Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

where we found prepared for us a per we retired to repose in a small supper of new potatoes and bacon, apartment above the kitchen; and on which we fared sumptuously, in Dwyer promised that some of his men company with the worthy peasant, should take care that our place of and Dwyer, the extraordinary captain retreat was not obtruded upon. of the Wicklow banditti. After sup

THE IRISH PEASANTRY.

By the Author of Tales of Irish Life.' The first thing which must have that the horse and the rider formed struck every one acquainted with the only one aniinal, they too often habits and mode of thinking of the identify the magistrate with the legisIrish peasantry is the prevalence of lator. an opinion inimical to the laws of the Perhaps there was more reason in land.. The once well-founded notion Sancho Panza's judgment, when he of there being no justice for a Catholic discharged the thief and punished the has become hereditary; and its con- man who left the money in his way, sequence is obvious in an open disrethan has been generally supposed ; spect for all the legal institutions of for, I believe, according to the canon the country. Individuals, it is true, law, he who exposes another to are ready enough to avail themselves. temptation is not to be considered of the laws, for the purpose of gratify, entirely innocent. If we judge Irish ing malice or redressing wrongs; but, magistrates by the same rule, many while they are thus righting them- of their faults will be extenuated : selves or oppressing their neighbours, and wofully criminal must those be they are still, as much as ever, per- who placed them in situations where suaded that Ireland is ruled by arbi- justice was hardly to be expected trary power, and not by a paternal go from their hands. The abuse of vernment. In certain cases they are power-according to all lawgivers, shrewd enough to discriminate; but save Irish lawgivers—has generally respecting the views of the legisla- been greatest where there was the ture there is only one opinion-and least responsibility; and those who that opinion calculated for every thing know Ireland will readily admit that but the promotion of harmony and it would be difficult to point out in content.

what way an Irish magistrate became However this state of things may responsible to any terrestrial authostartle casual observers, a little re- rity. It is useless to talk about suflection will show that it is the natu- perior courts when we are considering ral consequence of circumstances. the situation of the peasantry ; for, There still live the sons of those who though the door of law be open, it witnessed all the horrors of the penal is guarded by a Cerberus, which relaws; and the tales (no doubt great- quires a golden opiate that the poor ly aggravated) of the hardships en- man can never supply. Even in dured by the Catholics are still list- England, where the rights of the tened to with a feverish anxiety. subject are watched with a jealousy The effects too of that iron code are unknown to other countries, we find yet felt, and the descendants of those too many magistrates acting illegally, who inflicted it on an unhappy people arbitrarily, and tyrannically. What, are still in power. The priest-catcher then, must the case be in Ireland, is succeeded by a bigotedAscendancy- where the provincial press may be man, and an association of ideas is said to sleep, and where an aristocrathus promoted in vulgar minds, which tic combination-powerful and extendisables them from separating the sive-exists to awe into silence the present from the past, or drawing slightest complaint of the peasantry? a line of distinction between the I speak here, not of individuals, but framers and the executors of the of the Irish gentry collectively; who, laws. Like the Indians, who imagined I am sorry to say,* notwithstanding

* Perhaps this arises from the absence of persons of rank and consequence, whose example, if they resided in their own country, migit counteract the bad habits of their inferiors. Absenteeism, even in this respect, is an evil; and indeed I cannot agree with those who represent it, in any one respect, as harınless.

W

individual exceptions, are much in- quently unknown, wben thousands ferior, at least in point of humanity from two neighbouring parishes and justice, to the same class in this meet in hostile array. This pigmy country. English landlords, 'tis true, warfare is attended with even worse are not quite so indulgent or so for- consequences than the loss of half a bearing as they are usually represent. dozen lives ; it inspires a general spied; but still they have a habitual rever- rit of revenge ; begets a love of fightence for the rights of persons, which ing and drinking; and finally prois, alas ! almost unknown in Ireland. motes a disposition to associate for a

