ePub 版
[ocr errors][merged small]

The affairs of Ireland are now engaging much attention, and are likely to do for some time to come. The disaffection and lawless proceedings in that part of her Majesty's kingdom are the burning question of politicians. It is not the first time that such difficulties have had to be encountered. The union of Ireland with Great Britain has never been a happy one, and whether it can ever be made so is a problem not yet solved. The marriage has not been satisfactory to one party, and hence not very comfortable to the other. The union entered into for better or worse seems, like the fabled wedding, to have been all worse and no better.' Pitt said, Ireland is my difficulty.' From his time to that of the present Administration there have been but few, if any, leading Statesmen who have not had to think and


the same. The circumstances of the times require us to acquaint ourselves with the history of our fellow-subjects in the Emerald Isle. It is not likely that many will either read large volumes on the subject, or select such portions as are interwoven with the history of our own country. We propose, therefore, in this brief paper to give a bird'seye view of Ireland in the past. Without some knowledge of the past, it is impossible to comprehend the present state of things. To understand why the Irish are so distressed and discontented, while the English, as a rule, are so prosperous and loyal, we must seek the causes in history. To-day is the child and heir of yesterday. We reap what we sow; the harvest answereth to the seed. There is such a thing as looking backward that we may see forward. It may be a little loathing to sensitive minds to descend into the catacombs of by-gone ages and handle the skeletons and cerements of historic crimes; but we shall have to look not only at the transactions which are remote and ghastly, but at those which have happened nearer our own times, and for which we cannot altogether evade responsibility. With a knowledge of these transactions, we shall not wonder why Irishmen, not deficient in public spirit or probity, have been eager, at many different times, to break away from the union and from all connection with England.

It is a common thing to blame the Irish for all the evils which befall them, and to ignore the wrongs and grievances they have suffered at our hands. While we disapprove of its lawlessness and outrages, and especially of the conduct of some of its advocates in the House of Commons, we are bound to say that the Land League is an uprising against a system which for many generations has been simply intolerable, and which, perhaps, could not have been remedied without such violent opposition. There is generally required a deep and wide-spread dissatisfaction with the existing state of things to drive any measure of reform through both Houses of Parliament. When Sir Robert Peel proposed to cold ears in the House of Commons the repeal of the Corn Laws, he could hardly obtain a hearing until famine in Ireland spread its devastations far and wide, and many even in our land were dying of starvation. In the Upper House the Duke of Wellington, when the Peers came to him to ask permission to vote against the Bill, replied, “You cannot dislike it more than I do; but we must all vote for it. Thus the great famine of 1847 and 1848 was one of the chief forces in causing the repeal of the Corn Laws. So the present agitation in the sister isle may be one of the necessary factors for effecting such changes in the land laws as have long been most urgent.

The ancient history of Ireland, like that of most other countries, is involved in considerable mystery and obscurity. It extends, according to historical charts, to a more remote period than does that of England or Scotland. The primitive inhabitants of the island are believed to have been of the same Indo-European race with the original populations of Britain. The name Ireland is derived from eir, which, in the Celtic tongue, means west. It was probably given to the island on account of its position being on the western point of Europe. In a Greek poem composed five centuries B.C. the country was known as Iernis, and in different Pagan writers as Hibernia and Juverna.

About 350 years B.C. the Belgæ crossed the channel and invaded Britain, and so extended themselves over the kingdom that a great many of the inhabitants who had gradually retired before the enemy were obliged to pass over into Ireland, which was then, to a great extent, uninhabited.

The Belga were a people of ancient Gaul. They had descended from the Scythians, or Goths, who, after defeating the Cimbri, crossed over the north-west part of Gaul. Cæsar speaks of them as the most warlike of the Gauls. The savages of Britain could not resist such invaders, and therefore fled for their lives to the land of the West, the mountains of Wales, and the Emerald Isle. In the year 150 A.D. the latter was represented as being full of people, and


they were distinguished among the Britons as Scouts, or Scots, meaning wanderers or refugees. In turn these refugees, who had settled in Ireland, became formidable to the Roman invaders of the British Isles and extended their expeditions and conquests to the coasts of Gaul.

There is evidence that in very early times Ireland was the seat of literature, arts, and refinement. Numerous works and MSS. in the Vatican, in Paris, and in the British Museum prove that there was a comparatively high state of civilisation in this island when Britons were barbarians. The ornaments and weapons of solid gold and exquisite workmanship still found in the bogs of Ireland indicate the wealth, skill, and magnificence of the people in a very remote period. So late as the reign of Henry IV. it was deemed necessary to pass legislative measures to keep the profuse splendour of the Irish chieftains within reasonable limits.

