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BEFORE THE UNION: GRATTAN'S PARLIAMENT.
BY J. A. STRAHAN.
The Irish Parliament was the mere phantom of a living Parliament. Collectively, it had no control over the administration of the country, though individually its members, as local magistrates and grand jurors, had a great deal too much. The Parliament of Great Britain was entitled, under the Deelaratory Act, to legislate for Ireland without its consent; and it, by Poynings Aot, was not entitled to do so without the consent of the English Privy Council. It did not wield the power of the purse, since the hereditary revenues of the Crown were more, and, if they had been honestly collected, much more than enough to provide for all the needs of the Government. The Judges did not hold their seats at its will, but at the will of the Crown; and the Army was not subject to its Mutiny Aot, but to the Mutiny Act of the British Parliament.
BEFORE the rise of Grattan's so busy draining the rest of Parliament the administration the country." of Ireland was controlled from England. Owing to the frequent absence of the Lord Lieutenant, usually it was in the hands of the Lords Justices, who commonly were the Archbishop of Armagh, the Lord Chancellor, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, who ran it largely for their own benefit. The English authorities intervened chiefly to make raids for their followers on the Irish treasury, or to fill up Irish appointments with English derelicts. Many of the Judges were Englishmen whose chief qualifications for the seat of justice were their families or their follies: it was a Bar saying about one of them that he was of so kindly a disposition that he never passed sentence on a prisoner without "a drop in his eye." Many of the Bishops were Englishmen who by character or intelleot were better fitted for bagnios or Bedlam than bishoprios. As for the Lord Lieutenants, what the publie thought of them may be gathered from Sir Hercules Langrishe's reply to one who asked why his predecessors had never drained a swamp in Phoenix Park: "Well, ye gee,' replied Sir Hercules, "they hadn't time; they were
Probably, however, it possessed just as much authority as its constitution entitled it to claim. The House of Lords was dominated by the Bishops, all, of course, nominees of the Crown, The House of Commons consisted of three hundred members, all supposed to be elected by the people. At
the utmost stretch not more than eighty of them could be said to be so elected: that is, the sixty-four members representing the thirty-two counties, the fourteen representing the seven cities, and the two representing the University. The two hundred and twenty remaining were returned by one hundred and ten small boroughs, twenty-five of which contained less than ten electors each.1 Grattan, when he turned reformer, deolared truthfully enough that two-thirds of the representation in the country was private property, and treated as such by the owners of the land on which the boroughs were situate. It was openly and freely sold when the owner had no relative or friend whom he wished to nominate.
Nevertheless there were two parties in this phantom Parliament-the Government and the Patriot. The Patriot party no doubt objected to many laws and proceedings which harassed the Protestant interest in the country: nobody, of course, ever thought of the Catholics, who were the vast bulk of the nation. They objected to the trammels imposed on trade, the perversion of Irish revenue for English pensions, and above all, to the most profitable places in Ireland being filled from England. But still, for practical purposes, the chief
difference between the parties was this, that the Government party were the party who had the jobs and the Patriot party were the party that wanted them. When a Patriot got a job he changed his party. That is what their brilliant leader, Henry Flood, did.
But it mattered little what the objects of the Patriot party were: they could accomplish nothing. They had nothing whatever
neither the support of physical force nor that of popular opinion. All of a sudden a change foreseen by none gave them both,
The American Colonies were in revolt against English rule, and France had come to the aid of the Colonists—a suicidal policy on the part of the French monarchy, much like the recent policy of the Russian autocracy in joining the free English and French in the overthrow of the fellow-autocracy in Germany. England, sorely pressed as she was, withdrew all her soldiers from Ireland for service in the war. Then, to the consternation of the Government, Paul Jones appeared in Belfast Lough, sank the solitary guardship there, and threatened to raid Belfast. As the Government could not protect them, the Ulstermen, as their custom is, resolved to protect themselves. Thus originated the first Ulster Volunteers.
The Scottish were the first
1 Even boroughs of reasonable size had no real share in electing their members. Belfast's M. P.'s, when there were 15,000 inhabitants in the borough, were elected by twelve persons under the direction of the Marquis of Donegall.
