Page images

his party, they belong to another class of wrongs, and only obtain their share of the dignified contempt by which that eminently wise ruler has consigned to oblivion all the spoken and written scurrility of his enemies.

A History of Ireland, from the earliest Account to
the Accomplishment of the Union with Great Britain in 1801.
By the Rev. James Gordon, Rector of Killegney, &c. 2 vol.
London. 1806.

THE HE author of this book is already known to the public by a geographical work called Terraquea, and an account of the late Irish rebellion. He states it to be the object of the present book, to give a clear and succinct account of Irish history, divested of all fabulous and nugatory details, and comprehending whatever is really important and interesting, from the first authentic accounts till the late Union.? A history of Ireland upon this plan, if executed by a writer of adequate talents, would certainly prove an useful work. How far Mr Gordon has succeeded in the undertaking, our readers will be able to judge, from the following account of his book.

The author justly observes, that, previous to the invasion of Henry II., there is little authentic in the annals of Ireland, and nothing to give credibility to that splendid antiquity, rising to the first ages of the postdiluvian world, in which the good Irish, instructed by their O'Flahertys and O'Hallerons, so fondly believe. But it must be observed, that while our author professes to reject from his page whatever is fabulous or uncertain, he, at the same time, ventures to entertain his readers with a very misty discussion about the migrations of the Celta and Goths, which contributes about as much to the truth of his history as his intrusive philippic against bull-baiting, and recommendatory advertisement of his own Terraquea, do to its propriety. In this part of his work, he takes occasion to speak of the Gael, and of the bard of Morven; and he rejects the poems which bear his name, in a manner the most peremptory and consequential. We can, however, give the admirers of the Caledonian bard the comfort of assuring them, that if his fame shall survive the more redoubtable attack of the learned editor of Macpherson, it does not seem to be in great danger from the telum imbelle of the good rector of Killegney. The religion of the antient Irish is matter of as great uncertainty as their origin; but our author conjectures it may have been Druidism; and accordingly seizes the opportunity of enlarging upon the te


nets and discipline of that antient superstition. He treats also of the manners and literature of the antient Irish. In speaking of the former, he makes a transition to modern times, and communicates, upon his own authority, a piece of information with which we think our readers cannot fail to be highly gratified. 'I have seen,' says our chaste historian, when a boy, a family dining on curds and butter, a piece of the butter being laid upon each spoonful of the former, which was recommended as an antient and most wholesome food by a priest who was one of the company. The author speaks soberly upon the subject of literature, not giving much credit to the reality of those losses which some credu lous writers believe the world of letters to have sustained from the ravages of Turgesius, the Omar of the Danes, upon the libraries of the Irish. The middle ages, however, according to our author, produced many suns of science, who went forth from this land of saints and scholars to enlighten the darker regions of Europe. We are particularly called to notice Virgilius Solivagus, a worthy, who, it seems, was persecuted by one Pope, and recompensed with canonization by another; upon which the author thus expresses himself, printing in italics, in order the more se curely to mark the dignity, as well of the sentiment as the occasion.

Thus are, in all ages, men of fuperior knowledge, benevolence and candour, envied by the ungenerous, traduced by fycophants, perfecuted by men contemptible in understanding but formidable in power; and, after their deaths, revered, and followed in opinion by the judicious and well-informed.' I. 1.50.

Before we leave the subject of literature, we must communicate, from our author, a piece of very pertinent information, which, we greatly suspect, will be as new and interesting to most of our readers, as it certainly was to ourselves, that the old Irish chronicle of the Monks of Innisfallen has lately been translated into English by Mr Theophilus O'Flanegan, a literary gentleman, eminent in the knowledge of the Irish tongue, who keeps an academy at Blackrock, near Dublin.' I. 52.