In the middle of the fifth century St. Patrick, the great apostle of the Emerald Isle, was the means of converting the inhabitants to the Christian faith. This was more than a century before Augustine was sent to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons. Much uncertainty rests on the personal history of St. Patrick ; but it is clear that he was a most devoted missionary and an indefatigable and successful preacher of the doctrines of the Cross. It is probable that he was born in Gaul and taken to Ireland as captive along with others in connection with some of those expeditions which we have said the Irish made to Gaul and other countries when they had become a formidable and warlike race. After spending six years in captivity, he escaped back to bis parents; but shortly after had a dream that he must return to Hibernia and preach Christ to the people. Many friends entreated him not to risk his life in going to the Pagans; but, believing that he was divinely called by the dream, he went without being commissioned by Pope, Bishop or Council, and won a nation for Christ. It may be questioned whether anything in the history of the Church would be more wonderful than a complete record, if we had it, of his apostolic zeal and success; or whether any people ever more readily embraced the Gospel than did the inhabitants of Ireland. It must be distinctly understood that this was not a connection with any Popish mission. The Roman Catholics had no more to do with it than had the Brahmins of India. St. Patrick appealed to no foreign authority. His announcement was, ‘I, Patrick, an unlearned man, to wit, a bishop constituted in Ireland ; what I am I have received from God. The story of his studying under St. Germain at Tours and going to Rome for ordination was a fabrication invented 500 years after his death. The Irish Church which he founded was much purer than those over which the Pope presided, and there was no Roman Catholicism in the sister isle until we took it there at the point of the sword in the reign of Henry II. No one ever heard of Patrick being a saint or canonised until all Ireland were made saints by the armed bands of England. Papists have no manner of claim to this great evangelist; but Protestants have ignorantly or indifferently allowed them to place him in their ranks, thus giving error a gratuity which it is now difficult to recover. He was huried at Down, in the Province of Ulster, and the spot is still venerated by the people, though his relics were outraged by the soldiery of Henry VIII., Elizabeth, and Cromwell.

The early Irish Church established institutions in which religion and learning were zealously cultivated. Numerous missionaries went forth carrying the doctrines of Christianity to the still Pagan nations of Europe. Thus, before England had received the faith the Emerald Isle was the centre of learning and missionary enterprise, and frequented by distinguished students from Britain and the Continent for the sake of the gratuitous instruction which was given both in religion and letters.

From the sixth century Ireland was occasionally invaded by the Saxon Kings of England, and about A.D. 800 by the Danes and Norwegians. The natives defended themselves with great bravery, and the invaders were prevented from penetrating the interior of the country and forced to settle upon the coast, where they built Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, and other cities. But, by imperceptible degrees, they became masters of the whole island, driving the original inhabitants to seek shelter in the Isle of Man and the Western Isles of Scotland, where they established a kingdom and became powerful. These Scandinavian incursions, which lasted upwards of 300 years, checked the progress of civilization and seriously injured the Church. The invaders were defeated and completely routed by Borumbaa, monarch of Ireland, in a great battle near Dublin, 1014 A.D. After this time the country was divided into five kingdoms, viz. : Ulster, Leinster, Meath, Connaught, and Munster, all of which kingdoms, excepting Meath, are now the names of provinces.

Under Henry II. the subjugation of Ireland by England commenced. He despatched a messenger to Rome to obtain the Pope's sanction to invade the island of the West with a view to enlarge the bounds of the Church, enforce the payment of Peter's pence, and annex the country to the Roman See. His Holiness quite approved of so good an object,

prompted by ardour, faith, and love. Accordingly an army crossed the Channel to claim Ireland for the sovereign of England and its Church for the Pope of Rome. The first expedition was mainly a failure, owing to the jealousies and rivalries amongst the leaders. The next was accompanied by Henry in person, and it landed at Waterford in 1172. After the usual sanguinary conflicts his sovereignty was generally acknowledged, and he held a Parliament at Dublin and formed a civil administration for the government of the whole kingdom, very similar to that of England. His son John was sent to reside in Ireland, and received the title of Lord Lieutenant; but he made himself so offensive to the chieftains, that he had to be recalled. Being ruled neither by the English nor the Irish sovereigns, and the people not knowing which to own, much lawlessness and anarchy prevailed. Civilisation now began to disappear, and Henry discovered that his newly-acquired territory was likely to be only a fertile desert, sprinkled over with inveterate enemies, and therefore became indifferent to its state and left it to its destiny.

When John was King he made an expedition into Ireland to curb the refractory spirit of his barons, who had formed a dangerous alliance with the natives. Instead of the barons making the Irish English in manners, they were allowing themselves to be made Irish in their habits, whereupon John passed a statute forbidding the adoption, by any man of English blood, of the Irish language, name, or dress, and made treasonable any marriage of the English with persons of Irish blood, and any adoption of English children by Irish foster-fathers. length, owing to the disaffection of the barons, a rising of the clans took place, and on the bloody field of Athenry the English, assisted by a Scotch force, slew 11,000 of the Irish.

In the reign of Richard II. the condition of Ireland grew no better, but worse.

The English settlers could neither rule nor colonise the country, nor be driven out of it. Again the sovereign of England landed in the sister isle with an army of overpowering strength, which was victorious wherever it went; but, like our army lately in Afghanistan, it could not go everywhere. A number of chiefs and petty kings did homage to Richard and received the order of knighthood; but all traces of his work vanished with the embarkation of his soldiers. The influence of the native chiefs increased so much that the authority of the English crown became limited to a few towns on the coast, and the district termed “The Pale, comprising a small circuit about Dublin and Drogheda.

In succeeding reigns the Norman lords and knights were the cause

« 上一頁繼續 »