A Little Bit of Ireland
Joyce, P.W. A Concise History of Ireland. 1916
THE PENAL LAWS
Before resuming our regular narrative, it is necessary
that we here turn aside to describe the penal and repressive legislation that
followed the capitulation of Limerick, which will be done in this chapter and
The Irish Catholics were now crushed and dispirited; they were quite helpless, for their best men had gone to France; and all hope of resistance was at an end. Yet the Treaty of Limerick remained; and they had the consolation of feeling that in that agreement they had secured tolerable conditions. But here they were doomed to a woful disappointment. The Irish parliament, with the full concurrence of the English authorities, refused to carry out the treaty in its most important parts; though, as we have seen, it was purchased by most valuable concessions on the part of the Irish commanders, and had been solemnly guaranteed, first by Ginkle and the Irish lords justices, and next by King William himself. "Since the Irish," says Story ("Continuation p. 279), "had it still in their power [before the treaty was made] to give us the Town or keep it to themselves, I see no Reason why they ought not to make a Bargain for it, and expect the performance of their Contract, which Their Majesties have graciously pleased to ratifie under the Great Seal of England." We may fairly conjecture that when Story (who, it will be remembered, was on of King William's chaplains) wrote these remarkable words in 1691, he had some suspicions and fears that the treaty would not be kept; and that he wrote them in a generous spirit to advocate its faithful fulfilment.
The violation of the Treaty greatly displeased King William, who would have honourably kept to his part of the agreement, as Sarsfield did on his side when he refused to admit the French fleet. For William was not disposed to oppress anyone on account of religion; and he was often hard to declare that he came over to deliver the Protestants but not to persecute the Catholics. It does not appear, indeed, that he ever redeemed his pledge, made in the first Article of the Treaty (p. 379, note) to try to procure further religious security for the Catholics; but, no doubt, he thought it would be useless-as it certainly would have been-to attempt to move either the Irish or the English parliament in that direction.
After the conclusion of the War of the Revolution, the government of Ireland was completely in the hands of the small Protestant minority, who was completely in the hands of the small Protestant minority, who also possessed almost the whole of the land of the country; and they held nearly all the offices of trust and emolument. And now, not only did they refuse to carry out the Treaty, but they went much farther by passing a number of Penal Laws, which, so long as they remained in force, would keep down the Catholics, who formed four-fifths of the population, and would secure for the Protestant minority the great possessions and privileges they already enjoyed.
Before 1695 there were many penal enactments against Irish Catholics, with the main object of compelling them to abandon their own religion and to adopt the doctrines and forms of worship of the Reformation; but they were passed only at long intervals, and the authorities, for various reasons, were not always anxious, or were not able, to have them carried out. But after that date they came in quick succession, growing more and more severe as time went on; till they reached their worst phases chiefly in the first years of the reign of Queen Anne, and partly in the reign of King George II; and they were generally enforced, so far as lay in the power of the authorities. These repressive laws were mostly the work of the Irish parliament, but the English parliament sometimes stepped in and lent its aid. The Code remained in full force for about three-quarters of a century, when it began to be relaxed, though by very small degrees at first. Gradually, and very slowly, the worst of the enactments were repealed, one by one, as will be noticed in the proper places as we go along, till, with the exception of some particulars, the Emancipation Act of 1829 put an end to the disabilities of Irish Catholics. It will be convenient to bring the leading enactments of the whole Penal Code into this chapter, though it will oblige us to run a little in advance in point of time.
The parliament of 1692, as related in the last chapter, led the way by framing an oath to exclude Catholics from parliament, contrary to the Ninth Article of the Treaty. But the really active penal legislation was entered upon by the parliament which met in Dublin in 1695. Their first proceeding was to introduce a bill "for the confirmation of Articles made at the Treaty of Limerick"; and thereupon they confirmed all the minor provisions of the Treaty and omitted all the important ones. This bill passed easily through the House of Commons; but it was vigorously resisted in the upper House by a powerful minority of Irish lords-all Protestants be it remembered- who vehemently condemned such breach of faith. And when, in spite of opposition, the bill was at length passed, a number of them, including seven Protestant bishops, signed a strong protest against it. Having thus secured what amounted to the rejection of the Treaty, this parliament, during the sessions of 1695 and 1697, passed a number of penal laws, of which the following are the most important:-
Catholic schoolmasters were forbidden to teach, either in schools or in private houses, and Catholic parents were forbidden to send their children to any foreign country to be educated; from which it will be seen that care was taken to deprive Catholics-as such- altogether of the means of education.
