Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

the measure of an armed Irish Yeomanry, even in 1796. It was, however, most unhappily adopted. A great mass of respectable and humane Protestants enrolled themselves, it is true, and whole corps, in some instances, acted with exemplary moderation. These, however, were rare exceptions. The basest and most wicked portion of any multitude-and these corps were but multitudes——in such cases always obtain the ascendant. Humanity or justice incurred the suspicion of disloyalty; and atrocities were committed, and regarded as proofs of loyal zeal.

But to come directly to the point, whether the Yeomanry put down the rebellion of 1798. In the first place, it should be recollected, and it is too generally forgotten, or not known, that the Irish rebellion, as organized by the United Irishmen, never broke out at all. The disclosures of the informer Reynolds, and the arrest and death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, reduced the conspiracy to a state of dissolution. The match was withdrawn, and explosion was impossible. The Government knew this well ; but whether from the difficulty of restraining the faction which had already been armed and let loose, without the control of military discipline, or the law of the land, -or from the horrible policy of goading the Irish people to open rebellion, in order to lay a foundation for the Union,-whatever the cause, in short, the country was still left a prey to military execution, and all the crimes and horrors in its train. Only one brief month before the insurrection began in Wexford, that true, and therefore humane, soldier, Sir Ralph Abercrombie, represented to the Irish Government, that a system of lenity and justice would much sooner and more effectually restore tranquillity; and that the example of the Yeomanry was corrupting the discipline of the regular troops. His representations were slighted by the Government, and he resigned his command in disgust. Sir John Moore, another brave and generous soldier, pronounced the Irish Yeomanry the most ferocious and dastardly rabble in existence, savage or civilized; and declared that the regular troops and militia were inhumanized by contact with them.

Persons not only of base condition, but of the most degrading and brutalizing occupations, were invested with the magistracy, and with the captaincy of a corps of Yeomanry. One specimen will suffice. A person named Gowan had distinguished himself in Wexford and the adjoining districts as a thief-catcher, and was rewarded by the Irish Government—very properly, it may be admitted—with a pension of a hundred a-year. Upon the adoption of the system of burning, whipping, half-hanging, and the Yeomanry, he was invested, not quite so properly, with the commission of the peace, and the command of a Yeomanry corps. He soon, and very characteristically, signalized himself. After a day's chace in Wexford—(this, be it remembered, before the insurrection had yet broken out,)he entered the town of Gorey, at the head of his corps in triumph, with his sword drawn, and a human finger (the epithet is perhaps expletive,) stuck upon its point. This was not all: the gallant Captain and his corps having dined together, they, like true sportsmen, stirred their punch with the amputated finger, as other sportsmen do in Ireland with the fox's brush. His gallantry did not stop even here; he carried the finger with him as a trophy, not only in his military movements, but in his friendly

visits, and produced it to the admiring curiosity of his friends. In one instance, a young lady having turned away in disgust, the Captain of Yeomanry slily and gallantly slipped the amputated rebel finger into her bosom, and threw her into hysterics.

This, however, was but a mere pleasantry, compared with the whippings, strangulations, burnings, and all the nameless horrors committed in savage sport, under pretence of extorting information from the wretched peasantry, at the very moment when they were actually surrendering their arms and their persons to the tender mercies of the Irish Yeomen magistrates. A party of Yeomen, by way of episode, brought twenty-eight prisoners into a Fives Court, and shot them without even the burlesque formality of trial. Achievements like these produced their natural consequences-not the suppression of rebellion, or restoration of peace, as the Yeomanry and their partisans have the effrontery to assert; but the flight of the peasantry in Wexford county, and in some districts of Kildare and Wicklow, from their homes, -or from the smouldering ruins, which had been their homes,--and their congregating together, with the natural instinct of self-preservation, to make a struggle, however hopeless, for their lives.

Such was the origin of the insurrection; the momentary refuge of poor peasants, without leaders, arms, preparation, or previous concert, driven to desperation by the cruelties which threatened or had been already practised on them.

Now, let us see what was the behaviour of this loyal and gallant Yeomanry, in the very first collision with the insurgent mob of a few parishes, weak in number, and wretchedly armed. It will be best collected from the following passage in the narrative of an eyewitness.

“ The great suspense felt by the inhabitants of Wexford, during the whole of this day, on account of so sudden an insurrection, now grew into serious alarm, such as unexpected news like this must inspire. The lamentations of the unfortunate widows and orphans of the soldiers who had fallen in the encounter encreased the general consternation. These ran about the streets clapping their hands, quite frantic, mixing their piteous moanings with the cries of their children, and uttering their bitterest maledictions against the Yeomen, whom they reproached with cowardice, and with having run away and left their husbands to destruction."