It has been said that the conduct redress of real or imaginary grievof the servant indicates the character ances, whether these be supposed to of the master; and it must be con- proceed from individuals or monopofessed that the subordinate agents of lists—from church or state. It may power in Ireland resemble very much be, as some sages have thought, that their superiors. They are tyrants in these factions are an indicative of miniature. Proofs of their delin- peace; but they should never forget quency are to be found every where that they ultimately terminate in throughout the country; and is it, an illegal combination, in which pertherefore, any wonder that laws- sonal pique is merged in what is coneven good laws-administered and sidered to be the general good. It executed by such agents, are disre- inust, however, be confessed, that the spected? Justice, in ordinary cases, is Irish peasantry love fighting, merely to be had only by chance; but scarce- for sport; and this national propensity ly at all where the magistrate or his is strangely gratified. Magistrates, satellites has a political or personal in some instances, have refused to interest in refusing it. This picture interfere from political motives; and is not over-coloured. Things are I have known more than one justice certainly improved in this respect; of the peace protcct a faction in conbut I fear not sufficiently to warrant sideration of their reaping his harvest any qualification of my statement for him. These men, for several

It is, therefore, almost morally im- years, were the terror of a barony; possible that the Irish peasantry but at length they were conquered should pay that respect to the laws by a rival faction, to which their atrowhich the welfare of society requires, cities had given birth. I believe their since their execution is intrusted to patron is still in the commission. improper hands. It is useless to I have mentioned here only the enquire here how this was to have most prominent of those causes which been avoided, since we find its ef- tend to keep alive, in the peasantry, fect-a kind of social and politi- a hereditary hatred of the governcal anarchy, in which the people ment and the laws. It must be unare opposed to government, and necessary to enumerate local grieyindividuals opposed to each other. ances in proof of a fact which, I think, Faction has been subdivided, and, like can hardly be disputed. The feeling certain insects, it has vitality in all is, with few exceptions, universal; its parts. The Rockites and the Ri- and, unhappily, the means hitherto bandmen are but a confederacy of the taken to eradicate it, have only helped Darcys, the M‘Mahons, Two and to confirm opinions inimical to the Three Year Olds, &c. &c.; for, when public welfare. Coercion, on all octhey are not figbting with the police, casions, was the weapon used by gotheyare quarrelling among themselves. vernment to suppress discontent.

These family factions are not to be Perhaps there had been no alternaconsidered as remnants of ancient tive left them. Whether that were the clanship : they spring naturally case it is unnecessary for me to infrom the suspicion that justice is not quire; my purpose is to show that to be had. Ill-treated individuals, in- its effects were the very opposite of stead of applying, as in England, to a those which a wise legislature would magistrate, wait for an opportunity wish to obtain. A fearful exertion of seeking personal satisfaction. of power in despotic countries may Friends interfere on each side; terrify inen into unwilling obedience; numbers are implicated: and thus but, bad as things are in Ireland, the the original cause of quarrel is fre- people still enjoy too much liberty to have acquired the disposition of Besides believing themselves alslaves, though there be too much ways in the right, and the governslavery for them to feel all the moral ment always in the wrong, coercion obligations of freemen.

