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nections, but to dissolve the bonds of civil society itself,—I hailed therefore with joy that act of wise but tardy justice which consummated their repeal, and resolved upon visiting that country, to form an opinion from inquiry and observation, whether, the one great evil being removed, its present state was such that a legalized provision for the poor could be superinduced on it.
A journey and residence of less than two months of course could not enable me to collect many original facts ; but I had read and inquired much on the subject previously to leaving England, and likewise subsequently to my return, there being a large mass of original evidence in authentic documents before the public. There are also innumerable pamphlets for and against the legal provision, many of which I have perused with attention; but the greater part of them presuppose, in their readers, an acquaintance with facts, which does not always exist; and none, which I have seen, condense them so as to form a summary from whence conclusions
be deduced. This I have attempted to do by using, in most instances, the very words of the documents themselves, and thus adding my own testimony to the facts which are detailed in them.
My visits were principally confined to the southern counties. I saw much of the province of Munster, comprehending the remote parts of
Clare, and passed through not an inconsiderable portion of Leinster. The northern counties of Antrim, Armagh and Down presented to my view a population characteristically differing from that of the south.-In Munster, Leinster, and Connaught, with the exception of the commercial towns, the population is almost entirely Catholic, but in the towns also that religion is predominant. In Ulster, the Protestants are comparatively more numerous; but of those Protestants a very large number are dissenters from the Church of England, and Catholicism has increasing numbers even in that province.
By confiscations, oppressions, and legal persecutions, the native and Catholic gentry had been driven from the possession of land *; and a system of policy towards the mass of the people, for the origin of which some slight grounds might be perhaps adduced, was subsequently pursued by the English Government, of which, if its notoriety did not render it impossible to be doubted, we could scarcely have believed the existence. The tendency of wealth, acquired by mercantile exertions, to invest itself in land, was checked by positive laws as far as respected the Roman Catholic; and it is only since the repeal of those
* Lawrence in his “ Interest of Ireland," published in 1682, says, that of 10,868,949 acres returned by the last survey, the Irish Papists are possessed but of 2,041,108.
laws in 1776, that estates have been divided to meet the demands of these investments.
The proprietors of land are, however, still for the greater part Protestants of the Establishment. There are large proprietors constantly resident in England, being English noblemen and gentlemen, and virtually English. There are many also, who, though virtually Irish, having little or no property out of Ireland, never reside there; these are the absentees. The large estates are counted by thousands of acres. The demesnes (or the grounds and appendages to the mansion) are on a magnificent scale; but the transition from magnificence in the habitations of the rich to misery in those of the poor, is striking to an English observer. With few exceptions, there is a want of that description of inferior gentry, and of those middle ranks, which form the important link, connecting the lower and upper, and with which we are familiar in England. The state of society among the rich, bears a resemblance to ancient feudalism, with modern luxury and all its refinements superinduced; but the upper ranks alone enjoy the selfish advantage of feudalism. The ancient chief lived among his people, and shared with them, as we have seen in Scotland almost in our own times, their pleasures and their dangers : the enjoyments of the chase or the feast were common; the chief and his people were united by the ties of a common religion; the serfs robbed and fought for their lord; but he cared for them, and was as lawless in the defence of them and their property as they were in the invasion of the property of others for him.
The serfs remain, while the chieftain is changed. A feeling almost amounting to hatred (which generates contempt, if not ill usage) seems to have marked the conduct (which, if modern language could find a better term, would hardly be expressed by so mild a name,) of the landlord towards his tenant. I should hope that I had been here speaking more of times that are past than the present time. Intercourse with England, better education, and the improved manners and feelings of the age, have, perhaps, rendered this description more applicable to those, who, with the least pretensions to importance, assume the greatest; but still I could not but observe that the familiar sight of misery, in some cases, almost induced a disbelief of its existence; and that the resident Irish gentleman viewed with more indifference the state of the peasantry than the English traveller, who draws the comparison between them and those of his own country, and is shocked at the contrast *. He regrets it still more when he learns, that their minds are to be demoralized if their landlord commands; that they are to assist him in violating the law, when his necessities and extravagance require that to be done*; and that when famine and legal oppression drive them to desperation, he invokes the strong arm of a power, beyond the law, to crush themt.
* When the Emperor of Russia was in England in 1814, he is said to have asked, Where are the peasantry and people ?—A member of the Society of Friends who visited Ireland about three years since, declared to me, that on his return to England it was a long time before he saw any poverty in the latter coun, try-the difference was so marked.
Until very lately there was indeed a connection, * See Fifteenth Report on Courts of Justice in Ireland,
Q. 35. Is the execution of (legal) process attended with much difficulty in the county of
- ? And from what causes does the difficulty arise ?
A. It is attended with very considerable difficulty. The cause is the disposition of the people to resist the execution of the laws, and the influence those in debt have over the peasantry.
Q.38. Are there many persons in the county of —against whose persons writs have been lodged with you, but who have been enabled to avoid arrest?
A. There are many... many in the rank of Gentlemen-considerably more than twenty; and amongst those I think there are from seven to eight magistrates.
N.B. The above alludes only to open violence. For collusion with public officers to evade the claims of just creditors, see the same Report passim.
† The following extract contains the opinion of a most competent witness on this subject, and is most curious in itself.
“ I think it a most remarkable feature of Irish disturbances, that it is not the mere destitution of good, or the mere suffering of evil, that appear to me to be their proximate causes in any case, but the attempt actively to enforce the law to compell the person to do that which he feels to be impossible ; he resists that: the very same person I think would often actually perish through starvation without exhibiting an insurrectionary spirit." -Mr. Leslie Foster's Evidence before the Lords, Feb. 23, 1825.