and the readiest to take to arms. Before a year was out there were tens of thousands of them, led by their own elected officers and fully trained and equipped as soldiers. All danger of a French or American invasion was now at an end, so the Volunteers began to think of other things. They were far from being satisfied with the way the country was governed, and they determined to alter its government. They held a Convention at a Presbyterian meeting-house at Dungannon, in county Tyrone, and after much discussion, settled their policy. That, put shortly, was free trade and an independent Parliament for Ireland. Grattan, now the successor to Flood in the leadership of the Patriot party, saw his chance and took it. With the streets of Dublin lined with Volunteers with fixed bayonets, and cannon ready to fire, he moved in the Dublin Parliament the resolution that Ireland was an independent nation distinct from Great Britain, and was subject only to the laws made by her own King, Lords, and Commons, and the resolution was carried unanimously. The British Government had no force in Ireland, or for that matter in England, to cope with the Volunteers, and so there was nothing else for it to do but acquiesce. Poynings Law and the Declaratory Act were repealed, Ireland was granted free trade, the Irish Judges were made irremovable, except on petition of the Irish Parlia
The Irish Patriots-with a few exceptions-now declared their gratitude for the concessions made so readily by the Parliament of Great Britain. This was the first of the many unions of bearts between the two islands. A hundred years later a Liberal Minister, discoursing on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, announced another: "The Liberal Ministry," he said, "resolved to knit the hearts of the Empire together into one harmonious concord, and knit they were accordingly." That union of hearts was followed by the Parnellite movement. The late Liberal Government caused another union of hearts by passing its latest and most up-to-date Home Rule Act (which Mr Lloyd George, one of its sponsors, now admits that nobody in Ireland or elsewhere wants); and that was followed by the Sinn Fein movement. Now a new union of hearts is about to be proposed by the undaunted Mr Lloyd George. I wonder what it will be followed by?
All the Irish M.P.'s were perfectly delighted with their Independent Parliament. Of course the real government of the country remained in the
hands of the Lord Lieutenant, "if he had an older one he would have given you her.' That high-born wife was, according to all accounts, not entirely a blessing to Sir Boyle. She was by way of being a blue-stocking; and, thinking that the best training for a public man was a thorough knowledge of Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' she insisted on Sir Boyle reading it from cover to cover. Sir Boyle never forgot this ordeal, and ever afterwards, when in his oups, would startle his companions occasionally by bursting into a long series of oaths against historians in general and Gibbon in particular.
who came and went with the
Then, besides the orators, there were the wits and the buffoons, who afforded the comio relief to the rhetoric of the orators. The chief wit was also one of the chief oratorsCurran. The chief beyond question of the buffoons was Sir Boyle Roche. The two were on opposite sides, for the old parties soon had revived; and in the rencontres between them I am not sure that the buffoon did not come off best. Nothing could be neater than his comment on Curran's declaration that he himself was the guardian of his own honour. "I congratulate the honourable member on the nice little sinecure he holds." Curran perhaps got his own back when Sir Boyle boasted that the great Sir John Cave had given him his eldest daughter in marriage. "And I'm sure, Sir "And I'm sure, Sir Boyle," said Curran gravely,
It cannot be denied that if the chief purpose of a national Parliament is to develop the oratorical powers of a nation, Grattan's Parliament fully discharged it. Grattan himself, Hussey Brugh, Bushe, Curran, and perhaps above all, Plunkett-to mention only the greatest-are among the British orators who are fit to rank with the greatest of those of ancient Greece and Rome. And they were real speakers, who fascinated their hearers while they spoke, not deliverers of delightful but dull literary essays like Burke, who was called the dinner-bell of the House of Commons. Few of these Irish orators were after the Union heard in the British House of Commons. Grattan and Plunkett, however, were; and it preferred, as might have been expected, the severity, restraint, and
oold passion of the Ulsterman, ents. Indeed of all their forms Years after Plunkett's death, of eloquence, vituperation, I his oratory was in the House think, ranks first. I doubt if of Commons the test applied any orator ever surpassed by old members to the speeches Grattan himself in this accomof all who struggled to be plishment. His assaults on great. After his first Reform Flood and Egan are perhaps speech, as Sir George Trevel- the best known, but I prefer yan tells, "Macaulay overheard to oite that shorter one not with delight a knot of old known so well and not demembers illustrating their livered in the House, in which oriticisms by recollections of he expressed his opinion of the Lord Plunkett. He had rea- man who ventured to question son to be pleased, for he had his right to vote for Sir been thought worthy of the Jonah Barrington, when that compliment which the judg- gentleman was a candidate ment of Parliament reserves for Dublin. for a supreme occasion. 1866, on the second reading of the Franchise Bill, when the orowning oration of that memorable debate had come to its close amidst a tempest of applause, one or or two veterans of the lobby, forgetting Maoaulay on Reform-forgetting, it may be, Mr Gladstone himself on the Conservative Budget of 1852-pronounced, amidst the willing assent of a younger generation, that there had been nothing like it since Plunkett."
The objector was 8 person called John Giffard. He was, as Barrington admits, a most amiable and worthy man in private life, and a man, moreover, who never feared any danger. He was, however, a furious partisan of the Government, and a hater beyond expression of Romanists and rebels, which hatred no doubt had been aggravated before the time Grattan assailed him by the fact that one of his sons had been murdered in cold blood in a rising in Kildare.
This is how Grattan received the objection to his vote:
"Mr Sheriff, when I observe the quarter whenee the objection comes, I am not surprised at its being made. It proceeds from the hired traducer of his country-the excommunicated of his fellow-citizens—the regal rebel-the unpunished ruffian -the bigoted agitator! In the city a firebrand in the court a liar-in the streets a bullyin the field a coward! And so