cannot disabuşe them of their erroEvery increase of power in the nious notions. On the contrary, it hands of the magistracy only leads to has an effect directly opposite; and a further abuse; and, under the in- the victim of the Insurrection Act surrection laws, the innocent are ne- is viewed by the peasantry as a marcessarily confounded with the guilty. tyr to their cause. His praise is The people are harassed by the mi- sung, in very intelligible verse, for nions of power, the business of life years afterwards, at each rustic asis interrupted, and the burdens of the sembly; and the honours thus bepeasantry are augmented, while the stowed on the criminal has a dangermeans of increased exertion are ous tendency in doing away with that denied them. In the mean time the salutary opprobrium which would sanguinary code is in operation; otherwise be attached to an ignomihangings and transportations are nious death. The man who would Hourly taking place; and the mis- die, sooner than bring disgrace on his fortune is, that the innocent too often family, feels no shame in offering, as suffer. This, under all the circum- a Whiteboy, his neck to the execustances of the case, is inevitable. The tioner. By a natural association of laws are put into execution for the ideas, therefore, the peasantry are too purpose of striking terror into the apt to extend their sympathy to all deluded ; and, as the evidence before delinquents ; for it is well known the officers of the crown is generally they will protect a man, though they of a very doubtful character, they are know of and abominate his crime. obliged to decide as it were by chance, Coercion certainly has produced, at and have, it is to be feared, on more times, a momentary tranquillity; but occasions than one, condemned to an the government has ever found that ignominious death the victim of the Captain Rock, like the fabulous vamperjurer. A people proverbially par- pire, is indestructible. They may intial to justice are shocked at such a fict on him twenty thousand deaths, sacrifice; and the opprobrium attach- but the first moonlight night reanied to such a deed is excited at the mates him into an atrocious existence. expense of the laws. With minds The insurrection act, therefore,like the pre-occupied by dislike of govern- phønix, only expires to be renewed. ment, they seize with avidity on such To remedy this state of things, I a proof of injustice; and, in the excess own, is no easy task. Education, of their execration, forget the many unless it commences with the old, is who deservedly suffered, as well as not likely to effect wonders in a all the circumstances which palliate hurry; for the political opinions of the conduct of the administrators of the father, in most instances, will be the laws. The populace, in their those of the son. Besides, education own opinion, are never wrong; and in Ireland, at present, is almost as ex. the Irish peasantry have notions re- tensive as it can be made. Somespecting equity which lawyers cannot thing more is necessary than schools; abide by. For instance, they cannot and were I to venture on recommendbe persuaded that he who assists in ing a measure, it would be one to doing an illegal deed is as guilty as render more efficient, and less offenthe actual perpetrator; and nothing sive, the constabulary forces now in is more offensive, in their eyes, than existence. The magistrates in Irevisiting with legal penalties a man land are incapacitated, by their habits merely because he may have been and education, from being expoundcaught in company with an illegal ers of laws made to govern a free assembly. Tendency (though a word people : and such is the well-underof great potency in the lawyers'voca- stood combination among them, that, bulary) is one entirely unknown to were they even deprived of their comthem; and they uniformly deny the missions, they would nevertheless exjustice of that punishment which falls ercise a dangerous influence over any on individuals, when others equally officer delegated to supply their criminal are suffered to escape. places, unless he was of a character and consequence superior to no ordi- things. First—that small farms are nary temptations. From the state of re- difficult to be had; and, secondly, ligious and political parties in Ireland, that the evil they wish to infer from such men are not likely to be found; such a proceeding is one that quickly and perhaps the government would produces its own cure. If boys and be acting wisely in placing the admi- girls received a part of their father's nistration of local justice, as they holding as a portion, every new-marhave the superintendence of the cus- ried couple would have two farms. toms and excise, in the hands of Eng- If they did not keep these in their lishmen. From such a measure the own possession, it follows of course happiest results might be anticipated, that for every small farm formed were proper persons chosen ; for, as I there would be a small farm to let; have previously stated, the people of and thus every cottier would have an this country are educated in habits opportunity of enlarging his holding, of reverence for the rights of the thereby counteracting the folly of the subject, to which the Irish aristocracy original distribution. are strangers. Were Sir Richard But it is not true that this practice Birnie to sit for a few months in any is any thing like general. On the district of Munster, I will venture contrary, farms in Ireland are every to predict that he would soon have day increasing in size, and the work the confidence of the peasantry, for of comparative depopulation is going of justice they are now as fond as on rapidly, though silently. I have their ancestors were in the days of witnessed, within the last ten or fifSir John Davis. An arrangeinent teen years, the demolition of thouof this nature, however, would sands of cottages, and on various fail to produce all that might be occasions I have been a spectator of effected, unless the political disa- scenes such as Goldsmith describes. bilities under which the Catholics la- Not long since I saw fifty habitations bour were removed ; for I am not levelled on one estate, and all in one sanguine enough to hope that Ireland parish, by order of the proprietor ; will be happy while a single link of and the people of America know well the penal fetters remain to the peo- what numbers of the Irish peasantry ple. Perhaps even discontent might land annually on their shores. On be banished by allowing Catholics to mountains and in sterile districts cotassist in the making of the laws. tages have been erected, within the The peasantry would then feel that last twenty years, in great abundance ; in an act of parliament there must but they have, during the same pebe some reason and justice.