By this time our readers will have discovered, that the Reverend Mr Gordon is not eminently endowed with talents for hiftory; and that his digreffive propenfities are not very favourable to the compofition of a hiftory of Ireland upon the plan which he himfelf propofes. The account of the English invafion under Henry II. is prefaced, not with a view of the ftate of England at that time, but with a fummary of the whole of its hiftory, beginning with the etymon of the name. We expected that Pope Adrian's bull would, in like manner, have introduced an account of the origin and progrefs of the Papal power; but the author lets us off, upon this occa



fion, with fome moral remarks, equally juft and familiar, upon the hypocritical pretexts which ambition makes ufe of to cloke its wicked designs. We have, then, a picture of the state of Ireland, which we cannot do better than quote, as a felicitous specimen of that terfenefs, rythmus, and epigrammatic force, which characterize Mr Gordon's ftyle.

In the perpetual fluctuation of power in Ireland, the nominal fovereignty had fallen from the house of O'Brien in Munster; and Turlogh O'Connor of Connaught, who had commenced his regal claims about the year 1130, was generally acknowledged prince paramount by the Irish chiefs. In this period the dominion of the O'Briens, who ruled in Thomond or North-Munfter, was contracted by the warlike fteps of Mac-Arthy, who exercifed an independent fway in Defmond or South-Munster: the princes of Offory, Decies, and other territories of Leinster, paid homage to Dermod Mac-Murchard as their provincial king: Meath was in fubjection to the family of Clan-Colman: in Ulfter O'Loghlan held the chief command: but his authority was dif puted by Dunleve, prince of Doun or Uladh, who affected independence; and in the district of Breffnay reigned Tiernan O'Ruarc, a warlike chieftain.' 1.66.

These dread fovereigns were, at the era of the English invafion, bufily signalizing their refpective adminiftrations, by hereditary acts of robbery, rape and murder. Such were the occupations of degenerate princes, whofe ancestors had doubtless, through long periods of refinement, often convened at the Fes of Tarah, and joined in claffic games upon the plains of Tuiltean. As the author gives a more fimple and perfpicuous account than is cuftomary with him, of the fituation in which Ireland was left by Henry, when haftily called away, to appeafe, by royal penance, the manes of Becket, and the wrath of Rome, we fhall extract it for the perufal of our readers.

By the inftitutions of Henry, left fatally imperfect by unfeafonable interruption, the inhabitants of this ifland became feverally fubject to two very different forms of government; the British colonists to the Anglo-Norman, the ancient natives to the Irish, under a new fovereignty. The condition of the Irish princes, who had fubmitted, was no otherwife altered than that they profeffed allegiance to the King of England instead of the King of Connaught. Their Brehon laws, their ancient cuftoms, their modes of fucceffion, and their mutual wars, waged as if by independent potentates, remained as much in force after, as they had been before the English invafion. The British colonists, on the other hand, were in the fame political fituation with their fellow-fubjects in England, and governed by English laws. The king, referving as his immediate property the maritime towns and fome diftricts, parcelled the reft of the furrendered lands among the leaders of his troops, which they were to poffefs by military tenure or feudal right, that is, bound to


the payment of homage to his majefty with a fmall tribute, and to the maintenance of certain numbers of knights and inferior foldiers for his fervice; they were otherwife each, in his own territory, abfolute and hereditary lords or princes. The territories aquired by himself and his British fubjects in Ireland were formed by Henry into fhires or counties, with fheriffs and other officers, on the English model; which counties, afterwards enlarged, formed what was called the English Pale, or that divifion of the island within which the English law was acknowledged. But even within the pale were many fepts of Irish, governed entirely by their ancient laws, as were the inhabitants of all other parts of the country.' I. 108.

