My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 8



O'Connell takes measures to destroy the Nation—Whig intrigues the probable cause—Supply of Nations to the Repeal Reading-rooms stopped—Interview with O'Connell on the subject—Letter from Father Kenyon—Costs of the Hawarden Case—Interview with Mr. Potter—O'Brien's commital to prison by the House of Commons—The effect on Irish opinion—Deputation to O'Brien from the 'Eighty-two Club—Letter from John Mitchel—O'Brien's release and O'Connell's proposal to give him a public reception in Ireland—Lord John Russell's disparagement of the Nation—Railway Trial—Robert Holmes' impressive constitutional defence—The 'Eighty-two Club thanks Holmes, and publishes his speech—Before the trial a meeting of Whigs in London attended by O'Connell and his son—Speech imputed to him—Indignation in Ireland—Debate by Meagher and others in Conciliation Hall, followed by letter from O'Connell—J. Reilly's imputations on the Nation.

The second Young Ireland party soon found themselves immersed in a sea of trouble. We were facing a State prosecution without the aid of the National treasury, wanting which in the late prosecution it is certain no writ of error could have been sued out. We were denied even the sympathy of the National organisation, never before refused to any one contending for the Irish cause, and we were submitted to a steady system of misrepresentation, at the instigation of Mr. John O'Connell, in which the machinery of the National Association was employed to undermine the National cause. There is no doubt that the bulk of the Catholic clergy past early manhood joined our enemies, for many of them deplored their delusion to me in after times; priests under thirty were generally partisans of the Nation.

We have now arrived at a point where O'Connell had secretly determined to destroy the journal, and push all the men connected with it out of Conciliation Hall.

The chief motive for writing history, or for reading it, is to learn from the past how errors may be averted or success promoted in the future; but we can have neither benefit except on conditions of strict fidelity to the facts. I desire to present a narrative and adopt a theory as generous to the Irish leader as the fact would justify. It is written for a people who are liable to commit the same errors generation after generation, and who more than any people in Christendom need the light of history to save their feet from perpetual pitfalls. To the best of my knowledge and judgment this is what happened. Shiel, Pigot, and the other managers of the Whig interest in Ireland urged on O'Connell: "You are wasting your life for what you cannot attain; if Repeal is ever to come, which we altogether doubt, it will not come in your lifetime, whereas something as good or better is within your reach. Lay Repeal aside, and the Government of Lord John, when he comes in, will repair Irish wrongs and raise the country to a perfect equality with England. Public employments which are habitually bestowed on the enemies of the country will be bestowed only on its friends, especially such friends as you recommend, and you will see the tap-root of Protestant ascendancy stubbed out and subdued."

If these promises could have been fulfilled, they would have been a poor substitute for self-government, but it is conceivable that to an old man on the brink of the grave they may have seemed preferable. Had O'Connell frankly stated this change of purpose, it is certain many Irishmen would have still adhered to him. Many would have abandoned and scorned him, but his conscience would have been at ease and his front unabashed. Unfortunately what he determined to do was to accept this Whig alliance, to push out of the Association any men who would not follow him; to declare that they were thwarting his National policy; to proceed apparently as of old in Conciliation Hall, and in secret to hand over the popular constituencies to the Government. I shall not argue this painful and deplorable thesis, but state such facts as seem to me to justify it. His motive in not openly abandoning the movement as he had done in 1834 was probably the futile hope of entailing the National tribunate as an inheritance on his son John.