On the second occasion they behaved no better ; having come in sight of the rebels, on the hill of Oulard, the Yeomen wheeled back the way they came, “burning the houses of suspected persons," says the same narrative, “ and putting every straggler to death on their way.” Again, another narrative says,

“ Those who remained within their houses were brought out and shot at their own doors-nay, some decrepid old men were put to death by these valorous guardians of the public peace. But they were not always inexorable, as a sum of money, timely presented, saved some, &c. Among those who were afterwards compelled to disgorge their bloody ransoms, Mr. H-G- - (the hero of the bloody finger,] a magistrate and captain of Yeomanry, &c. &c.”

What was their conduct when the rebels approached and had not yet attacked the town of Wexford, which was in a perfectly defensible state, and the head-quarters of the civil and military authorities.

The confusion and dismay were so great, that officers and privates ran Sept,--VOL. XXXII. NO. CXXIX.

U

promiscuously through the town, threw off their uniforms, or hid themselvessome threw their arms and ammunition into the water-some ran to the gaol and placed themselves under the protection of Mr. Harvey, (soine wretches, whose lives this unfortunate gentleman had saved, were the first to clamour for his blood, and disputed his remains with the more humane hangman, in order to indulge in atrocious and unspeakable outrages upon his inanimate corpse;] officers, magistrates, and yeomen of every description endeavoured to escape, and many of them put on women's clothes, &c."

We will add one trait more from the history of Mr. Gordon, a Protestant clergyman of unquestioned loyalty, also a witness of the insurrection. 4 « A small occurrence after the battle, of which a son of mine was a witness, may help to illustrate the state of the country at that time. Two Yeomen coming to a brake or clump of bushes, and observing a slight motion, as if some persons were hiding there, one of them fired into it, and the shot was answered by a piteous and loud screech of a child. The other Yeoman was then urged by his companion to fire, but he being a gentleman, and less ferocious, instead of firing, commanded the concealed person to appear, when a poor woman and eight children, almost naked, one of whom was severely wounded, came trembling from the brake where they had concealed themselves for safety."

There is the testimony of the same writer, somewhat timidly expressed, as might be expected at the time in Ireland, that the insurrection was provoked by the outrages of the Loyalists.

“ Whether an insurrection in the then existing state of the kingdom would have taken place ? &c. if no acts of severity had been committed by the soldiery, the yeomen, and their supplementaries, without the authority of their superiors, or the command of the magistrate, is a question which I will not positively answer. The terror of whipping was so great, that the people would have been glad to renounce for ever all notions of opposition to the Government, if they could have been assured of permission to remain in a state of quietness."

The insurgents, as might be expected, retaliated dreadfully, and by one especial atrocity, the very thought of which makes the imagination start with horror and the blood run cold—the burning or assassination of prisoners in the barn of Scullabogue. Let it be remembered, however, how many crimes and cruelties had been suffered by the perpetrators of this barbarous act; and that the Yeomanry inflicted death and torture without discrimination : let it be remembered that the regular military gave no quarter, but hanged, shot, or tortured prisoners, armed and unarmed; let it be remembered that the murderers Scullabogue were the relatives of men, women, and children, who had been the victims of other miscreants, inhuman as themselves; that they bore, many of them, upon their own persons, the scars and mutilations of the cat-o'-nine-tails, the triangle, and the pitched cap-let all these facts be taken into account, and the guilt will be divided between the perpetrators and those who provoked the deed. Had the Yeomen been less savage and ferocious, and had General Johnson a touch of the humanity, of Abercrombie and Moore, human nature would have been spared this horrid massacre of Scullabogue.

Without adding more, or dwelling further on the dreadful reminiscences of the Irish rebellion, it may be put not only to Lord Grey, but to the Duke of Wellington, were he minister, whether, even in case of internal danger to the peace of Ireland to-morrow, the Irish Yeomanry is the sort of force that, in common humanity, or common

dence, should be employed against it. An insurrection would be easily suppressed by the superior power and regular military force of England; but the employment of the Irish Yeomanry, so far from aiding, would but provoke resistance, perpetuate hatred and hostility, and throw back the peace, liberty, and civilization of the country to an incalculable period.

It would be a waste of time to recapitulate the proceedings and the mischiefs of the Irish Yeomanry since the rebellion and Union with Great Britain. Upon the restoration of tranquillity, or what was so called, the more respectable of the Protestant Yeomanry force surrendered their arms, and confined themselves to their ordinary occupations. They were chiefly the dregs of Protestantism that remained embodied, especially in three of the four provinces. ' 'Had the Government acted wisely, the whole force would have been disembodied and disarmed at the time. The remnant corps of Yeomanry were employed much more in acts of private oppression and spoliation by the petty tyrants, the jobbing loyalists, and the trading and tithing magistrates, who commanded them, than in the enforcement of the laws or preservation of tranquillity. Instead of serving the purposes of legitimate police, they were employed as armed satellites in acts of oppression, injustice, or exaction. The most innocent use of them was in upholding the vulgar pomp of some village aristocrat. Their utter inefficiency, as preservers of the peace, is proved by the fact that Mr. Peel, who, in spite of his party bias, had no common merit as Chief Secretary in Ireland, found it necessary to transfer the police of the country from the magistrates and Yeomanry to stipendiary officers and a constabulary force.

