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   Chapter 16 THE STATUTE OF KILKENNY.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 9027

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was not to be expected, however, that the larger country would for very shame let her possessions thus slip from her grasp without an effort to retain them, certainly not when a ruler of the calibre of an Edward III. came to the helm. Had his energies been able to concentrate themselves upon Ireland the stream which was setting dead against loyalty might even then have been turned back. The royal interest would have risen to the top of faction, as it did in England, and would have curbed the growing and dangerous power of the barons. That magic which surrounds the word king might--who can say that it would not?--have awakened a sentiment at once of patriotism and loyalty.

Chimerical as it may sound even to suppose such a thing, there seems no valid reason why it might not have been. No people admittedly are more intensely loyal by nature than the native Irish. By their failings no less than their virtues they are extraordinarily susceptible to a personal influence, and that devotion which they so often showed towards their own chiefs might with very little trouble have been awakened in favour of a king. It is one of the most deplorable of the many deplorable facts which stud the history of Ireland that no opening for the growth of such sentiment was ever once presented--certainly not in such a form that it would have been humanly possible for it to be embraced.

Edward III. had now his chance. Unfortunately he was too busy to avail himself of it. He had too many irons in the fire to trouble himself much about Ireland. If it furnished him with a supply of fighting men--clean-limbed, sinewy fellows who could run all day without a sign of fatigue, live on a handful of meal, and for a lodging feel luxurious with an armful of hay and the sheltered side of a stone--it was pretty much all he wanted. The light-armed Irish troop did great things at Crecy, but they were never used at home. That Half-hold, which was the ruin of Ireland, and which was to go on being its ruin for many and many a century, was never more conspicuous than during the nominal rule of the strongest and ablest of all the Angevin kings.

Something, however, for very shame he did do. In 1361 all absentee landowners, already amounting to no less than sixty-three, including the heads of several of the great abbeys, were summoned to Westminster and ordered to provide an army to accompany Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whom he had decided upon sending over to Ireland as viceroy.

Clarence was the king's third son, and had married the only daughter and heiress of William de Burgh (mentioned a little way back as a baby heiress), and through his wife had become Earl of Ulster and the nominal lord of an enormous tract of the country stretching from the Bay of Galway nearly up to the coast of Donegal. Most of this had, however, already, as we have seen, been lost. The two rebel Burkes had got possession of the Galway portion, the O'Neills, O'Connors, and other chiefs had repossessed themselves of the North. So completely indeed was the latter lost that Ulster--nominally the patrimony of the Duchess of Clarence--is not even alluded to by her husband as part of the country over which his government could attempt to lay claim.

The chief event of this visit was the summoning of a Parliament at Kilkenny, a Parliament made memorable ever after by the passing of what is still known as the Statute of Kilkenny[5]. This Statute, although it produced little effect at the time, is an extremely important one to understand, as it enables us to realize the state to which the country had then got, and explains, moreover, a good deal that would otherwise be obscure or confusing in the after history of Ireland.

[5] 40 Edward III., Irish Statutes.

Two distinct and separate set of rules are here drawn up for two distinct and separate Irelands. One is for the English Ireland, which then included about the area of ten counties, though it afterwards shrank to four and a few towns; the other is for the Ireland of the Irish and rebellious English, which included the rest of the island; the object being, not as might be supposed at first sight, to unite these two closer together, but to keep them as far apart as possible; to prevent them, in fact, if possible, from ever uniting.

A great many provisions are laid down by this Act, all bearing the same aim. Marriage and fosterage between the English and Irish are forbidden, and declared to be high treason. So, too, is the supply of all h

orses, weapons, or goods of any sort to the Irish; monks of Irish birth are not to be admitted into any English monastery, nor yet Irish priests into any English preferment. The Irish dress and the Irish mode of riding are both punishable. War with the natives is inculcated as a duty binding upon all good colonists. None of the Irish, except a certain number of families known as the "Five Bloods" (Quinque sanquines), are to be allowed to plead at any English court, and the killing of an Irishman is not to be reckoned as a crime. In addition to this, speaking the language of the country is made penal. Any one mixing with the English, and known to be guilty of this offence, is to lose his lands (if he has any), and his body to be lodged in one of the strong places of the king until he learns to repent and amend.

The original words of this part of the Act are worth quoting. They run as follows: "Si nul Engleys ou Irroies entre eux memes encontre c'est ordinance et de cei soit atteint soint sez terrez e tenez s'il eit seizez en les maines son Seignours immediate, tanque q'il vèigne a un des places nostre Seignour le Roy, et trove sufficient seurtee de prendre et user le lang Englais."

One would like--merely as a matter of curiosity--to know what appliances for the study of that not easiest of languages were provided, and before what tribunal the student had to prove his proficiency in it. When, too, we remember that English was still, to a great degree, tabooed in England itself; that the official and familiar language of the Normans was French, that French of which the Statutes of Kilkenny are themselves a specimen, the difficulty of keeping within the law at this point must, it will be owned, have been considerable.

"In all this it is manifest," says Sir John Davis, "that such as had the government of Ireland did indeed intend to make a perpetual enmity between the English and the Irish, pretending that the English should in the end root out the Irish; which, the English not being able to do, caused a perpetual war between the two nations, which continued four hundred and odd years, and would have lasted unto the world's end, if in Queen Elizabeth's reign the Irish had not been broken and conquered by the sword."

It is easy to see that the very ferocity--as it seems to us the utter and inconceivable ferocity--of these enactments is in the main a proof of the pitiable and deplorable weakness of those who passed them, and to this weakness we must look for their excuse, so far as they admitted of excuse at all. Weakness, especially weakness in high places, is apt to fall back upon cruelty to supply false strength, and a government that found itself face to face with an entire country in arms, absolutely antagonistic to and defiant of its authority, may easily have felt itself driven by sheer despair into some such false and futile exhibitions of power. The chief sufferers by these statutes were not the inhabitants of the wilder districts, who, for the most part, escaped out of reach of its provisions, beyond that narrow area where the Dublin judges travelled their little rounds, and who were governed still--when governed at all--by the Brehon laws and Brehon judges, much as in the days of Brian Boru. The real victims were the unhappy settlers of the Pale and such natives as had thrown in their lot with them, and who were robbed and harassed alike by those without and those within. The feudal system was one that always bore hardly upon the poor, and in Ireland the feudal system was at its very worst. There was no central authority; no one to interpose between the baronage and the tillers of the soil; and that state of things which in England only existed during comparatively short periods, and under exceptionally weak rulers, in Ireland was continuous and chronic. The consequence was that men escaped more and more out of this intolerable tyranny into the comparative freedom which lay beyond; forgot that they had ever been English; allowed their beards, in defiance of regulations, to grow; pulled their hair down into a "gibbes" upon their foreheads; adopted fosterage, gossipage, and all the other pleasant contraband Irish customs; married Irish wives, and became, to all intents and purposes, Irishmen. The English power had no more dangerous enemies in the days that were to come than these men of English descent, whose fathers had come over to found a new kingdom for her upon the western side of St. George's Channel.

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