While the Railway prosecution was ripening, O'Connell bethought him of a more effectual stroke which might be delivered within his own jurisdiction and without any of the law's inconvenient delays. It was the practice of the Repeal Association to allow districts which contributed £10 in Repeal rent to select a weekly newspaper, to be sent free to their reading-room. The people had preferred the Nation to an extent which yielded an annual profit of over £1,000, and this revenue O'Connell determined to cut off unless I purchased its permanence by a blind submission to his will. He sent for Mitchel and me and made us a little diplomatic speech about his disinclination to do us any injury, especially his old fellow-prisoner. But duty was above all, and if we did not give him an assurance that the Nation would not oppose the decisions of the Association, he needs must disconnect the National organisation from the newspaper. I assured him that no one could be more anxious to act habitually with the Association than we were. We foresaw that discussion might ruin the cause; he might be well assured we should not seek a quarrel, but as regards future decisions of the Association we must necessarily reserve the right of considering them on their merits as they occurred. O'Connell declared that under these circumstances his duty was clear and paramount, and he immediately gave notice of bringing the question before the committee. The question was fought stubbornly in committee, but in the Association and in the journal we were determined not to mix up the Nation with any sordid question of profit and loss. It is a curious evidence of O'Connell's far-seeing sagacity that he had never permitted any of the newspaper proprietors to know to what reading-rooms their journals were sent. A certain number was ordered each week in globo, and Mr. Ray had them distributed to the proper districts. Thus we were cut off in a day from communication with nearly 1,200 reading-rooms, to which I would have sent the paper for a time at my own cost, had we been in a condition to identify them. But after a little the wrong began to be remedied in the most practical and satisfactory manner. Many districts found that they could not do without the Nation, and they subscribed for it anew at their proper cost. The disobedience of authority when it became known at headquarters was counteracted in a manner we shall see presently. The first ally who brought a fresh and decisive force to the controversy was Father John Kenyon, of whom I have already spoken. He published a letter stating the actual facts of the case in a style of notable grace and lucidity, and with a careless confidence as if there was no dictator and no censorship to fear. The effect was electric. The plain truth awoke and arrested the whole community. Some of his notes to me at the time were characteristic:—

"Chapel House, Templederry, Monday.

"I am just after hearing by a communication from Mr. Ray that your paper is stopped from this parish. I have written to him, but in the meantime beg to send a year's subscription. I had requested before two or three copies of next Saturday's number.

"It may interest you to know what I replied to Mr. Ray. It was thus:—

"'Sir, In reply to your printed circular announcing the stoppage of our Nation newspaper, I beg to say—

"'That many of the contributors of the Repeal rent which I sent last February to the Association were mainly moved to contribute by the wish to get the Nation; if, therefore, you break your contract with them you are bound to remit their subscriptions.

"'That all the contributors of that sum are opposed to the policy of your present extreme measures, as you may see by our parish resolutions published in the Evening Freeman about a week since; and cannot convince themselves either of its justice or necessity. They can therefore be no parties to it.

"'That you may stop any paper which we would now select, in a month's time, just as fairly as you now stop the Nation.

"'I beg your committee, therefore, to relieve themselves of solicitude and us from inconvenience and disappointment by sending us the money that we may provide ourselves with a paper.

"'If you do not choose to do this I fear I shall be placed under the necessity of demanding back the entire subscription.

"'Expecting to hear from you at your earliest convenience, I remain, &c.'

"Of course if they disgorge the money I shall remit it to you for a parish copy, and remain perplexed but undespairing,—Yours faithfully, "J. Kenyon."