The ftate of Ireland, for centuries after this period, can only be defcribed by words which exprefs whatever is moft lawlefs among men. History cannot light upon a more unpropitious period. We queftion if even the plaftic powers of a Robertion could communicate any portion of intereft to the barbarous and defultory transactions of these times. When we have faid this, we need not talk of the execution of our good Irish rector. He would have acted more judicioufly, both for himself and his reader, had he dwelt lefs upon events in themselves of little interest, and which he is fo little qualified to embellifh. The proceedings within the English pale do not afford any grateful relief to the gloomy picture of Irish barbarity. Struggling for existence amidst internal diffenfions, and preferved only by the divifions of the native Irith, the Anglo-Irish government exhibits an odious mixture of debility and oppreffion, verifying the opinion of Burke, that English dominion had acquired its spirit of hoftility to the Irish, before the diftinctions of Proteftant and Papist were known in the world. It is painful to reflect, that the acts and deeds of a barbarous fyftem, have too often found countenance in kindred proceedings of more enlightened times.

The glorious light of the reformation proved to Ireland only a fiery meteor, announcing a long track of future calamities. This people had truly fome little reafon to demur, when their converted fovercigns came to demand acquiefcence in the new doctrines of religion England had, among her earliett acts, ordained a ftrict and lafting conformity with the Romish church; fhe held a grant of Ireland from the Papal power, to which her fovereigns and parliaments had often appealed; and fhe now fought to overturn by force what he had herfelf eftablifhed; and rebelled, as it might feem to them, against that fpiritual authority from which the had originally derived her own powers of fovereignty. The means which England employed to enlighten her Irish fubH.4

* Letter to Sir Hercules Langrithe.


jects upon thefe points, and to reclaim them from the errors of Catholic fuperftition, were certainly neither evangelical nor wife. Infulting the minifters and relics of a cherished religion, and perfecuting its believers by penal enactments, were not furely very perfuafive expedients, either to make converts to Proteftantism, or willing fubjects to government. Nihil eft enim exitiofius civitatibus, nil tam contrarium juri et legibus, nihil minus civile * et humanum, quam compofita et conflituta Republica, quidquam agi per vim.' Cic. de leg.

The name of Sir John Perrot, one of the Irish governors of Queen Elizabeth, deferves particular notice and commendation in the hiftory of Ireland. Superior to mean prejudices, he took the old natives of the country under his especial protection; addreffed himself in a manner never attempted before to their generous feelings; and afpired, by mild, but vigorous measures, to bring the whole island, without diftinction of perfons, under one protecting conftitution. But this man, who fhewed himself capable of rebuilding a broken ftate, was foon compelled, by the oppofition of the English within the pale, and the want of fupport from his fovereign, to abandon his plans, and refign his authority into the hands of one (Fitzwilliam), as oppofite in principle, as he was inferior in capacity. We refer our readers to Leland, and other writers, for a full account of Perrot's fyftem and proceedings: meanwhile, we fhall extract the following brief notice of them from our author.

The scheme of Sir John Perrot was that alone, which, if carried into execution, could render this ifland an acquifition of any value to the English crown, or, indeed, prevent it from being a wasteful drain of blood and treasure from the English nation. By a fteady, ftrict and impartial execution, and gradual extenfion of English law, he wished to reduce all the inhabitants of the island into a state of uniform polity, reformation of manners, peace and profperity. Having published amnefty and affurance of protection to all who should return to their allegiance, and fent the fon of the deceased Earl of Defmond to England, to be rendered by education a fit object of royal favour, he proceeded to vifit the feveral provinces, to prepare the way for the execution of his plan. Appointing fheriffs for the counties of Connaught, and marching to the north against fome Scottish invaders, who fled to their fhips at his approach, he was attended with alacrity by the Irish chiefs of Ulfter, who teftified their wishes for the acceptance of English law, and agreed to the payment of an affeffment for the maintenance of eleven hundred foldiers without expenfe to the queen. For the carrying of his plan into effect, he petitioned the English government for the allowance of fifty thoufand pounds a year during three years, reprefenting it as it really would have been, the cheapest purchase which England had made for a great length of time. His request was declined by the eco


« PreviousContinue »