Although the Treaty secured to the Catholic gentry of certain specified counties the possession of their estates, the parliament dispossessed them all, and seized their lands, which they gave to others.
Catholics were to deliver up their arms; and if a magistrate suspected that there were any in the house of a Catholic, he might make a search, and if refused admission, might break open the door. If a Catholic had a valuable horse, any Protestant might take possession of it by offering £5-which answers to about £30 of present money.
The existing parish priests were not to be disturbed; but all had to be registered in a government book, and had to give security for good behaviour. About a thousand were registered; and these were allowed to celebrate mass, but they could keep no curates. It was ordained that all other Catholic clergy-bishops, Jesuits, friars, monks, and the Regular clergy of every order-should, under penalties, quit the kingdom by the 1st May 1698; and any who returned were adjudged guilty of high treason, of which the punishment was death. This would of course, after some time, leave the people altogether without priests; for according as the existing clergy died out, there would be none to take their places, since a priest could not be ordained without a bishop. Several hundreds of those against whom the decree was directed left the country; but many remained, including some bishops, who disguised and concealed themselves as best they could. It was ordered that no Catholic chapel should have either steeple or bells. There were many other stringent measures passed by this parliament, which it would be tedious to enumerate.
This was the first instalment of the Penal Code; but it was followed by much worse. When, a few years later, the Duke of Ormond (grandson of Ormond of the Confederate times) came over as lord lieutenant, the House of Commons petitioned him for a further extension of the penal legislation; though the reason why is hard to make out; for the Catholic people had been quite and submissive, and had given no provocation whatever. Yet Ormond consented; and in 1704 an act was passed, of which the following were the most important provisions. If the eldest son of a Roman Catholic with landed property declared himself a Protestant, he became the owner of all his father's land, and the father sank to the position of life-tenant; and if any other child, no matter how young, professed that he was a Protestant, he was placed under a Protestant guardian, and the father had to pay all the expenses of separate maintenance and education. One very bad feature of these provisions was that they encouraged baseness by tempting children to the unnatural course of turning against their own parents for the sake of mere gain. If the wife of a Catholic became a Protestant, she could claim separate support from his estate, and one-third of all his other property. No Catholic could be a guardian to a child; so that when a father who had young children felt himself dying, his last hours were troubled by the consciousness that his children were likely to be brought up Protestants.
No Catholic was permitted to purchase land, or even to take a lease of land for life (which was called a freehold lease), or for longer than 31 years; and if land descended to a Catholic as heir to some former owner, or if land was left to him by will; in neither case could he accept it. The profit of a Catholic's farm, over and above the rent; and if any Protestant proved that the profit realised was more than that, he could take possession of the farm. The intention of all these provisions was to make it impossible for Catholics ever again to own any part of the land of the country.
No person could vote at an election for a Member of parliament without taking an oath that the Catholic religion was false. A Catholic could not hold any office in either the Civil or Military Service without taking the same oath and submitting to the "Sacramental Test", that is, receiving the Sacrament on Sundays in some Protestant place of worship, according to the rite of the Established Church. This last item of the Code is what is called the Test Act; and it applied to the Presbyterians and other Non-conformists as well as to the Catholics; for they have special rites of their own.
Later on-in the first year of the reign of George II.- the Catholics were wholly disinfranchised, that is, they were forbidden to vote at an election under any circumstances whatsoever. No Catholic was permitted to be permitted to come to live in the cities of Limerick or Galway; but those who were residing in them at the time were allowed to remain, provided they gave security for good behaviour; but this law soon became a dead letter, for it was found impossible to have it carried out.
Rewards were offered for the discovery of bishops, Jesuits, unregistered priests, and schoolmasters; and whenever such a reward was earned, the Catholics had to pay it. Very determined measures were taken, moreover, to have this law enforced. In the last year of Queen Anne's reign (1714), the English parliament extended to Ireland the "Schism Act," which ordained that no person could teach a school unless he had a license from the Protestant bishop; and this license could not be granted unless the applicant submitted to the Sacramental Test.
In the foregoing sketch, only the main provisions of the Penal Code have been enumerated.
These laws were mainly intended to suppress the Catholic religion. But they had no effect whatever in making the people conform, as is shown by the fact that twenty years later, we find the Irish parliament complaining of the continued increase of Catholicity, and proposing other measures for its suppression of so violent a character that the English authorities refused to sanction them.
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