Another message from O'Connell warned me that the war had only begun. Preparations for the defence of Father Davern against Lord Hawarden, undertaken by the Repeal Association, of which I have spoken earlier, went on steadily. O'Connell had entrusted the defence to Mr. Potter, a skilful attorney resident in an adjoining county, who, it was understood, had the case ready for trial, when the defendant died suddenly of a disease caught in attendance on the poor. One morning Mr. Potter was announced in the editor's room. His name was not unknown to me but I had never met him before, or held any correspondence with him. He came, he said, by the instructions of the Liberator, to present his bill of costs, which exceeded £800. Up to the time O'Connell interfered the case had been conducted by my ordinary attorney, and at my cost and responsibility, but I had been requested to transfer it to the Repeal Association, and I had done so. My first feeling was one of strong indignation, but after a little I was pleased to have to meet an attack in which no public interest was involved to disturb the judgment of the people. After glancing at the bill of costs, the question was disposed of in a brief conversation. "Who employed you, Mr, Potter?" I inquired. "I was retained by the Repeal Association," he answered frankly; "but the Liberator is of opinion that the responsibility is properly yours." "What do you think yourself, Mr. Potter, of my responsibility?" "Excuse me, that is not the question." "How were these heavy costs incurred in a case which never came to trial?" "Chiefly in obtaining affidavits from ejected tenants, who were scattered over the world and very difficult to find." "With what plaintiff and defendant's names are the affidavits headed?'" "They are probably headed Lord Hawarden a Patrick O'Brien Davern." "Am I Patrick O'Brien Davern?" "No, of course; but Mr. O'Connell thinks ——." "Never mind what Mr. O'Connell thinks; the question here is what I think of a claim made upon me personally, and I think it unjust. I will not pay one penny of it. Without the least disrespect to you, I must refer you to the public body by whom you were retained. I never asked Mr. O'Connell to interfere in the Hawarden case; he came into it on his own motion, and for his own purposes, and took it out of my hands, and I will not allow a fine of £800 to be inflicted on me for transgressions very remote from the case of Lord Hawarden. I deny any liability to you, and if necessary, I will contest the question." The controversy was kept dangling for several months, and was the subject of repeated conversations in the General Committee. There was a considerable party there who thought it more than enough that I should at that moment be liable to a new prosecution, stimulated by the Repeal Association, without being saddled with its private responsibilities, and they did not conceal their sentiments. O'Connell never made any personal application to me in the business except through Mr. Potter, and in the end that gentleman wrote to say his costs were paid out of the Association Funds.

The law's inevitable delay postponed my trial till July, and meantime a new trouble arose. O'Brien was a man not only of sensitive honour, but of a susceptible personal dignity, and an affront was put upon him which nearly resulted in driving him from the Repeal movement, and it is difficult to doubt was designed to do so. His maxim was Repeal and no Surrender, and it was certain he would resist striking the Repeal flag. It had become necessary, therefore, to provide some effectual method of removing him from the scene. This is what happened:—

During the Session of 1845 Joseph Hume gave notice of a call of the House of Commons for the avowed purpose of compelling the Repeal members to attend. O'Connell and O'Brien declared they would not attend, and O'Connell insisted that the House of Commons had no power to enforce attendance on Irish members. Mr. John O'Connell refused the summons of a Select Committee on the grounds that he could serve his constituents more effectually in his own country. But before the Session of 1846 commenced the Whig alliance was secretly negotiated, and O'Connell and his son served on Select Committees without any explanation with O'Brien. There had been no change in the public policy to which the Association was pledged, and when O'Brien was summoned he declined to attend, answering that there was famine in Ireland, and he had more urgent business there. He was declared to be in contempt, and the House of Commons committed him to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, O'Connell making no sign. When the news reached Ireland there was excitement everywhere except in Conciliation Hall. The Head Pacificator and Captain Broderick, a kinsman of O'Connell, were of opinion that it would be an insult to the Liberator and his son, who served on Committees, to applaud O'Brien for refusing to serve, and that, consequently, no allusion whatever ought to be made to the subject. But this remonstrance was a feeble barrier to the tempestuous feeling of the people. In a little time the Nation, the Association, and provincial meetings loudly demanded sympathy and applause for the man in jail for Ireland. The imprisonment lasted for three weeks, during which the excitement did not slacken, but increased. Nothing since the State Trials had provoked feelings so sincere and emphatic. The 'Eighty- two Club sent a deputation to London to assure O'Brien of their confidence and sympathy, and addresses reached him from the most distant districts. Mitchel, who was one of the deputation, reported progress to me in the following letter:—

"London, Tuesday Night, May' 13, 1846.

"My dear Duffy,—We had a very long passage, and arrived here (O'Gorman, Bryan, and I) only at half-past nine o'clock to-night. O'G. and I went out at once, found S. O'Brien walking with his attendant, and went with him into his room, where we sat an hour. He is in excellent spirits, and set out by retracting every peevish expression he had used in writing to you and MacNevin. He is delighted with the conduct of the Limerick people, and is altogether in high hope. He entered fully with us into his notions and intentions, and was as open as we could wish. Pigot will go with us again to-morrow, and we will have further conversation. On the whole, it is evident that, without entering formally into the matter, we can have all the satisfaction we wish for.

