Mr. D. R. Pigot, a member of the new Government, and jointly with Richard Sheil, manager of the Whig interests in Ireland. It appears in the authorised collection of O'Connell's private correspondence, sanctioned by his family, and edited by Mr. W. J. Fitzpatrick. I shall not offer a syllable of comment on it.
"With respect to Clonmel, it is utterly impossible to do anything for Moore. It is true I have been working in an under-channel for Monahan, who may still have some chance, but I confess I have not much heart in the matter. But we shall see. I own I am a little fretted at the unexpected obstacle in Dundalk to my son's return. … There is only one thing certain, that we must make the best of things as they are; and I am glad to tell you that I have stifled all opposition to Sheil in Dungarvan. The election will not cost him a shilling, and that is what he likes among other things. I am also very glad to find that Wyse is in office again. He is personally popular, while O'Ferrall is not, though a very good man, and most suited for office. …"
All the persons named in this secret despatch were members of the new Government and Anti-Repealers. Mr. Wyse had been denounced in the Colleges controversy as betraying the country. In this fatal position it was essential for O'Connell to get rid of critics who would not permit anything to be done against the national cause in silence, and he adopted a device which in the end proved successful. Immediately after Dungarvan was lost he submitted two reports to the General Committee; one offering some feeble and utterly untrue defence of that transaction, on which it is not necessary to comment; the other, known as the Peace Resolutions, denned the policy of the Association anew. This was his marvellous contention, that it was necessary for the safety of the Association—which, it seems, was in danger of being prosecuted by a Whig Minister, who kept his place only by the help of Repeal votes, and who could not get his officials re-elected except by shameful connivance with the Repeal Association—to declare its peace policy anew, and in more definite terms. One of its purposes, O'Connell avowed, was to draw a line between Old and Young Ireland.- In fact he could not carry out his now manifest compact with the Whigs without silencing the Young Irelanders. He assumed that this end could best be accomplished by tendering them propositions which they could not affirm without self-contempt and public reproach. Had he required them to deny the law of gravitation, or the motion of the earth, it is certain they would refuse, and he required their immediate acceptance of propositions as false and absurd. The Association was asked to affirm that moral force furnished a sufficient remedy for public wrong in all times and in all countries, and that physical force must be abhorred. Any one, Mr. John O'Connell declared, who refused to accept this doctrine must cease to be a member of the Association. Referring to the Young Irelanders he said, if they did not submit, unconditionally and unequivocally, to the principles of peaceful agitation and to the utter repudiating of physical force under any circumstance, it was the instant necessity of the case that they should cease to be members. The object in view could not be misunderstood by any man of sense. The Bishop of Killaloe wrote privately to O'Brien:—
"Whigs are to be supported, and that support given to them in violation of the most solemn engagements, and to the disappointment of the most disinterested advocates of the National cause."
The snare was obvious, and on a hasty consultation we determined to evade it by not retiring, whatever resolutions might be adopted. A man does not abandon Parliament when a Bill which he disapproves of becomes law. It was agreed that the report should be opposed resolutely, and its immediate design to draw away attention from Ministerial elections exposed, that the distinctest denial should be given to any design to violate the rules of the Association, or use it for any but purely peaceful purposes. Mr. Mitchel stated opinions and intentions which might satisfy the most fanatical friend of peace:—
"He did not mean (he said) to oppose the resolution, nor was there the slightest necessity to do so. The Association was a legally organised society, seeking to attain its objects by peaceful means, and no others. Constitutional agitation was its very basis, and nobody who contemplated any other method of bringing about the independence of the country had a right to attend there or to consider himself a fit member. By these means, if boldly, honestly, and steadily carried out, legislative independence, he believed, could be won; and with this conviction he should feel it his duty, if he knew any member who, either in the hall or out of it, either by speaking or writing, attempted to incite the public to arms or violence as a method of obtaining their liberty, while that Association existed, to report such member to the committee and move his expulsion."
It will be convenient, with a view to future developments of opinions, to note that Mr. Mitchel, in a letter 'to the Tablet at this time, said:—
"I do not even, as Mr. Meagher seems to do, contemplate the possibility of failure in that course. I entertain no thought, either present, future, or paulo-post-future, of resorting to violence; and see as plainly as any man that peace is our true policy—our only policy—and will be, if we do not wantonly ruin it, our inevitably successful policy."
Meagher and O'Gorman spoke with equal plainness on their opinions, and to a large extent satisfied the meeting. O'Gorman thought the young men had a triumph, and wrote to one of his friends:—
"The report can give you no notion of the scene of riotous confusion in the Hall. O'Connell, you know, wanted to get us out, and in that, at all events, he certainly failed. He also wanted, I think, to sneak out of the Dungarvan affair, and in that he failed. He also wanted to have us hooted down in the meeting, and in that he failed. And all that amounts, I think, to a triumph for Young Ireland."
But they had not contented O'Connell, and a considerable section of Repealers were determined from the beginning to accept his guidance wherever it would lead them. It is impossible not to respect the determination to uphold as long as possible a leader who had served Ireland so long and so effectually. But when at length the choice lay between him and the manifest welfare of Ireland the sentimental preference for the leader was a fatal mistake; and fatally has Ireland paid for it.
It will be noted that O'Brien was absent from these contests, which were thrown entirely on young men new to debate, and who had not yet won personal authority. Looking back on the transactions with serener vision, I have no doubt that O'Brien's motive was to preserve his influence for public purposes by not coming into conflict with O'Connell. He wrote a letter to the Association indicating his dissent from the new policy, but it attracted no attention. But in the heat of the battle I regarded his reticence differently, and in a man whom I greatly esteemed it wounded me keenly. I wrote to him brusquely, perhaps rudely:—
"You will see by the papers of to-day what became of your letter—it was read and put aside without a word of comment. If it kept your character clear with the people, it certainly had no other practical effect. To have saved Dungarvan would have needed your personal presence in the committee and in the Association. The contest for the honour of the cause and its safety (both being, I think, involved in the question of Dungarvan) was very unequally maintained, when a few young men had to set themselves against all the venality, all the timidity, and all the honest, confiding ignorance of the Association. And most of them have now left town for circuit; so that while you stay in the country Mr. John O'Connell will give laws to the Association as he did last year. I am afraid—there is reasonable ground to fear—that the strength of the Association will be sapped away. The evil already done is enormous, and if we let every new encroachment towards Whiggery go unresisted there will in time be nothing worth making a stand for. If you got suitable candidates named at once for all the Repeal constituencies, it would be a security against new compromises. And this may be done, if done promptly; if delayed, you may see what we have to apprehend in O'Connell's declaration yesterday that The O'Coner Don (who had become a Whig Minister) is not less a Repealer because he had never joined the Association! A time may come when it will be too late to resist Whiggery; but, if so, it will be our own fault for not resisting it when it was ashamed to show its face.
" O'Connell has done nothing more against the Nation, but he still talks threateningly. If he ruins Repeal it will be no great matter that he ruins the Nation too. Whatever his motive for refraining may be, it would not be candid to leave you under the impression that the men likely to be attacked attribute his silence to your remonstrance. One and all, they believe that, having got into this battle in your defence, you left them, when a crisis came, to take care of themselves. Neither they nor I desire to complain of this, or mean to let it influence our public conduct in the smallest degree; but, since you refer to it, it would be wholly foreign to my nature to say or do anything to mislead you as to our feelings on the subject.