In Dublin and the North of Ireland they were more numerous and mischievous. For several years the peace of the Irish metropolis, and of several towns and districts, was periodically compromised. Three or four anniversaries in the year were celebrated with riot and bloodshed. For some time after the Rebellion, the Catholics were so cowed into submission that they crouched under the insulting voice of the licensed faction ; but they at last grew into a stronger sense of their manhood, and the streets and fields in several places were periodically ensanguined. This was not the only, or perhaps the worst evil. The administration of justice was corrupted at its source. The trial by jury became an instrument to kill, not save the innocent; to shield, not punish the guilty. The Orange Yeomanry had a monopoly of juries, and acquitted their partisans in spite of the clearest evidence and the charge of the judge.“ Thank God, gentlemen, that is your verdict not mine," said Chief Justice Bushe, as humane à man as lives, in a case tried before him, when a man guilty of murder upon the clearest proof was pronounced not guilty.

It was thought advisable at last to check the fervour of this loyal Yeomanry, and forbid their processions. Lord Wellesley was the first chief governor who seriously grappled with this insolent spirit of faction and domination, and was near suffering martyrdom for the performance of his duty. A loyal ruffian threw an empty bottle at his head' from the gallery of the theatre, whilst he sat in state at the performance, and because the weapon, had it taken effect, would only have dashed out the Lord Lieutenant's brains, and not per

forated his body, as a pistol bullet, or a poniard, it was pronounced not to be an attempt to assassinate, but only a pardonable ebullition of loyal Protestant zeal.

The Yeomanry were chiefly formidable, not from their military organization, but from their secret and sworn association as Orangemen. A considerable step was made towards restoring equal justice, when a law was passed, under Lord Wellesley's auspices, declaring Orange societies illegal. But the great measure which laid the foundation of equal justice, and the peace of Ireland, was the Catholic Relief Bill. The rubicon was here passed – the great superiority, the stronghold of ascendancy was razed to the ground, and all the minor forts should have been also abandoned. The whole political frame of Government should have been, or should now be, readjusted in accordance with the change in its main principle. Every source of jealousy, every badge of superiority, every vestige of the English pale and of Protestant colonization, should be removed as a necessary complement to the Relief Bill.

We firmly believe, that were the Duke of Wellington Prime Minister when the Newtownbarry massacre recently took place, he would, upon receiving authentic information of the facts, have disarmed and disembodied the Irish Yeomanry. As a soldier, he would have been disgusted with the dastardly and disorderly spectacle of military execution upon a defenceless and flying multitude, and with his energy and direct march to his end, he would have abated the nuisance with scarcely a murmur of disapprobation.

Lord Anglesey is distinguished among, if not beyond, the warriors of his day and of Europe, for that brilliant and generous endowment which in soldiers is called gallantry, and no man doubtless could have shrunk with more horror from such a transaction as that of Newtownbarry. He had not, however, the requisite discretionary power to act with celerity, and his measures of government would be more vigilantly watched and inveterately opposed in Ireland by the Orange Tories, as those of the organ of a liberal and reforming Ministry. But yet we believe, that had Lord Anglesey, instead of issuing through his private Secretary a languid rebuke of the Newtownbarry massacrers, withdrawn their arms from the Yeomanry throughout the country, his doing so would be only the wonder of a week in Ireland, and the subject of a few interrogatories to Ministers in Parliament by Lord Farnham,-Bishop Elrington,--that prosperous trader in cant who has exchanged the quarter-deck for the conventicle, Captain Gordon,—and the saintly Sergeant Lefroy, who thinks he is indulging the overflowings of Christian charity when he distributes evangelical advice and subscription Bibles to the poor. Lord Wicklow would have spared his questions and his common-places, and Lord Londonderry, those curious exhibitions of rambling nonsense, intemperate imbecility, and discordant tones, which he mistakes for speech-making. An incident, however, has since and recently taken place, which gives the question of the Irish Yeomanry new importance, and affords the Opposition a handle of which they are adroitly availing themselves to entrap and upset the Minister, and defeat the Reform Bill. This last is the great but secret object, and not the question of the honour or existence of the Irish Yeomanry, about which those Lords are perfectly indifferent. In fact, there is not a

« AnteriorContinua »