"I will try to get a draft of his reply from him to-morrow to send you, so that you can have address and reply in type; but you know, as we are to present the address on Thursday, I cannot -write you any account of it before Thursday evening's post, which you would not get till Friday night too late for your first edition. I must make it as short as possible, and you can have it in the second edition.

" I have not, of course, seen Pigot or O'Hagan yet; but found here a note from P. addressed to you appointing to meet us in the morning to go with us to O'B.

"Altogether, our interview to-night was satisfactory but popular feeling must be still more excited about it in Ireland. O'B. thinks that O'C. will not accompany us to present the address, but we will, of course, invite him. Yours truly,

"J. M.

"Colonnade Hotel."

The address and reply greatly affected public opinion in Ireland, and made the policy which Conciliation Hall had adopted of ignoring the imprisonment bootless and even ridiculous. At length Frederick Shaw, one of the Conservative members for the University, moved for O'Brien's release, and the House acquiesced. The Nation, trampling over conventionalities and commonplaces, insisted from the outset that the services of the man who was acting honourably and consistently should be honourably and consistently recognised by the Association. The response was emphatic. O'Connell, who gauged the public feeling like an experienced leader of men, now visited O'Brien in prison, proffered him affectionate explanations, and when he reached the Association declared that the prisoner on his return must have a triumphant entry to the city and the cordial thanks of the Association. O'Brien declined the proposed public entry, and suggested that whatever compliment was paid to him should be combined with the celebration of the 6th of September, the day when the State prisoners had been released from Richmond. But before September arrived the Whigs were in office with the support of O'Connell, and O'Brien and O'Connell were separated for ever.

O'Connell was not left without Whig support in his designs against the Nation. Lord John Russell, then leader of the Opposition, and who was confident that he would soon be leader of the House by the aid of the Irish members, took occasion to express his contempt for the wicked journal which impeded so noble a purpose.

"There is a numerous body in Ireland (he said)—numerous even among her representatives—which says that no legislation of a united Parliament can devise fit remedies for Irish grievances, and that it is in a domestic Parliament alone that fit and wise legislation can be looked for. There are others, I fear, who, if I read rightly their sentiments as expressed in a newspaper—I will name—it called the Nation, which has great circulation in Ireland, who go beyond that question of the Legislative Union—who would wish not merely to have such a Parliament as that which it was the boast of Grattan to found, and which legislated under the sceptre of the same sovereign as the Parliament of Great Britain, but a party which excites every species of violence, which looks to disturbance as its means, and regards separation from England as its end."

It would be humiliating to defend a journal over which I watched as over my personal honour from such foul imputations. Among notable men of the period there probably could not be found one to adopt the calumnies of this meagre and frigid pedant. His imputations would not affect opinion in Ireland, but it might perchance win the vote of a stray Whig in the jury-box at the coming trial.

At last the day of my trial, the 6th of July,[1] arrived. Nobody expected any other result than the conviction, for Blackburne, one of the most subtle, skilful, and vindictive of the Crown lawyers, had been raised to the Chief Justiceship, and was to preside. John O'Hagan wrote me from London:—

"Your health is reasonably good, you say. That won't do at all; you must make it. unreasonably good. As there is a chance of your going into jail, do, I conjure you, endeavour, during the time you have to get strong, that you may despise bolts and bars. … I think they will put you in jail (dissentiente Pigoto,. i.e., dissentient from my opinion), but depend upon it, if you take care of yourself it will do you no harm. … It will be such a comfort that you will not be up for the fourth time before your friend Pennefather; but then, to be sure, both Tom Smith and Blackburne are acquaintances of yours. Happy to have such a circle of friends! I'm sorry I'm not over there to be your junior counsel; but never mind, there's a good time coming. With the help of God, this won't be the last prosecution against you! "

Denny Lane wrote to me at the same time in the pleasant badinage of which he was master:—

"You ought to give yourself as much relaxation as possible at present. You are greatly in want of physical exercise. Your amusements are too intellectual; you ought to ride, play billiards, hunt, shoot, and kick up shindies. Cultivate the society of O'Gorman: he has what you want the intense enjoyment of physical existence. He would want, as I told him, to be put upon Tennyson and soda- water for half a year, while on the other hand your regimen ought to be beefsteaks and porter, fox-hunting and a main of cocks. Make yourself more of a brute without delay. Acquire low tastes and gratify them, and you may defy Blackburne and all his works."