"Meagher, you will perceive, was attacked for stating that Mr. Clements had taken a place; the authority for the story was no other than Mr. O'Connell, who told it in the committee, and stated that Sheil had procured it. I tell you this that you may not misconceive Meagher's conduct."
It is to the honour of O'Brien, and will help the reader better to understand his fine character, to know that he did not resent this brusque remonstrance, but took the earliest opportunity at a public dinner in his neighbourhood to separate himself from the Peace Resolutions, and express his fixed confidence in the young men assailed. On behalf of myself and my friends I thanked him cordially, and assured him of our complete satisfaction and content with the course he had taken.
The minority bore their defeat with a self-control rare in political history. In the Nation following the debate not a syllable was uttered against O'Connell. We feared that if the faith of the people in their worshipped leader was shaken they would cease to believe in anything. And it helped us to be patient to remember that a man between seventy and eighty could not long control public affairs. But after my established habit, whenever the character of the journal was in danger of being misunderstood, I wrote, under my own name, a deliberate review of the state of affairs, justifying the proceedings of my friends. As this article became the occasion of the most memorable transaction of that era—the secession of O'Brien and the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association—I must pause on it for a moment. I meant it to be a sober and entirely truthful account of our position and policy and the stringent necessity under which we acted.
There was no need, I insisted, for peace resolutions, because there was not at that time the slightest design of employing physical force a policy from which the current of events had carried us far away. But to make this admission the more significant, I compared it with the hopes and aims which existed before the Clontarf meeting.
"To the eyes of the Irish millions who knelt by the Croppies' grave with brothers' love, and sang the fierce songs of the era by their hearths, and on the hill-sides, and at their wakes and fairs and merry meetings, there was clearly discernible in the monster meetings an intense under-purpose, which filled their souls with passionate expectation. What it meant to the majority of them needed no oracle."
I admitted that this sentiment had been shared and fostered by the writers of the Nation:—
"I fully confessed that much was written calculated to stimulate the hope and desire of great and speedy changes wrought by a people's might; but not one whit beyond what was spoken by the orators of the movement at Mullaghmast dinners, and in Lismore declarations, and Mallow Defiances. And then, or since, or before, there was never a line tending to excite the people to outrage, or insubordination not one line."
I described the gloomy change in the national prospects which followed Clontarf; a change deepened by sectarian controversies in the Association, and by insults to France and America.
"From that hour the tone of the Nation on the means of liberation altered. We promised speedy and sweeping success no more. There was now but one mode left—a slow, deliberate one—and we turned with all our energy to create a new moral force in the country. Education and Conciliation were their means. The Repeal Reading-rooms, the Library of Ireland, many reports of the Association, many volumes of national literature, were our agencies.
u Under these circumstances it was idle to talk of peace resolutions, for nobody meant anything but peace. Resolutions against Repealers taking place and ceasing to be Repealers, against the return of any but Repeal candidates, under any circumstances, these would have been pertinent to our condition. It is the side from which danger is threatened that men ought to guard; not the side where danger is impossible.
"As we must rely on moral force, the greater, I insisted, was the need that our policy should have an intelligible and practical method, and that it should not wantonly undo one year what it had strenuously striven to accomplish the year before:—
"To war, marshalled armies, stored arsenals, mapped campaigns, are not more necessary than a large, distinct, and liberal policy to moral progress. Without that beacon men run hither and thither doing and undoing; throwing down to-day what was built up with care and pains only yesterday, outraging friends won by labour and sacrifices, belying principles which lie at the foundation of our hopes; laying waste the labour of years by some escapade of ignorance, intolerance, or vanity."
This was a sober and perfectly accurate report of the transactions in question, but it outraged the sensitive conscience of the Head Pacificator. When he was a young man he had joined the Spanish Revolutionists under Mina, and if he still believed in anything it was in the sword, but it was the misfortune of the dilapidated old man to be the paid servant of an Association which had declared its abhorrence of the ordinary doctrines of public liberty, and it was his duty to sound an alarm. He solemnly warned the meeting that after this admission of high treason committed in '43 no business could be transacted till it was clearly ascertained that O'Connell's policy was universally admitted. The business then waited O'Connell's direction.
A new iniquity was alleged against the Young Irelanders in this hysterical era. The Pilot, which after long hibernation was beginning to be heard of again, was the authority for this offence. Mr. Barrett had discovered that a series of books were being published by these gentlemen who boasted they were teaching the people a nobler policy and a higher morality, which stabbed O'Connell, and through him the country, and these publications were known to be under the. management of a man associated with the Nation party, who at the time of the State Trials had been in communication with the Crown lawyers, and was, in short, a hired spy. Here was a grave indictment. I answered it in a letter to the Pilot, which that respectable journal considered itself justified in repressing, but the letter was of course published in the Nation. The facts were simple to nudity. The books in question were identified by some extracts from them published in the Pilot article, and I was able to declare that the books were not only not connected with the Nation or with the Young Irelanders, but that the series was established to rival and undersell the Library of Ireland. The books were never reviewed in the Nation, but among the notices which they had obtained and published the most conspicuous was a laudation from the Pilot. The editor of the series, who was charged with being a Government spy in 1843 (and who probably was so), had never at any period written a line in the Nation, but at the time he was alleged to be a Government spy, and at the time then present, he was a writer in the Pilot. The man in question was named Mark O'Callaghan, and unfortunately was brother to an honest, respectable man, John Cornelius O'Callaghan. He finally took office openly in the Secret Service, and died in Tasmania in the house of another Government spy named Balfe. Frederick Lucas, horrified at this revelation, declared that when a fact was stated in the Pilot the primâ facies assumption was that it was a lie. But the censure of Conciliation Hall was never directed against the faithful journal.
At the next meeting of the Association Mr. John O'Connell came over from Parliament with a message from his father in the nature of an ultimatum. After a speech in which France, Belgium, and the United States were disparaged for having won their liberty by arms, instead of relying on the growth of opinion, he declared that his father could not accept the aid of any man who did not unequivocally adopt the Peace Resolution. If the Association did not agree with him let them say so, and the founder and his friends would withdraw.
