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   Chapter 48 HENRY FLOOD.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 9194

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The forty years which follow maybe passed rapidly over. They were years of absolute tranquillity in Ireland, but beyond that rather negative praise little of good can be reported of them. Public opinion was to all practical purposes dead, and the functions of Parliament were little more than nominal. Unlike the English one, the Irish Parliament had by the nature of its constitution, no natural termination, save by a dissolution, or by the death of the sovereign. Thus George the Second's Irish Parliament sat for no less than thirty-three years, from the beginning to the end of his reign. The sessions, too, had gradually come to be, not annual as in England, but biennial, the Lord-Lieutenant spending as a rule only six months in every two years in Ireland. In his absence all power was vested in the hands of the Lords Justices, of whom the most conspicuous during this period were the three successive archbishops of Armagh, namely, Swift's opponent Boulter, Hoadly, and Stone, all three Englishmen, and devoted to what was known as the "English interest," who governed the country by the aid of a certain number of great


Delightful talk! to rear the tender thought,

To teach the young idea how to shoot.

To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind,

To breathe th' enlivening spirit and to fix

The generous purpose in the glowing breast.



Irish borough-owners, or Undertakers, who "undertook" to carry on the king's business in consideration of receiving the lion's share of the patronage, which they distributed amongst their own adherents. Of these borough-owners Lord Shannon was the happy possessor of no less than sixteen seats, while others had eight, ten, twelve, or more, which were regularly and openly let out to hire to the Government. Efforts were from time to time made by the more independent members to curtail these abuses, and to recover some degree of independence for the Parliament, but for a long time their efforts were without avail, and owing to the nature of its constitution, it was all but impossible to bring public opinion to bear upon its proceedings, so that the only vestige of independence shown was when a collision occurred between the selfish interests of those in whose hands all power was thus concentrated.

About 1743 some stir began to be aroused by a succession of statements published by Charles Lucas, a Dublin apothecary, in the Freeman's Journal, a newspaper started by him, and in which he vehemently denounced the venality of Parliament, and loudly asserted the inherent right of Ireland to govern itself, a right of which it had only been formally deprived by the Declaratory Act of George I[15]. So unequivocal was his language that the grand jury of Dublin at last gave orders for his addresses to be burnt, and in 1749 a warrant was issued for his apprehension, whereupon he fled to England, and did not return until many years later, when he was at once elected member for Dublin. His speeches in the House of Commons seem never to have produced an effect at all comparable with that of his writings, but he gave a constant and important support to the patriotic party, which had now formed itself into a small but influential opposition under the leadership of Henry Flood.

[15] English Statutes, 6 Geo. c. 5.

Flood and Grattan are by far the two greatest of those orators and statesmen whose eloquence lit up the debates of the Irish House of Commons during its brief period of brilliancy, and as such will require, even in so hasty a sketch as this, to be dwelt upon at some length. Since a good deal of the same ground will have to be gone over in succeeding chapters, it seems best to explain here those points which affected them personally, and to show as far as possible in what relationship they stood one to the other.

Henry Flood was born near Kilkenny in 1732, and was the son of the Chief Justice of the King's Bench. At sixteen he went to Trinity College, Dublin, and afterwards to Oxford. In 1759 he entered the Irish Parliament as member for Kilkenny, and at once threw himself vehemently upon the popular side, his first speech being an attack upon the Primate Stone. As an orator his style appears to have been laboured, and his speeches brim over in all directions with forced illustrations and metaphors, but his powers of argument and debate were remarkably strong. For about ten years he waged a continual struggle against the Government, urging especially a limitation to the duration of Parliament and

losing no opportunity of asserting its claims to independence, or of attacking


(After a drawing by Comerford.)

the pension list, which under the system then prevailing grew steadily from year to year. Upon reform he also early fixed his attention, although, unlike Grattan, he was from the beginning to the end of his life steadily hostile to all proposals for giving the franchise to the Catholics.

During the viceroyalty of Lord Townshend, who became Lord-Lieutenant in 1767, an Octennial Bill was passed limiting the duration of Parliament to eight years, but this momentary gleam of better things was not sustained; on the contrary, corruption was, under his rule, carried even further than it had been before. Under the plea of breaking the power of the borough-owners, he set himself deliberately to make the whole Parliament subservient to Government, thus practically depriving it of what little vestige of independence it still possessed. A succession of struggles took place, chiefly over Money Bills, the more independent members, under Flood's leadership, claiming for the Irish House of Commons the complete control of the national purse, a claim as uniformly resisted by the Government. Though almost invariably defeated on a division in the end the opposition were to a great degree successful, and in 1773 the hated viceroy was recalled.

This was the moment at which Flood stood higher in his countrymen's estimation than was ever again the case. He was identified with all that was best in their aspirations, and no shadow of self-seeking had as yet dimmed the brightness of his fame. It was very different with his next step. Lord Townshend was succeeded by Lord Harcourt, whose administration at first promised to be a shade more liberal and less corrupt than that of his predecessors. Of this administration Flood, to his own misfortune, became a member. What his motives were it is rather difficult to say. He was a rich man, and therefore had no temptation to sell or stifle his opinions for place. Whatever they were, it is clear, from letters still extant, that he not only accepted but solicited office. He was made Vice-Treasurer, a post hitherto reserved for Englishmen, at a salary of £3,500 a year.

Although, as Mr. Lecky has pointed out, no actual stain of dishonour attaches to Flood in consequence of this step, there can be no doubt that it was a grave error, and that he lived to repent it bitterly. For the next seven years not only was he forced to keep silence as regards all those points he had previously advocated so warmly, but, as a member of the Government, he actually helped to uphold some of the most damaging of the restraints laid upon Irish trade and prosperity. Upon the outbreak of the America war a two years' embargo was laid upon Ireland, and a force of 4,000 men raised and despatched to America at its expense. The state of defencelessness in which this left the country led, as will be seen in a succeeding chapter, to a great volunteer movement, in which all classes and creeds joined enthusiastically. Flood was unable to resist the contagion. His voice was once again heard upon the liberal side. He flung away the trammels of office, surrendered his large salary, and returned to his old friends. He never, however, regained his old place. A greater man had in the meanwhile risen to the front, and in Henry Grattan Irish aspiration had found its clearest and strongest voice.

This was a source of profound mortification to Flood, and led eventually to a bitter quarrel between these two men--patriots in the best sense both of them. Flood tried to outbid Grattan by pushing the concessions won from England in the moment of her difficulty yet further, and by making use of the volunteers as a lever to enforce his demands. This Grattan honourably, whether wisely or not, resisted, and the Parliament supported his resistance. After an unsuccessful attempt to carry a Reform Bill, Flood retired, to a great degree, from Irish public life, and not long afterwards succeeded in getting a seat in the English Parliament. His oratory there proved a failure. He was "an oak of the forest too great and old," as Grattan said, "to be transplanted at fifty." This failure was a fresh and a yet more mortifying disappointment, and his end was a gloomy and somewhat obscure one, but he will always be remembered with gratitude as one of the first who in the Irish Parliament lifted his voice against those restrictions under which the prosperity of the country lay shackled and all but dead.

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