« PreviousContinue »
ings, the well-feigned alarms of the selected grand juries, and dictated and loyal fears of the obedient corporations. But, now success had afforded them leisure, and the present opportunity was seized, to give one general replication to all the invectives thrown out against them. They, therefore, framed and published their vindication, which was intended as a commentary on their petition, a defence of their own conduct, and a refutation of the malicious and unfounded charges of their adversaries.
On the principle of this vindication, the assembly was unanimous; but, as to one or two particular passages, a doubt arose in the minds of certain of the delegates. Among the number of the enemies to their emancipation, were to be found personages of the most exalted political situation, some of whom had presided, and others assisted, at meetings, whence publications had issued of the most violent hostility to the Catholic cause. In replying to these publications, it was hardly possible to avoid statements and expressions, which must be directly offensive to the exalted characters concerned ; for, as the attacks were not merely political, but, from their extreme acrimony, partook of somewhat of a personal feeling, so the nature of the defence, and, indeed, the nature of man, suggested, and, in a manner, enforced, a language which, in a controversy of a milder kind, could not have arisen. It was not to be wondered at, if men felt some degree of caution, at committing themselves in this species of warfare, with such grave and high authorities. The question, therefore, on those parts of the vindication, which remotely alluded to, or directly named, the most potent of their adversaries, (the Lord Chancellor Fitzgibbon) was very fully debated and maturely considered.
The conduct of the personages under deliberation could not be defended on any principle, in an assembly of Catholics. Those, therefore, who doubted on the propriety of thus repell. ing, force by force, (Messrs. Fitzgerald, Daly, Lynch, &c.) contented themselves with the common place topics of the necessary respect to high station, and the danger of speaking evil of dignities. But these were arguments to which the great majority of the assembly was now very little disposed to pay any respect. Feeling their own strength and unanimity, and galled by the remembrance of the wanton abuse which had
been so profusely lavished upon them, they determined not to let pass an opportunity which fortune and their own wise and spirited conduct had put into their hands, and to mark their adversaries in their turn. Almost every man was eager to ex. press his contempt and abhorrence of those whom the assembly now considered as fallen tyrants, and the feeble attempt to rescue them from a public stigma, was drowned in a universal outcry of disapprobation. “What, said they, (Capt. Edward Sweetman and J. E. Devereux, of Wexford,) are we to spare one man (Mr. Foster,) who smells of the blood of our peasantry? or another who made it his public and profligate boast that he would prostrate the chapels of the Catholics? We know that man ; (Lord Fitzgibbon;) the road to his favor is through his fears. Let us become formidable to him, and we shall be respected. He is the calumniator of the people, and therefore he has our hatred and our contempt. Loyalty itself becomes stu. pidity and vice, where there is no protection; and are we to tender a gratuitous submission to men who have held, and would hold us in fetters, and in mockery, and in scorn ? What have we to fear, but our own disunion ? Let us boldly acknowledge our friends, and mark our enemies. Let us respect ourselves, and the world will respect us; and, above all, let us not disgrace our cause, or the great body which we represent, by indecision, or temporising, or equivocation.” The assembly then unanimously decreed, that the passages which had been objected to should remain unaltered,
The great and important business for which the General Committee had been summoned, was now, in effect, terminated, at least as far as their labors could advance it. What remained of their time was occupied in discharging the debt of gratitude to their friends, and forming an arrangement for their future assembling. They voted their unanimous thanks to the citizens of Belfast, " to whom,” said a delegate, “we owe that we meet here in safety ; they stand sentinels at our doors; they support you, Mr. President, in that chair,” (L. Teeling, Esq.) A sentiment which was received with acclamation by the whole meeting. They voted their thanks to those illustrious members who had supported the cause of the Catholics in Parliament. They thanked those patriotic characters, who had devoted their time and talents to forwarding the emancipation of their breth
ren. They thanked their officers; they thanked their subcommittee. They empowered that body to act for them in the intervals between their rising and their next meeting ; but they made a material alteration in its constitution, by associating to the twelve members who then formed it, the whole of the country delegates, each of whom was henceforward to be, ipso facto, a member thereof. They then resolved, unanimously, that they would re-assemble when duly summoned by the sub-committee, who were invested with powers for that purpose. We will attend, cried a member from a remote county, if we are summoned to meet across the Atlantic, (OʻGorman, of Mayo.)