Mitchel, who followed, repeated his policy of acting strictly under the rules of the Association. He did not believe that any one was afraid of physical force, but there were many mortally afraid of Whiggery. He was told that he might retire if he did not agree with the Peace Resolutions. No doubt, he might, but he had come into that hall with the view of helping to repeal the Union, and he had no desire to relinquish that task. He was a Saxon Irishman, and he would remind his audience that if they had determined to hold that class of his countrymen aloof, England would long keep her heel on both their necks. Meagher, who was a brilliant boy, defended me and the Nation passionately, and reiterated his determination to pursue no policy but a peaceful one in that Association. But he could not restrain his scorn of the false and impossible doctrine of non-resistance applied to other countries, and he left a maladroit opening to an opponent who was watching for it. He had reached his peroration, which had raised the audience to a storm of enthusiasm, when Mr. John O'Connell interposed. This was the peroration:—
"The soldier is proof against an argument, but he is not proof against a bullet. The man that will listen to reason, let him be reasoned with; but it is the weaponed arm of the patriot that can alone avail against battalioned despotism. Then, my Lord Mayor, I do not disclaim the use of arms as immoral, nor do I believe it is the truth to say that the God of heaven withholds His sanction from the use of arms. From the day on which, in the valley of Bethulia, He nerved the arm of the Jewish girl to smite the drunken tyrant in his tent, down to the hour in which He blessed the insurgent chivalry of the Belgian priests, His almighty hand hath been stretched forth from His throne of light to consecrate the flag of freedom, to bless the patriot's sword. Be it for the defence, or be it for the assertion, of a nation's liberty, I look upon the sword as a sacred weapon. And if, my lord, it has sometimes reddened the shroud of the oppressor, like the anointed rod of the high priest, it has at other times blossomed into flowers to deck the freeman's brow. Abhor the sword and stigmatise the sword? No, my lord, for in the cragged passes of the Tyrol it cut in pieces the banner of the Bavarian, and won an immortality for the peasant of Innspruck. Abhor the sword and stigmatise the sword? No, my lord, for at its blow a giant nation sprang up from the waters of the Atlantic, and by its redeeming magic the fettered colonies became a daring, free republic. Abhor the sword and stigmatise the sword? No, my lord, for it scourged the Dutch marauders out of the fine old towns of Belgium, back into their own phlegmatic swamps, and knocked their flags, and laws, and sceptre, and bayonets, into the sluggish waters of the Scheldt. My lord, I learned that it was the right of a nation to govern itself, not in this hall, but upon the ramparts of Antwerp. I learned the first article of a nation's creed upon those ramparts, where freedom was justly estimated, and where the possession of the precious gift was purchased by the effusion of generous blood. My lord, I admire the Belgians, I honour the Belgians, for their courage and their daring; and I will not stigmatise the means by which they obtained a citizen king, a Chamber of Deputies ——"
Mr. John O'Connell declared that it was the strongest conviction of his soul that it would be unsafe to allow Mr. Meagher to proceed. If the meeting approved of these sentiments he and his friends would retire. Mr. O'Brien rose and spoke with marked seriousness and dignity.
"I am afraid that the alternative which has been presented to us by Mr. John O'Connell is of such a nature as necessarily to compel the termination of this discussion, because he gives us no other choice than his seceding from the Association or closing this discussion. But I cannot allow this meeting to come to such a conclusion without expressing my opinion that the course of argument adopted by Mr. Meagher was perfectly fair and legitimate. I understand we were. invited to come to-day for the purpose t>f considering deliberately whether any gentleman can continue a member of this Association who entertains the opinion, conscientiously, that there are occasions which justify a nation in resorting to the sword for the vindication of its liberties. Mr. Meagher has distinctly stated that he joined this Association for the purpose of obtaining Repeal by peaceful and moral means alone. But he does not consider, nor do I consider, that when you invite us to a discussion of this description, we are precluded from asserting the opinion which, after all, is involved in the discussion; and for submitting such reasons as we feel ourselves at liberty to submit to our fellow-countrymen in vindication of the opinions which have been arraigned. Remember this, gentlemen—and it is fit you should remember it—for the proceedings of this day are an event in Irish history. You are charged with being a people who will never give fair play to an adversary. You are charged with being willing slaves to any despot who may obtain the reins of power at a particular moment. This is the charge against the Irish people. I entertain a different opinion of them. I should designate as a calumniator the man who would give you such a character; but I ask you, are you now going to fortify, as far as regards this assembly, the assertion of your enemies, by putting down the man who is endeavouring calmly and dispassionately to discuss a question to which he was invited—which he was compelled to discuss? If this discussion be terminated, I shall have the satisfaction of entering my protest against the proceedings which put down Mr. Meagher on the present occasion."
Smith O'Brien, who was determined never to come into personal conflict with O'Connell, rose and left the hall. The young men followed him. How, indeed, could they do otherwise?—for to remain would have been to desert and betray him, but they had retired from a meeting, they had not resigned from the Association. They would willingly have continued to act, but when they made inquiries on the subject the Secretary was authorised to inform them, as we shall see, that they were not and could not be members.
I must pause here for a moment on the cardinal question—Who caused this secession? It is one that cannot be put aside or evaded. It involves a tremendous responsibility—responsibility under which the strongest shoulders might break like pipe stopple; for it may be justly doubted whether one man of the two million of the Irish people who perished in the Famine would have been permitted to die of starvation if the strength of the National Party had remained unbroken and its spirit unsubdued. The young men had no wish to retire, no conceivable interest in retiring. By retiring they were abandoning to their opponents the council chamber from which the people expected guidance. They were leaving not to O'Connell, but to Mr. John O'Connell, the cause upon which all their hopes were set. They were certain to be misrepresented and maligned in their absence, and by the one act of separating from the Association their public career was apparently brought to an end. But it is beyond controversy that they had no choice. Mr. John O'Connell, as we have seen, came over from London expressly to declare his father's will, and his will was that he and those who had dissented from his new and incredible propositions could not remain in the Association together. One or other must immediately go.
The Secession, and all its fearful consequences, was the work of Mr. John O'Connell; as his brother Maurice declared on the last day of his life, "John did all the mischief."
The private correspondence of the period is hot with wrath and indignation, but there was no public remonstrance, and to all appearance O'Connell had effectually quelled all resistance to the new policy. Dr. Cane, of Kilkenny, who was a man of capacity, in complete sympathy with the party, and my private friend, wrote to advise against any immediate resistance. After describing some of the difficulties he went on to say:—
"This state of things springs from many causes besides the immense influence of the man opposed to you; individual opposition would not have sufficed were it not for the long, pre-arranged blackening of all your characters in the minds of the Catholic clergy, who are hereabouts to a man opposed to you, and view you as a body as little better than infidels, and most inimical to the Catholic Church. You are not without supporters—earnest and devoted ones, too—but they scarcely dare to stir at a public meeting, and would be of little weight there. They are the young men, the reading men, the tradesmen, clerks, young shopkeepers, &c., who have been educated in Repeal Reading-rooms and fed upon the Nation. They will be, in a few years, the men of Ireland, but not yet. Nor must they be sacrificed in their honest devotion to noble opinions. At a public meeting they would be borne down by the priests and the men who will back the priests. No public move now—but wait a little while; be steady, firm to your purpose; no compromise of noble aspirations and high resolves; but as you value Ireland let there be no recrimination or angry personality cast upon the idol of the people."