Mr. Smith, the Attorney-General, prosecuted; the defence was entrusted to Robert Holmes. Mr. Holmes was approaching his eightieth year—he was Father of the Bar, and leader of the North-East circuit, and a trusted adviser in all difficulties of the opulent bleachers of Ulster and merchants of Belfast. He had refused a silk gown, refused to be a judge, and held jealously aloof from both parties in politics. Forty years before, he had been a State prisoner, having excited the suspicion of Government as brother-in-law of Robert Emmet. In recent times he had taken no part in Irish politics, except to rebuke O'Connell somewhat contemptuously for his disparagement of the men of '98, whom the Agitator had denounced as miscreants. Never did the result justify more triumphantly the selection of an advocate. The handsome and stately old man, venerable by years and services, rich in the confidence of his own order and the respect of the nation, opened the case by declaring that the prosecuted article was a natural, justifiable, and perfectly constitutional answer to the menace which had provoked it. He was glad to appear on behalf of a journal which had never been defiled by attacks on private character, but which with respect to public measures and public men took a determined course. He meant to found his defence in the present case on the fact that Ireland had been all along, and was at that hour, treated as a conquered country; and the people of a country so treated had certain natural rights, which were precisely the rights insisted upon in the prosecuted article.

The real 'meaning of the article indicted was that if the sword should be employed to put down opinion, and the railways used to facilitate the conveyance of troops for that purpose, resistance would be justifiable. And undoubtedly it would. This was the law of nature, and it was the constitution of the realm.

It was certain that if force were used for the purpose of stifling the voice as the people calling constitutionally for any particular measure, resistance under such circumstances would be justifiable.

This prosecution ought utterly to fail, and he did not ask their verdict as the boon of mercy, or the safety-valve of doubt, but as the unequivocal expression of their regard for the right of nature and the welfare and honour of their native land.

He proceeded to illustrate and justify these opinions from history and the text-books of constitutional law. The court was crowded with eager Nationalists, and we had the satisfaction of listening to the most powerful and lofty vindication ever addressed to an Irish audience of a movement for the deliverance of Ireland from abject and unlawful dependency.[2] The noble effort of the eloquent old man attained a triumph which scarcely any one hoped for; the jury could not agree, and after being locked up for four-and-twenty hours, without food or drink, had to be set at liberty, and speedily informed their friends that they had been divided nearly half and half. The judge, who charged directly against the defence, bade the jury not to be influenced by a speech "which had never been surpassed in a court of justice."

The news of this victory was received throughout the country with what may be fitly described as a paroxysm of joy. It was felt that on this basis the national contest might still be won. "I wish," said O'Brien, "we could hear such language in Conciliation Hall as Mr. Holmes was not ashamed to utter in the Queen's Bench," but unfortunately O'Connell did not share this sentiment. The great speech rendered ridiculous his elaborate precautions for the safety of the Association, and he hated Robert Holmes from of old. He wrote to Ray that the subject must not be alluded to in Conciliation Hall. But this was too much; the men foremost in the National movement were determined that the victory should be commemorated, the orator honoured, and this seed of a noble nationality sown far and wide. In the 'Eighty- two Club, where their influence prevailed, notice was given of a motion to thank Mr. Holmes, and to request his permission to print and circulate the great speech at their own cost. At their meeting where the motion was ripe for debate, O'Connell, who had just returned from London, happened to be in the chair. The motion was enthusiastically carried, it being evident to the sagacious and experienced leader that there was a high tide of popular enthusiasm, and that if he attempted to impede it, he would try in vain. It was further proposed to pay the costs of the trial out of the public funds, but I declined the offer as I declined similar offers in other cases before and after.

