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DEATH OF GRATTAN
1820, Grattan died, and the Catholic cause was taken up by another great Irishman, Lord Plunket.
In 1821 the House of Commons, at the instance of Plunket, agreed to emancipate the Catholics on condition that the Crown were given a veto on the appointment of Catholic bishops; but the House of Lords would not listen to the proposal.
In 1822, the greatest champion of the Catholics in England, Mr Canning, declared their case 'to be hopeless,' and in 1823 the House of Commons, retreating from the position which it had taken up in 1821, once more rejected their claims by a large majority.
“The Catholic question,' wrote an English statesman of the period, 'is gone to the devil.'
But there had now arisen a great Catholic tribune, who was destined to bring back the Catholic question from perdition by an agitation which shook the very empire to its base.
Daniel O'Connell was born near Cahersiveen, in the County Kerry, on August 6, 1775.
He was educated abroad at St Omer and Douai. In 1793 he returned to Ireland, and in 1798 became a member of the Irish Bar. His success in his profession was rapid and brilliant; but the passion of his life was to work out the salvation of his country. He had joined the United Irish Society, but took no active part in the movement, and, indeed, soon came to the conclusion that the cause of Ireland could best be served by constitutional agitation, conducted with spirit and skill, and carried on with energy
perseverance. The first great question which engaged his attention was the Union. He detested the measure heartily, and, while strongly opposed to separation from England, believed that a lasting peace between the two countries could only be secured by the maintenance of Irish legislative independence, based on complete civil and religious freedom. A great meeting of Catholics was held in Dublin in 1800 to protest against the Union. Here O'Connell made his first speech. It had been said by the supporters of the English minister that, if the Irish parliament were preserved, it would be necessary to re-enact the Penal Code in all its original severity. But this threat was treated by O'Connell with scorn and defiance. 'Let every man who feels with me proclaim, that if the alternative were offered him of union or the re-enactment of the Penal Code in all its pristine horrors, that he would prefer, without hesitation, the latter, as the lesser and more sufferable evil; that he would rather confide in the justice of his brethren, the Protestants of Ireland, who have already liberated him, than lay his country at the feet of foreigners. I know that the Catholics of Ireland still remember that they have a country, and that they will never accept of any advantages as a sect which would debase and destroy them as a people.'
In 1810 he reiterated these sentiments. •Were Mr Percival (the English premier to
POSITION OF THE CATHOLICS
morrow to offer me the repeal of the Union upon the terms of re-enacting the entire Penal Code, I declare it from my heart, and in the presence of God, that I would most cheerfully embrace his offer.'
The position of the Catholics at this time was humiliating and deplorable. There was no public spirit among them-no national life. It was said that you might know a Catholic walking through the streets of Dublin by his dejected demeanour and servile appearance. The Penal Laws had done their work thoroughly --the Catholics were still slaves. Wolfe Tone and John Keogh had roused them to action; had shown them their strength; had taught them to help themselves. But Tone was gone, Keogh was a feeble old man, and the Catholics, unanimated by any guiding spirit, had sunk again into a state of hopeless lethargy.
Formidable by numbers, but powerless in organisation, the English minister felt that he could treat them with contempt and contumely. O'Connell resolved to change all this. He knew that 4,000,000 Catholics, well organised, well led and determined to be free, would constitute a force which no government could afford to despise. To make the Catholics such a force, O'Connell now bent all the energies of his vigorous mind. But he had to fight a great battle with the Catholics themselves before he gained the ascendency which made him irresistible. In 1813, Grattan was prepared to accept Catholic Emancipation in exchange for allowing the English government the privilege of exercising control in the appointment of Catholic bishops. Parliament, indeed, refused to emancipate the Catholics even on this condition, but a great controversy was raised over the compromise, which for a time divided the Catholics, but ended ultimately in the supremacy
of O'Connell. The English Catholics and the Catholic aristocracy in Ireland were in favour of the compromise, or the 'veto' as the power given to the English government came to be called. Even the authority of Rome was thrown into the scale in favour of the moderate party. But O'Connell declined to accept emancipation on what he denounced as degrading terms. He would give to no English government the power of nominating the Catholic bishops of Ireland, and upon this issue he was prepared to fight even the Pope himself. • As much religion as you like from Rome,' he said, "but no politics ;' and the emancipation of the Irish Catholics, he insisted, was a question of Irish politics. The controversy lasted for some years, but O'Connell drew the Irish Catholic Hierarchy and the vast mass of the Irish people to his side, and triumphed over all his opponents. While withstanding the moderate Catholics on the one hand, O'Connell was attacked by the extreme Protestant party on the other ; but he was a match for all.
In 1815 he was forced to fight a duel with Major D'Esterre, a member of what he had described as the beggarly corporation of Dublin. It was an anxious moment for Ireland. But 1823]
O'Connell killed D'Esterre, and passed himself unscathed through the conflict.1
And now in 1823, when the cause of the Catholics was darkest, he girded himself for the final struggle with the English Government.
He founded one of the most remarkable political organisations ever formed in these islands—the Catholic Association. His object was to weld the catholics into one compact mass, and to place them under his own command. He desired, in fact, to raise a great constitutional army, and to move it with almost military precision against the strongholds of the government. He determined to sweep every Catholic in the country into the new organisation, to establish Catholic centres in every county and parish, to dispatch Catholic agents throughout every district, and to make all subordinate branches of the organisation subject to the authority of a central committee in Dublin, presided over by himself. He stood upon the law, but he bent the law to his own will. He kept within the constitution, but he used the constitution for his own ends. In a word, he fought under cover and threw his enemies into indescribable confusion. The Catholics Alocked into the new organisation, and it grew rapidly in power, and even
in grandeur. 'Self-elected, self
1 This duel produced a deep impression on O'Connell, and he never fought one afterwards.
In passing D'Esterre's house he always uncovered ; and subsequently contributed to the support of that ill-fated gentleman's family.