Resistance to O'Connell's will had never been successful within his own party, and men shrank from it as from a task which is confessedly hopeless. If O'Connell had been content to stop at this point, many experienced critics believe that the Association would have become as tame in his hands as a beaten hound, and the resistance in the Nation would have produced no practical or permanent results. The recruits won since 1843 would have silently retired, and the residue would have accepted Mr. John O'Connell as master. But he was not content. The Nation must be ruined and all sympathisers with it weeded out of the Association. This operation would clear the path for the Young Liberator's succession to the Tribunate. When O'Connell returned from London he adopted and applauded all his son had accomplished, and made it the starting point of future operations. He referred to the committee the question how all connection between the Nation and the Repeal Association could be effectually terminated, and the remnant of the committee promptly concurred in his design. Partisans at a distance were stimulated to sanction these proceedings, and men who for three years had been preaching independence, mutual tolerance, and integrity as the basis on which a nation must be built, had week after week signal evidence how much remained still to be done to create a public opinion which would be just and firm. The Bishop of Ardagh wrote to say that in his diocese there were no physical-force men, nor, he thanked God, any schoolboy philosophers, false and sanguinary Repealers, or Voltairian newspapers; the Nation was the most dangerous publication that ever appeared in Ireland. But in Ardagh they had applied a prompt remedy to so serious a peril. They had ignominiously expelled it from almost all of their literary institutions. This episcopal counsel became the text for many ecclesiastics of various degrees. The parish priest of Clones, who had been a Professor in Maynooth, and was, it may be surmised, a practical man, applied himself to the business with a will.
"I think it right to inform you," he wrote, "that a considerable time since I ejected the Nation from this parish. Individuals have since privately employed a person in this town to supply them with it; I ordered that person last week to write back to the Nation office to stop it."
The results of these energetic proceedings were not visible at once, but in time they became very conspicuous. Half a century passed, and these schoolboy philosophers and false and sanguinary Repealers after spotless lives have died without exception in the faith in which they were bred, and the newspaper, denounced to immediate ruin, outlived every man conspicuously engaged in the warfare against it. Had the charges been true the newspaper would properly have perished, and the men associated with it would be only remembered with contempt; but they were not true, and the names of these men are more honoured in Ireland to-day than any of their opponents but the greatest. The only certain result of this tempest of injustice was the undesirable and almost calamitous one that the opinion of a prelate on a political question in Ireland had no longer either the force or the character that once belonged to it.
O'Connell resolved to improve his victory. The Young Irelanders, he declared, were false to Repeal, and were answerable for having kept away from the cause the Northern Protestants, who were alarmed by their opinions, and would doubtless otherwise have joined. This proved an unhappy stroke, for it brought forth two conspicuous Northern gentlemen who had joined the Association to contradict the statement. Mr. Grey Porter declared that what withheld the Northerns from the Association was primarily the unaudited funds. Protestants would never join an Association with a despotic and irresponsible treasurer. For himself he was opposed to physical force now, as he had been opposed to it in 1843, when Mr. O'Connell was holding his physical force meetings. The second Northern, Mr. John Martin, wrote to the committee declaring his adhesion to the peace principles on which the Association was founded, but his decided objection to the dictatorial conduct by which Mr. John O'Connell had brought about the secession, and to the withdrawal of the Nation from reading-rooms entitled to receive it under a distinct regulation, and in return for money paid; a proceeding justified on the ungenerous pretence that the journal had committed a crime of which a Tory Government found it impossible to convict it. Mr. Ray was instructed to send Mr. Martin the marvellous reply, "That inasmuch as he dissented from the rules of the Association he ceased to be a member of that body." Mr. Martin, who was a man of feeble physique and uncertain health, had a boundless supply of northern pluck, and determined to attend the Association, and assert his right as a member. He was as much a member, indeed, as Mr. O'Connell, having adopted the rules and paid his subscription. But O'Connell declared he could not be heard, and described him as a man who had taken the indescribable liberty of writing to the committee, not being a member. He was clamoured down and forced to retire from the meeting.
But the first symptoms of a dangerous reaction began to appear. Dr. Maginn, the Bishop of Deny, was an able and popular man. He had maintained an affectionate correspondence with me up to the day of peril, and it seemed impossible to me he would agree in the Ardagh theology. And so it proved. He transmitted to the Association resolutions agreed to by his clergy, of which the principal one contained a reservation identical with that made by the Young Irelanders. "Without pronouncing on the abstract question whether nations should, under any circumstances, appeal to arms, it is certain," they said, "that moral force is consonant with the genius of Christianity and applicable to the case of Ireland." These resolutions were placed on the minutes of the Association without a word of dissent. When they appeared Mitchel wrote to Mr. Ray to say they expressed his opinions accurately, and to inquire if he was still a member of the Association. Mr. Ray informed him that he had ceased to be a member, and that the committee could not enter into any correspondence with him. At the same time O'Gorman wrote to the Secretary to say that the treatment of Mr. Martin suggested the necessity of his inquiring whether he was still recognised as a member. On moral force he had stated his opinions in the Association; and with respect to the Nation, had he been in Dublin he would have resisted its withdrawal from the reading-rooms. Mr. Ray replied that his declaration was inconsistent with the principles on which alone the committee could associate with any gentleman, and that he virtually ceased to be a member. The Rev. Mr. Meehan sent a remonstrance against the treatment of the Nation and the enforced retirement of Smith O'Brien, and was informed that "as he did not acquiesce in the principles on which the Association was based," he had ceased to be a member. Mr. Denny Lane simply resigned. His letter was courteous in form, but in substance hard to digest. "As the policy lately adopted by the Repeal Association," he said, " and the recent expulsion of several of its independent members without cause, charge, form, or notice, seems to me to be calculated, if not designed, to perpetuate the Legislative Union, and to extinguish freedom of opinion in Ireland, I request that you will immediately remove my name from the list of members of that body." O'Connell interposed and declared it was unnecessary to read any more of these communications. A little later Mr. D'Arcy M'Gee, who had not received his card of membership since the payment of his subscription, demanded it. "Of physical force," he said, "I will say nothing. I dislike meddling with abstract principles, and I think my brother members should avoid them, as dangerous to the public cause and ruinous to their continuous existence as a corporation." He was informed that in consequence of this letter "he was not, and could not be, a member of the Association."
The country was becoming exasperated. Repeal Wardens who had resigned their office in disgust, and members who had retired, informed us that their letters had been suppressed, reminded us that the business was now being managed by a handful of paid officials, and entreated the Nation to make a public stand against this corrupt and disastrous tyranny; but I was of opinion that if we came to blows with O'Connell the cause would be ruined between us, and I desired to avoid all responsibility for that catastrophe. I explained our policy in the Nation:—
"It is not to conciliate our accusers we exercise forbearance not to get this journal taken once more into favour—emphatically we say that the Nation can do without Conciliation Hall better than Conciliation Hall can do without the Nation—but because we should feel the sin and shame lie heavy on our own souls if we were conscious that we had done an act or written a word to perpetuate or exasperate these mad quarrels. Better that the Nation, and all who contribute to it, were sunk in the Red Sea than that they should become the watchword of faction, the pretext of division, the rock whereon to make shipwreck of so noble a cause!"
But the war went on briskly in Conciliation Hall, not against Imperial rule, but against the Nation. One day the chairman produced a census of the two sections of Repealers; exactly eight, he said, adhered to the Nation, and a million and a half followed the guidance of O'Connell. Another day the Head Pacificator submitted, to the horror of indignant Repealers, "a hellish article" enunciating "the infernal Young Ireland War Policy"—"the most infernal article that has ever appeared even in the Nation." This diabolical production was a paragraph from a not unfriendly review I had written some weeks earlier of Mr. John O'Connell' s Life of his father, and was in these terms:—
"From 1793 to 1829—for thirty-six years—the Irish Catholics struggled for emancipation. That emancipation was but admission to the Bench, the Inner Bar, and Parliament. It was won by self-denial, genius, vast and sustained labours, and lastly, by the sacrifice of the forty-shilling freeholders—the poor veterans of the war—and by submission to insulting oaths; yet it was cheaply bought. Not so cheaply, perhaps, as if won by the sword, for on it were expended more treasures, more griefs, more intellect, more passion, more of all which makes life welcome, than had been needed for war; still it was cheaply bought, and Ireland has glorified herself, and will through ages triumph in the victory of '29."
