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SUMMER AND AUTUMN OF 1880— MEETINGS OF LAND LEAGUE
AND THEIR EFFECTS — MISTAKEN POLICY OF GOVERNMENT IN REGARD TO THEM—LAND LEAGUE MEETING AT SAINTFIELD, CO. DOWN-DEPUTED TO PROTECT THE MEETINGSPEECHES OF MESSRS DAVITT, DILLON, AND BIGGAR-COUNTER-DEMONSTRATION OF LOYALISTS-OPEN PREACHING OF TREASON AND INCITEMENT TO MURDER BY THE LAND LEAGUE -EXAMPLE, THE SPEECH OF A PRIEST — LAND LEAGUE MEETINGS AT DUNDALK AND DROGHEDA-THE LATTER PROHIBITED BY GOVERNMENT, AND ADDRESSED BY MESSRS DAVITT AND HEALY — RIOT ACT READ AND MEETING DISPERSED.
DURING the summer and autumn of 1880, the teachings of the Land League were being spread rapidly throughout Ireland. Meeting after meeting was being held, at which lan
THE LAND LEAGUE.
guage was addressed to the peasantry of a nature sufficient to drive a nation of saints to revolution. Murder, “ moonlighting,” and general anarchy followed these meetings, with a certainty never questioned, except by those who found it to their pecuniary advantage to advocate a cause, the advance of which, from part to part of Ireland, can be traced in the blood of innocent men and women. Some of these intended meetings were prohibited by the Government, while others were permitted to take place. There were, no doubt, principles guiding the decision of the Irish Government in dealing with the important question of the prohibition of public meetings at this time; but an opinion was generally held that the distinctions drawn rested theoretically upon a very shadowy foundation, while, in practice, the terrible result they produced is to be found recorded in the criminal annals and the revolutionary history of subsequent years.
In the beginning, the Government had
EFFECTS OF ITS MEETINGS.
ample justification for prohibiting all meetings held under the auspices of the Land League. The Court of Queen's Bench, in language not to be mistaken, had declared it to be an illegal society, and every meeting held in its name or under its auspices to be also unlawful. In the second place, the introduction of the Land League into a locality was well known to be immediately followed by violent crime and continued disorder. Had the magistrates been instructed to take legal steps for the preservation of the peace in their respective jurisdictions, the movement would have collapsed. This would have been a strictly constitutional course to have adopted. Magistrates are answerable to the law of the land for acts they commit in its name. Persons who might have considered that their rights had been infringed or their liberties improperly curtailed, would have had their remedy in a court of law. The first duty of a magistrate is to preserve the peace, and to place legal restrictions upon those who disturb it,
POSITION OF THE MAGISTRACY.
or who adopt a course of conduct such as members of the Land League have pursued from the creation of that organisation up to date.
If, under then existing circumstances, the Government distrusted the discretion of its subordinate executive officers in such matters, it could have prohibited such meetings on its own authority. The magistrates were directed, however, not to take such action themselves, and the Government in Ireland, true to its centralised system, decided to consider, as occasion arose, each proposition to hold a Land League meeting, and to decide with reference to it as might seem at the time expedient. Some meetings were permitted and others prohibited, for reasons, the adequacy of which has never been appreciated or understood.
No doubt the Irish Government had a very difficult task to perform. The right of public meeting is dear to Englishmen, and it was not to be expected that the Liberal party then in