riod, been rapidly decreasing in the Having thus taken a brief view of fertile valleys. In parts of the counthe condition of the Irish peasantry, try where I resided, for many years, and the causes which contribute to among a dense population, there are the permanency of discontent among now comparatively few people; and them, I cannot conclude without say- in the very town-land where I spent ing a few words on a subject to which my youth there remains not a single is erroneously attributed a variety of inhabitant. The farms of ten happy evils. There is evidently a disposi- families form now the out-farm of a tion in the legislature, and among grazier. I could mention a hundred speculative men, to oppose the pre- such instances, in the same county, sent mode of letting farms in Ireland of a decrease in the population. This arises from false information; I cannot help thinking that very and those who gave evidence before erroneous notions have gone abroad the Select Committee relative to the respecting the rapid increase of the subdivisions of lands took a very cir- Irish population; and I have obcumscribed view of the case. They served that people generally get marinust have drawn general conclusions ried much younges in England than from practical instances, and even in Ireland. Among the Irish peathese instances would not have war- santry there is more foresight and ranted their conclusions. A father, prudence than they get credit for; say they, divides his farm equally and, indeed, for one instance of early among his children ; but they forget marriage, in country parts, three are that a case of this nature proves two to be found in towns.

If we examine the question of popu- a population of 896,844. That being lation very closely, we shall find that added to the former number, the total the Irish are not such good breeders would be 5,103,456. Add to this the as is generally supposed.

surplus number for towns, and we Abundant proofs remain that Ire- have a population little short of what land was once densely peopled. Preit is at present. Increase, therefore, cise data, however, can nowhere be has not been so rapid as has been gefound, until within a period com- nerally supposed; and that the popuprised in the last hundred and twentylation now advances slowly, if at all, years. Sir William Petty's survey must be evident from the fact that, was mere guess-work, and Mr. Beau- while the number of new houses built mont's map is of equal authority. in England in 1821 was estimated at We come now to details with more 25,361, not more than 1,350, were pretension to accuracy. In 1731, by reported to have been erected in Irea poll-tax return, there was computed land. to be 2,010, 221 people in Ireland. A great deal has been said relative If this was ascertained by a census, to the system of the forty-shilling we may reasonably conclude that not freeholders having a tendency to inmore than one-third were returned; crease the subdivisions of farms. for the period was peculiarly unfa- Their numbers, however, according vorable to truth in a thing of this to a return laid before Parliament nature. The penal laws were in full during the last session, does not apforce, and reports of Catholics and pear to be very formidable. To asProtestants conspiring to murder each certain the precise number now in other were then current. Even were Ireland is impossible, though it strikes the precise object known and be me, from an inspection of documents, lieved, still it would follow that not that they have not, on the whole, inone-third would be returned. That creased for some years back. The this was the case appears plain following table will show, at one from the Bishop of Dromore's state- view, the number of persons who ment, two years afterwards. Accord- voted, forty-shilling freeholders and ing to Mr. Bushe, first commissioner others, during the last elections at of the revenue, whose statement is to the different places where there was be found in the · Transactions of the a contest, as well as the number of Royal Irish Academy,' the number of householders in the respective counhouses in Ireland in 1789 was 621,484. ties :Allowing six to each house, this would

|Number of Number give a population of 3,728,904. The

Names of Counties where Freehold of Houses data on which all Mr. Bushe's tables the election was contested. | ers who | in each

voted. County. were founded was evidently errone

Armagh . . . .

4,875 | 37,714 ous; for in two years afterwards Mr.

Dublin . . . .

1,557 21,987 Wray, inspector of hearth-money,

Fermanagh ... 1,988 22,912 furnished Parliament with details,

Limerick . . .

6,600 36,089 from which it appeared that the num

Longford . . . . 989 17,320 ber of houses was 701,102, which, at Queen's County . 5,613 23,077 six to a house, gives 4,206,612. Now Sligo . . . . . 11 ,723 | 24,246 it is well known that cities crowded Total

23,345 | 183.345 like those in Ireland always averaged more than six to a house. The po. From this it appears that, out of pulation, therefore, in 1791, must seven counties where the election was have been, even according to this a contested one, not more than one statement, inore than the above num- householder out of every eight was ber. But we have a proof of this; qualified to vote. The Edinburgh for Mr. Wray gave it subsequently as Review' on this subject has not shown his opinion, that there was no truth its usual ability; and I know, from of which he was more convinced than personal observation, that the most that not more than one-half of the confortable cottiers in Ireland are exempted houses were returned. The those who are forty-shilling free. number of such houses was 149,474, holders. Respecting their political which, at six to a house, would give influence it is not for me to decide.

« AnteriorContinuar »