The resignation of members went on with such increasing velocity that one week it was necessary to publish a special supplement to the Nation to contain the names; but the silent retirements were perhaps more formidable. The whole body of barristers and publicists who had drawn up all public documents and reports disappeared; even Maurice O'Connell could not be induced to attend, and O'Neill Daunt made but one appearance at the urgent request of O'Connell.
But at last the reaction began. The venerable prelate whose friendship with me commenced at the Newry soiree to Father Mathew, of which I have spoken, and continued throughout the intervening years, wrote to the Association that these idle differences should terminate, and the seceders be recalled. This was a heavy blow against the new policy: the 'differences described by a bishop as idle, and the return of the seceders represented as an object to be desired; but O'Connell knew how to evade it. He suppressed the bishop's letter, and wrote privately to him assuring him that all members of the Association would be liable to a prosecution for high treason if the seceders were permitted to return. He would go down on his knees to induce his lordship to withdraw a letter calculated to promote new trouble. The bishop did not insist on his letter being read, but there was still the danger that he would authorise me to publish it in the Nation, and against this danger O'Connell took precaution so marvellous that for a time there was a suspicion that he had lost his intellect. In a speech extending to five columns, the Irish Liberator undertook to prove that the Nation had committed high treason, not some sentimental extravagance, sometimes so named, but the high treason for which men are hanged, drawn, and quartered. He recited and accepted principles of high prerogative authority incompatible with public liberty, and which would have rendered the Repeal movement impossible. Pennefather or Blackburne had never uttered sentiments more irreconcilable with Irish nationality; it was the renunciation and denial of all Robert Holmes had preached so successfully in the railway prosecution, and much of what he himself had said at the monster meetings. Out of this long arraignment I will only quote a single sentence, to illustrate its spirit. Chief Justice Holt, he said, described one specimen of treason: "If persons do assemble themselves and act with force in opposition to some law which they think inconvenient, and hope thereby to get it repealed, this is levying war and treason." This was hard to bear from the convener of the monster meetings, and the author of the Mallow Defiance, directed to the destruction of men one of whom had been tried along with him in the same spirit of prerogative law. From that moment opinion could be restrained no longer. It burst out in many directions. All the transactions I have glanced at were revived in the public memory, and in a few months O'Connell lost his unparalleled popularity, and the Repeal Association became a wilderness. It was seen now that the Nation had not taught in vain, for everywhere the men who had been reared on its doctrines of patriotism and integrity came to the rescue in an ever-increasing volume. The reaction commenced in Munster, where the Celtic race are predominant. The Cork Repealers refused to allow the Weekly Register to be substituted for the Nation in their reading-rooms, and traced with fatal plainness all the disorder to the surrender of Dungarvan to a Whig official. In the Limerick Corporation Dr. Griffin, brother of the eminent novelist, reviewed recent transactions, justifying O'Brien and the Young Irelanders, and declaring that the expulsion of the Nation and the treatment of Mr. John Martin would prevent Protestants from joining the Association, and compel earnest Catholics to withdraw. A procession of O'Brien's constituents, with bands and banners, extending to a quarter of a mile, and headed by the local clergy and professional men, visited Cahermoyle to assure him of their continued confidence. In Repeal centres, North and South, Repeal Reading-rooms refused to relinquish the Nation, and if the Association would not supply it, demanded that the money which they had subscribed for it should be refunded. The resistance spread to England. In London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and other towns, the Irish population, headed by their Repeal Wardens, sent remonstrances to the Association dealing courteously with O'Connell, but trenchantly with his lieutenants, urging that the controversy might terminate, and the seceders be invited back. In Leeds, where the remonstrance was sharp and bitter, Mr. Ray, under the instructions of Mr. John O'Connell, requested to be furnished with the names of the persons who had agreed to the resolutions in order that they might be expelled from the Association. The Leeds Secretary replied that to furnish the names required more pains than he was disposed to take for the pleasure of a committee, reduced to a handful of persons, living for the most part on money subscribed by the Irish people to promote Repeal of the Union; but if Mr. Ray desired the names of the Repealers who did not agree with the resolutions they could be furnished without inconvenience. All remonstrances were suppressed in Conciliation Hall, and even the Nation was loth to publish them. It was in these moderate terms the facts were noticed:—
"From each of the four provinces we have received copies of letters addressed to the Association by clergymen, inspectors of Repeal Wardens, collectors of Repeal rent, &c., some of them bitter and sarcastic, some expostulatory and remonstrant, but all, we find, carefully suppressed at Conciliation Hall, where no indication of public opinion is welcome which does not precisely suit the present remarkable policy of the Association."
I cannot occupy this narrative by following this story into detail. But as it will be impossible without some knowledge of it to understand O'Connell's fatal and precipitate fall from the confidence of the people, the reader is invited to make acquaintance with it where it is set out in detail. The policy of the Nation and the Young Irelanders was not to injure O'Connell, or even John O'Connell, but to make such a truce as would enable them to return to Conciliation Hall and keep the organisation still devoted to Repeal. A united party could alone deal effectually with the famine, and alone promised that after O'Connell's death the Association would resume the policy which prevailed during the Richmond imprisonment. From a letter which I wrote to O'Brien at the time our purpose will be clearly discerned:—
"You see opinion was not dead, but only a little lethargic, and it is making up for delay. The tradesmen of Dublin to the amount, I am assured, of at least 1,500, are about to present a strong remonstrance to the Association; the Repealers of Liverpool will send resolutions of the same character to the next meeting. I have seen a protest to be signed in Newry very emphatic in its condemnation of recent proceedings in the Hall. These things and the avalanche of letters will make it necessary for O'Connell to seek a reconciliation. If so, this surely is the time to put the agitation in a right track once for all; to have regular accounts for the future, to have a committee with real power, and composed of men fit to use, and unlikely to abuse, it. Any junction which would merely enable O'Connell to do nothing with a plausible face would be, I think, a far worse state of things than the present. … We are all most anxious to know the terms upon which you think a reunion would be serviceable to the country—I mean at this moment, for we all look to an ultimate reunion as essential."
