Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/130

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

volume (Lowndes, Bibl. Manual, ed. Bolin, iv. 1723).

In 1782 O'Leary publicly announced his support of the Irish national volunteer movement, and a body of volunteers known as the 'Irish Brigade 'conferred on him the honorary dignity of chaplain. Many of the measures discussed at the national convention held in Dublin were previously submitted to him. On 11 Nov. 1783 he visited that assembly, and met with a most enthusiastic reception. He was now the idol of his catholic fellow-country-men, who regarded him as one of the stoutest champions of the nationalist cause. But he was at the same time actually in the pay of the government. His biographer, England, gives the following account of his position: During his visit in Dublin a confidential agent of the ministry proposed to him that he should write something in defence of their measures. On his refusal, it was intimated that his silence would be acceptable to the government, and that an annual pension of 150l. was to be offered for his acceptance without any condition attached to it which would be repugnant to his feelings as an Irishman or a catholic. A change in the administration occurred shortly afterwards, and the promise remained unfulfilled. It is doubtful whether this story is quite accurate. Before 1784 he was obviously in receipt of a secret pension of at least 100l. a year, which had been conferred on him in acknowledgment of the value set by the authorities on the loyalist tone of his writings. In 1784 it was proposed to him, in consideration of an extra 100l. per annum, to undertake a new task, namely, to give information respecting the secret designs of the catholics. Lord Sydney, secretary of state in Pitt's ministry, wrote thus to the Duke of Portland, viceroy of Ireland, on 4 Sept. 1784: 'O'Leary has been talked to by Mr. Nepean, and he is willing to undertake what is wished for 100l. a year, which has been granted him;' and on 8 Sept. Orde, the chief secretary, wrote to Nepean thanking him for sending over a spy or detective named Parker, and adding: 'I am very glad also that you have settled matters with O'Leary', who can get to the bottom of all secrets in which the catholics are concerned, and they are certainly the chief promoters of our present disquietude. He must, however, be cautiously trusted, for he is a priest, and, if not too much addicted to the general vice of his brethren here, he ia at least well acquainted with the art of raising alarms for the purpose of claiming a merit in doing them away.' Again Orde writes on 23 Sept.: 'We are about to make trial of O'Leary's sermons and of Parker's rhapsodies. They may be both, in their different callings, of very great use. The former, if we can depend upon him, has it in his power to discover to us the real designs of the catholics, from which quarter, after all, the real mischief is to spring.' Mr. Lecky remarks that Father O'Leary, whose brilliant pen had already been employed to vindicate both the loyalty and faith of the catholics and to induce them to remain attached to the law, appears to have consented for money to discharge an ignominious office for a government which distrusted and despised him (History of England, vi. 369); while Mr. Froude does not hesitate to describe him as 'a paid and secret instrument of treachery' (The English in Ireland, ii. 4ol). Francis Plowden, O'Leary's friend, ignoring the early date at which O'Leary first placed himself at the government's disposal, asserted that the pension was granted to O'Leary for life in the name of a trustee, but upon the secret condition that he should for the future withhold his pen and reside no more in Ireland (Plowden, Ireland since the Union, 1811, i. 6). The Rev. Mr. Buckley was informed that the pension was accepted on the understanding that Mr. Pitt would keep his word as a man of honour in promising that he would bring about the emancipation of the catholics and the repeal of the penal laws in case O'Leary consented to write nothing against the union of the Irish with the British parliament (Life of O'Leary, 1868, p. 356). In an endeavour to extenuate O'Leary's conduct, Mr. Fitzpatrick says: 'He had already written in denunciation of French designs on Ireland; and what more natural than that he should now be asked to track the movements of certain French emissaries who, the government heard, had arrived in Dublin, and were conspiring with the catholic leaders to throw off the British yoke? This task O'Leary, as a staunch loyalist, may have satisfied his conscience in attempting, especially as he must have known that in 1784 the catholics as a body had no treasonable designs, though doubtless some exceptions might be found' (Secret Service under Pitt, 2nd edit. p. 224). O'Leary's biographer represents that the pension of 200l. was not offered him until 1789, after he had finally 'left Ireland, and, although this is clearly incorrect, some doubt is justifiable as to whether the whole sum was actually paid him until he had ceased to concern himself with Irish politics.

About 1784 O'Leary was solicited to write a history of the 'No Popery' riots in London under Lord George Gordon. For a short time he entertained the idea, and began to