One occurrence deserves to be particularly noted. It had been the policy of the enemies of the Catholic cause, for a long time, to foment and continue divisions between the clergy and laity, and, in some instances, their acts had so far succeeded as, perhaps, nearly to produce a difference between the pastor and the flock. It has already been mentioned, that it was not without difliculty that some of the prelates had been induced to concur with the General Committee, in the plan for the electing of delegates, a circumstance not to be wondered at when we consider the peculiar delicacy and responsibility of their situation, and the uncommon diligence and art which were used to deter them from any interference. But, whatever might at first bave been their doubts and diffidence, when they saw the great body of the laity come forward and unanimously demand their rights, they manfully cast away all reserve, and declared their determination to rise or fall with their flocks, a wise and patriotic resolution, which was signified to the General Committee by two venerable prelates, Dr. Troy, Archbishop of Dublin, and Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork, who assisted at the meeting, and signed the petition in the name, and on behalf, of the great body of the Catholic clergy of Ireland. They were received by the assembly with the utmost deference and respect, due not less to their sacred functions and private virtues, than to the great and useful accession of strength, which they brought to the common cause.
The members of the General Committee having returned to their counties, the delivery of their petition to the King became the immediate and urgent business of the gentlemen delegated to that honorable duty. It so happened that there was
no packet boat ready in the harbor, and the wind was contrary. They, therefore, determined to go by a route, longer, it is true, but less subject to accidental delays. To go by Scot. land, it was necessary to pass through the north of Ireland, and, especially, through Belfast. On their arrival in that town they were met by a number of the most active and intelligent inhabitants, who had distinguished themselves in the abolition of prejudice, and the conciliation of the public mind in Ulster to the claims of the Catholics. On their departure, their horses were taken off, and they were drawn along with loud acclamations by the people, among whom were numbers of an appearance and rank very different from what are usually seen on such occasions. To the honor of the populace of Belfast, it should be mentioned, that they refused a liberal do nation which was offered by the Catholic delegates ; and, having escorted them beyond the precincts of the town, and cordially wished them success in their embassy, they dismissed them with three cheers.
Trifling as this circumstance may appear, it was the subject of much observation. By some it was considered as throwing additional difficulties on a measure already supposed to be suf. ficiently unpalatable to the British Minister, by avowing a connection with men notoriously obnoxious to him. By others, it was applauded, on the ground of strengthening that union of the great sects, the beneficial effects of which had already begun to operate in the elevation of the Catholic mind, an advantage which was thought to carry an intrinsic weight and power far beyond the uncertain favor of any minister. What. ever effect it might have on the negotiation in England, it certainly tended to raise and confirm the hopes of the Catholics at home. “Let our delegates,” said they, “if they are refused, return by the same route.” To those who looked beyond the surface it was an interesting spectacle, and pregnant with material consequences, to see the Dissenter of the north drawing, with his own hands, the Catholic of the south in triumph, througb, what may be denominated the capital of Presbyterianism. However repugnant it might be to the wishes of the British Minister, it was a wholesome suggestion to his prudence, and when he scanned the whole business in his mind, was probably not dismissed from his contemplation.
On the arrival of the delegates in London, their first business was to apprize the Secretary for the Home Department, (the Hon. H. Dindas) that they were deputed to present to the King the humble petition of the Catholics of Ireland, and they requested to know at what time they should attend him with a copy for his Majesty's perusal. The minister having appointed a day, the delegates met him, and, in a long conversation, very fully detailed the situation and wishes of the Catholic body. It is not to be supposed that the minister, on his part, was equally communicative, but he heard them with particular attention, and dismissed them with respectful politeness. His object was to procure the petition to be delivered through his hands; that of the delegates to deliver it to the King himself, in person. Some dexterity was exhibited on both sides in negotiating this point, but the minister was, at length, obliged to concede, and the firmness of the delegates prevailed.
It is but justice to the merit of an illustrious character, to state here the obligation which the Catholics of Ireland owe to their countryman, the Earl of Moira, at that time Lord Rawdon. He had, immediately on the arrival of the delegates in London, waited on them, and offered them the hospitality of his mansion, and the command of his household; he entertained them repeatedly in a style of splendid magnificence; and, if the dignity of their mission could have received lustre from the support of an individual, they would have found it in the zeal and friendship of the Earl of Moira. But his services were not confined to acts of hospitality and politeness. He assisted in their councils, and, in a manner, committed his public charac. ter with their cause, for, on the emergency, when the minister was dallying with the earnestness of the delegates to procure admission to their Sovereign, and, probably, presumed that they would not readily find another channel of access, Lord Moira came forward and told them, that, if it became necessary, he would, as a Peer, demand an audience of his Majesty, and be himself their introducer; adding, at the same time, with the frankness and candor of his profession and character, that, flattering as such a distinction would be to himself, it was his wish that the minister should rather bave the honor, inasmuch as he thought it would better serve their cause. As an Irish. man and a military man, continued he, it might be esteemed to