The Dublin Remonstrance referred to proved to be a decisive factor in the public cause. There were 120 Repeal Wardens in Dublin, and 74 of them signed this document, and over 1,400 other Repealers, each man signing his name and address. A deputation, holding their cards of membership in hand, was sent to present the Remonstrance, but Mr. Ray had notice of their intention, and ordered them to be stopped at the door, on the pretence that by signing such a document they had ipso facto ceased to be members. As they were not permitted to enter they sent the Remonstrance by a messenger to the chairman of the day. The chairman held up a large roll of paper, and asked what he was to do with it. Mr. Ray told him he could not receive such a thing, and Mr. John O'Connell called for one of the messengers of the Hall, and directed him to throw it out. The faithful messenger carried it into the street, and flung it into the gutter. The mass of the people were difficult to move; whatever O'Connell did seemed good to them. Criticism was in vain. It was the abuse of his enemies in a new shape, but they were staggered by facts they could grasp, and this contemptuous reception of the complaints of 1,500 men of their own class, and other facts, struck them in succession. The famine was spreading over three of the provinces, and Conciliation Hall continued to promise that if they were patient the Government would certainly come to their assistance, and Mr. John O'Connell was able to assure them that even if the Government did not come to their assistance, they had only to be faithful to the principles of peace and morality, "and he was firmly convinced and persuaded that they were on the threshold of prosperity to them and happiness to their native land by the restoration of their national independence." At this time of day it is hard to understand the rage and wrath with which this vile cant was read by humane and intelligent men.
When O'Connell returned to the Association after a long absence it was thought he would have been chastened by the events which had marked his absence; but he took occasion to assume the entire responsibility of his son's proceedings, and to declare that the Remonstrance, instead of being flung out, ought to have been kicked out of the Hall.
The Young Irelanders, who had been vehemently urged to start an association of their own, had, under O'Brien's moderating counsel, resolved to limit themselves to writing, and a special department of the Nation, under the title of the "Phalanx," was assigned them for the purpose, and O'Connell took occasion to remark that the infidel philosophers who heralded the French Revolution began in the same manner. He did not know whether they would succeed as well as Voltaire, Rousseau, and others had done.
The tradesmen of Dublin who had been so cruelly maligned determined to hold a public meeting to justify themselves. The great hall of the Rotunda was engaged, and the 1,500 presented themselves to the public gaze. Some of the artisans spoke of their past love of O'Connell in terms so simple and pathetic that the fountain of tears was touched in their audience, but there were fiercer strings struck. Father Kenyon, who had written in the Nation with a vigour which recalled Swift, was the spokesman of sympathisers with the Remonstrance:—
"If O'Connell's character could be kept separate from the bad faith and base policy which reigned in Conciliation Hall, it would be a joy to preserve it from shame which an old man could not hope to outlive. But his unprincipled intimates and hungry dependents, supplemented by true but inconsiderate friends, made it impossible. The vile arts of the interested had been plied with fatal assiduity; large bodies of Irishmen in whose minds O'Connell had long been associated with the purest ideal of patriotism, forgetting the effects of age and other less excusable influences, were induced to profess unabated confidence in his counsels. Certain bishops, mistakenly associating the interests of the Catholic religion with his fatal policy, published similar professions; and it was a psychological fact worthy of note that whenever a bishop was so minded he was sure to be supported by the bulk of the clergy. Thus a false standard of opinion was fabricated by a grovelling Press, and the lacerated hearts and hopes of honest and brave men were offered week after week in disgusting sacrifice. When at length the intelligent citizens of Cork sought to rouse O'Connell from his lethargy and haply reclaim him for his country, he was so far gone in delusion as to laugh in their faces. He was grateful to O'Connell, but he could not, in the language of Swift, ' ruin his country to show his gratitude.' Neither would he pass over in silence offences calculated to entail danger and dishonour to the nation and its posterity. For his part, therefore, he renounced the leadership of O'Connell till he mended his ways."
The meeting arrested wide attention, but O'Connell had a counter- stroke in reserve. Nothing was rarer than for a bishop to appear at Conciliation Hall, but a bishop was induced to appear to denounce the Nation and its writers. He came there, he said, "to enter his solemn protest against the puny efforts of the Young Irelanders. They are the enemies of religion. They thought to spread infidelity through the land, but they have failed. They thought to sever the ties which united the clergy and laity. In this they failed also." Here was an assistant whose office, at any rate, made him important, and I determined to join issue with him. I wrote with perfect gravity and respect inviting him to specify some of the instances, or any one instance, in which the Nation had preached infidelity or endeavoured to separate the priests from the people. This was a demand which a Catholic gentleman was entitled to make, and which it was not conceivable any gentleman, lay or ecclesiastic, would refuse. The bishop made no answer, having no good answer to make, nor did I hear much of his existence for half a dozen years after, when Mr. William Keogh, who had violated his pledges and his oath for office, appeared before his injured constituents leaning on the arm of the Bishop of Elphin, the prelate in question. A keen and critical audience read this tirade next day, an audience who knew that the statements were profoundly untrue, and this unhappy spectacle of bishops moved like pieces in a game of chess had the serious and tragic effect of making the declarations of men who had been regarded with unmeasured reverence as at times no more reliable than the ordinary professions of Conciliation Hall.
As they were not permitted to pursue their literary projects in peace the Young Irelanders at last decided to resume the platform and hold at least one public meeting. They met in the historic hall of the Rotunda, which was decorated with banners and mottoes which appeal to a poetic people. The attendance and enthusiasm were immense, and there appeared not merely the seceders but a number of the most solid and respectable of the middle-class Repealers, and the multitude of artisans who had deserted the Association. The young men defended themselves with spirit and vigour, but without bitterness, and their case was made plain and even luminous to all who did not before understand it. A specimen of Meagher's fun on this occasion is worth preserving, for it is the mask and domino covering an important truth:—
"Three Repeal Wardens in Cappoquin wrote to Mr. Ray that they had abandoned all hope of reconciliation in consequence of the language used by Mr. O'Connell towards Smith O'Brien. Mr. Ray assured them of the delight of the Association in parting with men who unquestionably contemplated a resort to arms. 'I am for freedom of discussion,' says Mr. Shea Lalor. 'That is physical force,' exclaims the committee. 'I am for the publication of the accounts,' intimates Mr. Martin. 'You oppose the peace policy,' rejoins Mr. Ray. 'I protest against place-hunting,' writes Mr. Brady from Cork. 'Sir, you contemplate a resort to arms,' rejoins the Secretary from Dublin. He hoped he would be excused for trifling with these subjects, but it was as difficult to treat them seriously as to describe a farce with sublimity."
Two metropolitan priests appeared on this occasion to defend the young men against the shameful attack on their religious opinions, and declared there was not one Dublin parish where they had not some warm friends among the local clergy. That such a meeting could be held in Dublin in opposition to O'Connell was an impressive fact, and it impressed nobody more than O'Connell himself. This account of the effect produced on him was reported by an eye-witness:—
"The next morning O'Connell sat in his study in Merrion Square, the daily papers before him; some friends, lay and clerical, around. He was depressed. 'Don't mind them, Mr. O'Connell,' said one of these friends, 'they are brainless boys. We will crush them.' 'Ah, no, no,' said O'Connell, 'they are a powerful party, and we must have them back.' One of the friends was Sir Colman O'Loghlen. He seized O'Connell's hand. 'Commission me,' he said, 'to say that to Smith O'Brien.' 'I do,' said O'Connell. 'Be my ambassador; tell him and his friends to come back on his own terms.' At that moment John O'Connell entered. Hearing what had passed, he protested it should not be, and the old man had not strength to oppose his best beloved son."