During the fortnight preceding Mr. Holmes's speech the public mind had been engrossed by a controversy which made such a lofty pronouncement singularly well-timed. The controversy began in this way: A muster of Whig members was held at Lord John Russell's residence in London to consider the policy and prospects of the party, and among the partisans who gathered round the Whig leader Repealers read with consternation the names of O'Connell and his favourite son. The Evening Mail, which undertook to describe the meeting in some detail, attributed to O'Connell a statement that all he wanted was a real union, the same laws and franchises for both countries. It seemed to us highly improbable that while he kept the doors of Conciliation Hall open O'Connell would make such a complete submission; that he was toying with the Whigs we knew, but that they had successfully wooed him to dishonour was still doubtful. The Nation insisted that the report was false and impossible.[3] It was necessary to carry the denial to Conciliation Hall, and Meagher undertook this duty. His oratory had become a recognised popular force, and he exercised all his powers to paint the infamy of deserting the national cause. Mitchel, O'Gorman, and Barry also spoke, and the debate was raised to a scale almost forgotten in Irish affairs. I have described it sufficiently elsewhere,[4] and must not renew the narrative here. The Head Pacificator thought such admonitions were highly unbecoming addressed to men not wavering under the advent of the Whigs, but determined to prosecute their object to the end. At the ensuing meeting a letter was read from O'Connell. He declared the rumours which suggested that the Repeal cause was to be abandoned, postponed, or compromised were quite unfounded. He recommended that the pledge adopted at the last Repeal levée should be read. This precaution might take away claptraps from some juvenile orators, but it would satisfy every rational Repealer that the cause could not be sacrificed to any party or postponed for any purpose. The pledge, which was read, declared that the men signing it would never while they lived place reliance on any English party, but contend for an independent domestic legislature.

A point in the debate in which I was personally concerned belongs properly to this personal narrative. Mr. John Reilly, one of O'Connell's Old Guard, affirmed that the Nation was teaching disastrous doctrine, and he assailed Mitchel, one of the Nation party, as responsible for it. Mitchel interposed briefly:—

"I avow the connection with the Nation. I should say this, I am not the editor of the Nation—my friend, Mr. Duffy, is editor and proprietor; my friend, Mr. Duffy, is, in fact, the Nation."

Mr. Reilly read a specimen of the impugned article which will enable the reader to gauge the depth of our offence. Speaking of the new men, the new ideas, and the new sympathy of foreign nations which had fortified the movement in recent times, and which were so worthy to be preserved and cherished, I said:—

"Shall we quarrel with our new strength—with this growing wealth of mind and energy? Once there was little more in the agitation than O'Connell and the multitude, and then surely it was not well with Ireland. For less than a miracle of God would not liberate a people among whom knowledge and self-respect and independence, the capacity to see and the courage to dare, were not common. Never have such a people won freedom; seldom, when freedom was their birthright, have they retained it."

  1. 1846.
  2. A full precis of the speech will be found in "Four Years of Irish History," bk. i. chap. iii.
  3. The article, which was written by Mitchel, contained this vigorous denial of the story:—

    " O'Connell did not say this, or anything like this he neither said nor thought it and no Repealer, even if he were base enough to think it, would dare to whisper it in the solitude of his chamber, lest the very birds of the air might carry the matter to an Irish ear. Heaven and earth! what would those words, in the mouth of a Repealer, mean? Listen to us, Irishmen, and we will tell you. They would mean that for four years past—at some thousand meetings—through five million throats from Tara to Mullaghmast from palaces of Irish kings and graves of Irish martyrs, Ireland had been bellowing forth one monstrous lie in the face of all mankind and of God Almighty—one loud, many-voiced national lie, which the vales re-echoed to the hills, and they to heaven"

  4. "Four Years of Irish History," bk. i. chap, v