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   Chapter 56 YOUNG IRELAND.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 8296

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The camp and council chamber of the "Young Ireland" party was the editor's room of The Nation newspaper. There it found its inspiration, and there its plans were matured--so far, that is, as they can be said to have been ever matured. For an eminently readable and all things considered a wonderfully impartial account of this movement, the reader cannot do better than consult Sir Charles Gavan Duffy's "Four Years of Irish History," which has the immense advantage of being history taken at first hand, written that is by one who himself took a prominent part in the scenes which he describes.

The most interesting figure in the party had, however, died before those memorable four years began. Thomas Davis, who was only thirty at the time of his death in 1845, was a man of large gifts, nay, might fairly be called a man of genius. His poetry is, perhaps, too national to be appreciated out of Ireland, yet two, at least, of his ballads, "Fontenoy" and "The Sack of Baltimore," may fairly claim to compare with those of any contemporary poet. His prose writings, too, have much of the same charm, and, if he had no time to become a master of any of the subjects of which he treats, there is something infectious in the very spontaneousness and, as it were, untaught boyish energy of his Irish essays.

The whole movement in fact was, in the first instance, a literary quite as much as a political one. Nearly all who took part in it--Gavan Duffy, John Mitchell, Meagher, Dillon, Davis himself--were very young men, many fresh from college, all filled with zeal for the cause of liberty and nationality. The graver side of the movement only showed itself when the struggle with O'Connell began. At first no idea of deposing, or even seriously opposing the great leader seems to have been intended. The attempt on O'Connell's part to carry a formal declaration against the employment under any circumstances of physical force was the origin of that division, and what the younger spirits considered "truckling to the Whigs" helped to widen the breach. When, too, O'Connell had partially retired into the background, his place was filled by his son, John O'Connell, the "Head conciliator," between whom and the "Young Irelanders" there waged a fierce war, which in the end led to the indignant withdrawal of the latter from the Repeal council.

Before matters reached this point, the younger camp had been strengthened by the adhesion of Smith O'Brien, who, though not a man of much intellectual calibre, carried no little weight in Ireland. His age--which compared to that of the other members of his party, was that of a veteran--his rank and position as a county member, above all, his vaunted descent from Brian Boroimhe, all made him an ally and a convert to be proud of. Like the rest he had no idea at first of appealing to physical force, however loudly an abstract resolution against it might be denounced. Resistance was to be kept strictly within the constitutional limits, indeed the very year of his junction with this the extreme left of the Repeal party, Smith O'Brien's most violent proceeding was to decline to sit upon a railway committee to which he had been summoned, an act of contumacy for which he was ordered by the House of Commons into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and committed to an extemporized prison, by some cruelly declared to be the coal-hole. "An Irish leader in a coal-hole!" exclaims Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, indignantly, can more unworthy statement be conceived? "Regullus in a barrel, however," he adds, rather grandly, "was not quite the last one heard of Rome and its affairs!"

In Ireland matters were certainly sad enough and serious enough without any such serio-comic incidents. Famine was already stalking the country with giant strides, and no palliative measures as yet proposed seemed to be of the slightest avail. Early in January, 1847, O'Connell left on that journey of his which was never completed, and by the middle of May Ireland was suddenly startled by the news that her great leader was dead.

The effect of his death was to produce a sudden and immense reaction. A vas

t revulsion of love and reverence sprang up all over the country; an immense sense of his incomparable services, and with it a vehement anger against all who had opposed him. Upon the "Young Ireland" party, as was inevitable, the weight of that anger fell chiefly, and from the moment of O'Connell's death whatever claim they had to call themselves a national party vanished utterly. The men "who killed the Liberator" could never again hope to carry with them the suffrages of any number of their countrymen.

This contumely, to a great degree undeserved, naturally reacted upon the subjects of it. The taunt of treachery and ingratitude flung at them wherever they went stung and nettled. In the general reaction of gratitude and affection for O'Connell, his son John succeeded easily to the position of leader. The older members of the Repeal Association thereupon rallied about him, and the split between them and the younger men grew deeper and wider.

A wild, impracticable visionary now came to play a part in the movement. A deformed misanthrope, called James Lalor, endowed with a considerable command of vague, passionate rhetoric, began to write incentives to revolt in The Nation, These growing more and more violent were by the editor at length prudently suppressed. The seed, however, had already sown itself in another mind. John Mitchell is described by Mr. Justin McCarthy as "the one formidable man amongst the rebels of '48; the one man who distinctly knew what he wanted, and was prepared to run any risk to get it." Even Mitchell, it is clear, would never have gone as far as he did but for the impulse which he received from the crippled desperado in the background. Lalor was, in fact, a monomaniac, but this Mitchell seems to have failed to perceive. To him it was intolerable that any human being should be willing to go further and to dare more in the cause of Ireland than himself, and the result was that after awhile he broke away from his connection with The Nation, and started a new organ under the name of The United Irishmen, one definitely pledged from the first to the policy of action.

From this point matters gathered speedily to a head. Mitchell's newspaper proceeded to fling out challenge after challenge to the Government, calling upon the people to gather and to "sweep this island clear of the English name and nation." For some months these challenges remained unanswered. It was now, however, "'48," and nearly all Europe was in revolution. The necessity of taking some step began to be evident, and a Bill making all written incitement of insurrection felony was hurried through the House of Commons, and almost immediately after Mitchell was arrested.

Even then he seems to have believed that the country would rise to liberate him. The country, however, showed no disposition to do anything of the sort. He was tried in Dublin, found guilty, sentenced to fourteen years' transportation, and a few days afterwards put on board a vessel in the harbour and conveyed to Spike Island, whence he was sent to Bermuda, and the following April in a convict vessel to the Cape, and finally to Tasmania.

The other "Young Irelanders," stung apparently by their own previous inaction, thereupon rushed frantically into rebellion. The leaders--Smith O'Brien, Meagher, Dillon, and others--went about the country holding reviews of "Confederates," as they now called themselves, a proceeding which caused the Government to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, and to issue a warrant for their arrest. A few more gatherings took place in different parts of the country, a few more ineffectual attempts were made to induce the people to rise, one very small collision with the police occurred, and then the whole thing was over. All the leaders in the course of a few days were arrested and Smith O'Brien and Meagher were sentenced to death, a sentence which was speedily changed into transportation. Gavan Duffy was arrested and several times tried, but the jury always disagreed, and in the end his prosecution was abandoned. The "Young Ireland" movement, however, was dead, and never again revived.

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