But the determination had taken root, and at the next meeting of the Association O'Connell suggested that in face of the growing famine the dispute in their own ranks ought to be settled. "Let the Young Irelanders show that they give up everything contrary to law and he would concede everything that the law would permit." He would propose a conference between Smith O'Brien and himself, aided by four lawyers—O'Hagan, O'Loghlen, O'Hea, and John Dillon—and they would understand each other for the future. At succeeding meetings he returned to the subject, and intimated that he would satisfy the Young Irelanders on all points at issue. Among the seceders some angry spirits said: "This is a trick, there is a trap. O'Connell cannot possibly want reconciliation, for reconciliation would mean abandoning the Whig alliance, which yielded so liberal a crop of offices to his partisans, and the cherished hope of making John his successor. Besides, how can he on any pretence take back men represented by bishops as infidels eager to destroy religion and betray the country? That is what we were represented t6 be a week ago. How have we changed?" But the leaders of the party were determined to accept the conference, certain that if they did not they would be assailed as the enemies of reconciliation, and cherishing some faint hope that O'Connell had repented of his fatal backsliding. There was a third motive which, though it was only glanced at in debate, was fixed in all their minds; they feared that O'Connell was determined to denounce them as impediments to a reunion of the party, and this misrepresentation they resolved to make impossible. The seceders held a conference and published resolutions declaring that they accepted O'Connell's overture, and were ready to confer on all the points in dispute as soon as they had leisure to consult O'Brien and some other seceders resident in the provinces. I wrote privately to O'Brien, urging him to come immediately to town, but he could not be induced to do so. He still regarded himself as a mediator between the two sections, recommending that we should negotiate with O' Council without him, intending to intervene if an agreement was not arrived at. We loved and honoured O'Brien, but we were not dependent on his guidance, and we agreed without hesitation to act without him. But O'Connell knew his man, and thought his end would be best attained by approaching O'Brien alone. He sent one of his friends to Cahermoyle to indicate that if the peace policy was universally accepted other difficulties might be got over. O'Brien, who, when points of honour were concerned, was proud and impatient to a fault, replied that he had no intention of debating the peace resolutions, which were merely a pretence for getting rid of troublesome members; but if Mr. O'Connell desired he would specify the terms on which he would be disposed to return to Conciliation Hall, and to advise other people to do so.
The mission had failed, so O'Connell assured his adherents. O'Brien would not provide for the safety of the Association, and in face of such a refusal what more could he do? It was melancholy to think, he added, that the Repeal Association had to enter on negotiations with the compositors' room of a newspaper office, but he was ready to make any concession short of principle, and to receive back every one of them on an equal footing with himself, if it could be done with safety. We took him at his word. A meeting was held at the Nation office, and a deputation appointed to confer with Mr. O'Connell. The deputation consisted of James Haughton, John Dillon, and Charles Gavan Duffy. We had, in addition to the instructions of the meeting, letters from forty districts, where secessions had taken place, specifying the terms on which they would be willing to return. It was no longer a question of the Young Irelanders alone, but of the thousands who had seceded after the expulsion of the young men. The deputation to O'Connell reported the proceedings in a document which, as it was written by me, I will reproduce:—
"They opened the interview by assuring Mr. O'Connell that the seceders anxiously desired to co-operate with him in bringing about a reconciliation on any terms creditable to the parties and useful to the country. Mr. O'Connell replied that he was quite ready to go into a conference on the legal question, which must be settled before any other could be considered. The deputation consented that the legal question should be investigated in the first place, but they desired to be informed, if this point were disposed of, whether he intended that the conference should determine the other points at issue between the Association and the seceders. Mr. O'Connell said if the legal question were decided against them they would not be members of the Association; the time, therefore, had not come, and might never come, to raise them. The deputation rejoined that they were instructed to ascertain with certainty whether, if the legal question should be decided in their favour, he would then proceed to consider the other questions which had produced the secession. Mr. O'Connell answered that the conference must be confined exclusively to the legal question. The deputation reminded him that in his speech proposing the conference he was reported to have suggested that it should settle 'the points of difference between us.' He declared that he had not said so, but directly the reverse; it was a misreport, as he had never intended bringing any but the legal question before the conference. The deputation assured him that the settlement of the legal question would not bring back the seceders, who had retired on various other grounds. Mr. O'Connell replied that if the seceders returned they could, in their places in the Association, propose any reforms they thought necessary. But as this was a proposal to renew what had been described as 'dissensions,' it was manifestly out of the question; and, in conclusion, they offered him a statement of the reforms the seceders thought essential, but he declined to read or receive it.
"These reforms were that, in case of agreement, the seceders should be restored to their offices and status in the Association; that the members of the managing committee should pledge themselves not to accept, or to solicit for others, any office of emolument from the English Government; that, as persons of every religious persuasion were invited to join the Association, it was desirable to avoid the discussion of subjects calculated to excite religious dissension, reserving the right to remonstrate against substantial grievances affecting the religion of any class of Irishmen; that the Association should cease to circulate any newspaper; that a committee should be appointed to secure the election of Repealers in all Repeal constituencies at the coming General Election; that the conference should make arrangements for the publication and audit of the Repeal Fund, and for the trusteeship of all money and property of the Association; and that no paid officer should be a member of the committee or be allowed to take any part in the public proceedings, except by direction of the committee."
O'Brien afterwards added an additional condition on which he intended to insist, that no member should be expelled from the Association except by a public meeting and after a week's notice. Without these conditions it was certain the provincial seceders or the Dublin artisans would never re-enter Conciliation Hall.
O'Connell closed this negotiation as he had closed his negotiations with the Federalists—by insulting to-day the men he had courted the day before:—
"It is all over," he cried. "There is an utter end to it. The Association will work on its way as well as it can without them, in total disregard, not to use a harsher term though the use of a harsher term may be more applicable of the paltry machinations and movements of the Little Ireland gang. I tell them this I set them at defiance and let them keep up as many dissensions as they please, and foment disaffection to no end, I shall still disregard them. … What crime has the Association committed that, in the first place, it should be condemned, and next handed over to such executioners as Duffy, Mitchel, and the other Young Irelanders? I would rather see the Association emptied of the last man than I would submit to their dictation."
It was indeed all over. The influence of the Association was gone; the potent sway of the great Tribune was at an end, and the remainder of his life was a protracted tribulation. It must have wrung his heart to see the people dying without effectual help or sympathy from the Minister in whom he bid them trust.
The bitterness was greatly increased by the circumstance that O'Connell used his influence with the Whigs for his family and followers. When his son Morgan, Vincent Fitzpatrick, the secretary of the O'Connell tribute, the brother-in-law of his favourite son, his family physician, and other retainers were gazetted for office or promotion, there was deep exasperation. It was felt that in this way the public cause was being bartered for personal favours. What had happened in the former Repeal agitation was recalled as a signal warning.
In 1834 the people sent thirty-eight Repealers to support O'Connell in Parliament, and what became of these missionaries designed to convert England to Repeal? The bulk of them had accepted office or honours from the Government, and their places were now for the most part occupied by non-Repealers. The O'Connor Don was made a Lord of the Treasury; Morgan O'Connell was made a Commissioner; Charles O'Connell, a stipendiary magistrate; Christopher Fitzsimon (son-in-law to O'Connell), clerk of the Hanaper; A. C. O'Dwyer, filacer of the Exchequer; Nicholas Fitzsimon (brother-in-law to O'Connell), a divisional Magistrate of Police; A. M. Lynch, a Master in Chancery; Richard Shiel, Master of the Mint; David Roche and Henry Winston Baron were created baronets. Thus they were bought and paid for, and in almost every case the seat of the retiring member was filled by an Anti-Repealer. Dr. Baldwin, of Cork, Patrick Lalor, of Tinakil, and C. A. Walker, a Wexford proprietor, retired from Parliament in disgust. Edward Ruthven, jun., F. W. Mullins, William Reilly, and Henry Lambert quarrelled with O'Connell and lost their seats. Three of the three dozen and two had openly deserted Repeal R. M. Bellew, Sir R. Nagle, and R. Sullivan. Thus twenty-nine were accounted for. Of the remainder a few silently quitted public life, and for all practical purpose abandoned the cause; three or four of the least reputable, Dillon-Browne, Somers, and the like, who found a seat in Parliament convenient, still professed Repeal opinions on the hustings, and believed in them as much as in the Koran. Two of the number, Henry Grattan and M. J. Blake, were understood to be honest if not very active Repealers; and Maurice and John O'Connell completed the list. The practical question was whether this process was to be repeated in 1846. Can any one regard the risk as a sentimental or speculative one?
Some of the social events of this period may be briefly quoted from my diary:—
"This new year, dark with so many troubles for Ireland, opens with consolation for me personally, of which I am almost ashamed to feel so glad. In a few days I will be married to my cousin, Susan Hughes.
"Be blessed the home sweet Sybil will sway
With the glance of her soft and queenly eyes;
Oh, happy the love young Sybil will pay
With the breath of her tender sighs!
That home is the hope of my waking dreams
That love fills my eyes with pride
There's light in their glance, there's joy in their beams
When I think of my own young bride.
"I received this morning from Ferguson the proof of a paper he is publishing on Davis in the D. U. M., which will largely promote my desire to see Davis recognised for the man he was.
"I called yesterday with Bindon and Mitchel on Dr. West, a relation of the late Conservative Member for Dublin, who will soon join the Confederation with some of his friends. Arranged with M'Glashan the publication of D. O. Maddyn's book. A Belfast bookseller (Henderson) has published a pamphlet, without any promptings from us, containing the Y. I. meeting at the Rotunda, a significant and promising fact."
- "Four Years of Irish History."
- He concluded with an enumeration of the eleven measures he expected to be immediately passed into law, and which the government, as he affirmed on a later occasion, had promised to support. None of them related to the pressing emergency of the famine, but they included many useful and practical reforms, such as enlarging and simplifying the franchise, increasing the number of members for Ireland, limiting the power of ejectment, creating county boards in lieu of grand juries, and levying a tax of twenty per cent, on absentees, to be applied to the purposes of these boards. Let Parliament give him the eleven measures in the present session, and the twelfth, Repeal, he would look for in another session. It was a dainty dish to set before the people—eleven sweeping reforms, all to be accomplished in a single session. Small wonder that simple, well-intentioned persons thought relaxing the Repeal agitation for a little was a cheap price to pay for such abounding blessings. But a people who lay down their arms hope for concessions in vain. Whether O'Connell, after twelve years' familiarity with the procedure of the House of Commons, expected that eleven measures could be carried through Parliament in a session which had already reached July, or that one serious measure could so fare, need not be debated. A readiness to believe the impossible, and to accept promises of the sun and moon to be delivered on a future day, is one of the weaknesses of an enthusiastic people; but he sins against his race who subjects them to the scorn of their enemies by appealing to that sentiment.—"Four Years of Irish History."
- Letter of O'Connell to the Right Hon. D. R. Pigot, M.P., dated Dublin, 8th July, 1846.
- M. J. Barry.
- A startling confirmation of the public verdict against Mr. John O'Connell, as the mischief maker, came to me by a curious accident. In the session of '54, one night in the House of Commons, Maurice O'Connell, with whom I had ordinarily little or no communication, crossed the floor and sat down by me. He had long wished, he said, to correct a misapprehension which he believed existed in my mind, that he had been a party to the disastrous quarrel between his father and the Young Irelanders. On the contrary, he had strongly opposed it, and never crossed the threshold of Conciliation Hall after it happened while his father lived. John had done it all. His own influence with his father had also been undermined in his old age (as I understood by the same person). I was so surprised and puzzled by this unexpected confidence that I excused myself on the ground that I had an appointment with some friends. While I was sitting, immediately after, in the tea-room with Dr. Brady, member for Leitrim, and Mr. Swift, member for Sligo, Mr. O'Connell came in, sat down at the table with us, and repeated in their presence all that he had been saying to me privately. He urged me to visit him at Darrynane in the autumn, and, as an inducement, promised to show me documents confirming his statement. The conversation was fixed in the memory of all of us by the tragic circumstance that Mr. O'Connell died suddenly that night. "League of North and South."
- The war against the Nation had begun with professions of anxiety for its prosperity; it was shut out of the Repeal Reading-rooms, it was alleged, only on urgent public grounds. Now at length however, O'Connell, when some enthusiastic follower announced his determination to burn the Nation, reminded him that he would first have to commit the absurdity of buying it. Thus the great work contemplated from the beginning was at length consummated—the Nation was placed on the Index Expurgatorius of Conciliation Hall. It was an offence to buy it, to read it, to lend it, to borrow it. The Repeal Reading-room into which it was admitted had long forfeited its connection with the parent society. The man who sold it in the way of business was denounced as a bad citizen. The man who bought it was a fool. But time, as the poet teaches, "shows who will and can." The Nation had wound itself into the fibres of the Irish heart. The poor peasants clubbed their pence that they might hear on their only day of rest what they could do for the cause; the young tradesmen, to whom it had become almost as necessary as their daily bread, clung to it. The Conservative students enjoyed it as a stolen pleasure, trembling to be caught in an act of patriotism; the Irish exiles in England or France, or felling forests in Canada, or digging railways in the Western Republic, who still longed, like their predecessors two generations earlier, to hear " how was Old Ireland, and how did she stand," the poor Irish soldier who stole into a secret place with his treasure, the young priest who judged it with his own brain and conscience, not by word of command, cherished it the more for the dangers that it ran. "We never," a young farmer wrote at this time, "knew how we loved the Nation till now." This enthusiasm, the slanderers declared, was merely the paroxysm of a temporary fever; but it did not so prove. More than a generation has passed since those events, and to-day only an exceptional man can point out where Conciliation Hall stood; its hired claque have disappeared as completely as Major Sirr's "battalion of testimony"; insanity, suicide, the profligate renunciation of opinions for place, the fog of obscurity, have swallowed them up; its special press died in a stench; but the work done by the young men of the Nation is to be found in every Irish library in the five divisions of the world; the soldier on his march, the missionary in China and India, the digger in California, the solitary shepherd in the Australian Bush, have found refreshment in it. These men, too, have been heard of in the world, not to their discredit. And if the capital of the island which he did so much to free from the chains of sectarian ascendancy possesses a great monument to the memory of O'Connell, it was these "enemies of the Liberator" at home and abroad, more than any men, commenced and crowned with success this national undertaking.—"Four Years of Irish History."
- "Four Years of Irish History," bk. ii. chap. i.
- "Cahermoyle Correspondence" (Duffy to O'Brien).