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Ireland's Woes And England's Shame

Ireland's Woes And England's Shame image
Parent Issue
Day
18
Month
June
Year
1880
Copyright
Public Domain
Editorial
OCR Text

I have .i ast come back froni Ireland. I was there fivc weeks as the speoial correslmdunt of tho New YorkTribune. I gave both my days and nights to the study ot' thc famine and its causes. The reperts and reeords and correspondence of the tbree great relief funds were laid before me ; and in addition to this vast volume of evidence, I received nearly one hundred long letters from Rornan Catholic priests, each of them living in a difíerent parish, desoribing io detail the condition of the districts in which the writcrs reside. Nine Koman Catholic bishops, also, in rcply to my iuquirie?, wrote me letters about the distress in tueir several dioceses. I read all the special and looal eorrespondence that related to the famine in the Irish and English journals. I interviewcd hundreds of clergymen, both Protestant and Catholic, and scores of travelera from every part of 'the distressful country.' Not satisfied with this vicarious and documentary investigation, I visited personally one of tho great districts of the western coast that the famine had desolated. I recite these facts to show that my opening statements aro not founded on superficial nor ex parte investigations, but that thej' are the sumtnings up and not results of a carcful conscientious inquiry in the country where the evidence and familie itself oxists. The iiuinediate causes of the famine were the failure of thc crops in the west of Ireland, the failure of thc Irish fisheries, the heavy suinmer rains that ruined the hay and the peat, the recent bad seasons in England and Scotland, and the American competition in agrieultural producís and cattle. The distress is in no degree the fault of the sufferers from it. It is quite commonly belicved that thc Irish poaaant is lazy and improvident. Engli.sh writers have repcated the libel for so inany generations that most of us have accepted it as a truth. For one, I believed it until I visited Ireland under the laconic instruction of Mr. Whitelaw lleid. Find the facts and report them. The Irish peasant is one of the hardest workers on this planet. That was the firj-t fact I discovered, and it faced me everywhere. No olass of men that 1 havo ever met work more steadily and support their families more frugally. I do not pass this second fact to their credit, for it is the hard condition of their existence. They must live meanly in their cabins or dio miserably on the roadside. The people now Buffering are thc descendants of the original inhabitants of Ireland. Their cstatcs or tho estates of their lords were confiscated by Elizabeth, by Cromwell and by William of ürange. Tho face of tyranny is so hidoous even to itsolf that it always wears the mask of some power that mankind honors. Lcgroe posed as Moses. The slave auction-block was built behind the Christian church. Tho Slave Power organized petty larecny (stealing the wages of the poor) into a 'domestic insiitution; ' but it christened the monstrous invention 'chivalry,' and quoted the Scriptures with a sonorous voice to deaden tho sound of the overscer's lash. The oppression of the Irish by England was justified as essential to Protestant ascendancy. Catholics by tliousands havo been robbed of their estates ; the exercise of the rites of their religión has been prohibited under penalty of death ; their priests have been banished and hunted and hanged ; free speech bas been suppressed, and free presa proscribed ; every method and nialignity and fanaticism could devise has been mercilessly adopted to extírpate the Irish race. And now, when the Catholic peasants are starving, their sufferings are coolly attributed to their faith. There are two words that are everywhere respected in America - landlord and Protestant ; for landlords with us, as a class, are fair dealing men, and Protestants with us, as a class, are the champions of equal rights, irrespective of race or religión. But the Irish landlords as a clasB, are little local Plantagenets, who respect no Magna Charta, and who have no warlikc nobles to keep them in a healthy dread of veto by strangulation ; who have no regard for human rights and for human suffering ; who do not live among their tenants, noreven visit them, and who havo no more pity for their privations than the shark has for the welfare of the children of the sailor between its jaws. They live abroad. Their agents are esteemed in exact proportion as they exact their Shylook rents with the pulseless punctuality of machines. Behind them stands the remorseless power of the British Empire, which obeys their most meroiless mandates. The Irish tenant has no rights that the Irish landlord feels bound to respect, and the British government never falters, in executing what the Irish landlord decreea. I blamed Mr. Parnell for some of his utterances in America before I went to Ireland. Since I returned, I am ainazed at the moderation of his language. Lord Clarendon, two hundred years ago, declarcd that tho religión of the Scotch consisted of hatred of 'tho Papists.' Wben I was a little boy in Scotland, I thought that the definition was still correct there. In Ireland to-day, it is too often true that the Protestant hatos the l'üpe,rather tban lovea the Master. As a class, they are astoni.skingly indifferent to tke sufïerings of tho Catholics. 1 am not speaking of the educated J'rotestants, nor of the Protestant clurpy as a class - I was proud of their aotivo co-operation with thc Catholic priesthood in alleviating the prevailing distress ; but among the lower orders, and even among the wealthier laymen, the general tone of their talk was a tone ofcontempt for tho sufferers, because they were Catnolica, or a denial of the existence of their very doors. One day, for example, I rode out with a priest in the county Mayo to examino the condition of the poor in his parish. He offcred to take ma through thc whole of his parish- 'O miles in length. I could not endure the droadful sigkts I saw in tho cabins of tho peasantry. Aftcr we had ridden two miles I caused the priest to turn back. 1 grew sick and wept like a child. Yct when [ returned to the hotel, a bankcr from a ncighboring town told me (not knowing what I had secn) that there was no distress in the country, and that the people were nover so well off. I recalled the bold statement onco made to me in Georgia, in the days of slavcry, by a whito man, who said that the negroos did not want to be emancipated. and, pointing to a colored man, bo added : ' Thoro's a negro you couldn't hire to be free.' That negro had offered to pay iuy expenses north, and a Mim in addition, if would take hini away as my servant. I'rotostantism in Iroland ís ol'len another Dame for the sentiment of c:i It is for tbis reason, as well as from motives of hunianity, apart from any denominational consideraron, that I hope American Protestantisni will continue its contributions to the Irish relief funds until the coming barvests are gathered. The funds uow in hand will not relieve the distress beyond the month of May. Not only will our contributions relievo terrible distress, but it wül teaeh the Protestants of Ireland a lesson, greatly needed there, of religious toleration, and it will atone in some degree for the unnumbered cruelties dono in the name of Protestantism to the Catholics of Ireland for centuries and stijl. It will also holp to remove the prejudices that have naturally been engendered in the hearts of the Irish Catholics against the Protestant fait h. They have been the viotims of Kiiklish 'Protestant Ascendaney.' It ineant heartless oppression. Let us teach them, that therc is another kind of Protestant ascendaney- the ascendaney of benevolence over prejudice, of charity ovor creed. It has been unfortunate, I think, that the Irish lamine has been made a journalistic sensation in America. Sensations poon die out ; but the famine holds out. In June, July and August, if the present rate of contributions is not maintained, the famine will count its victims by the tens of thousands. England will do nothing. She has done nothing thus far. The schenie so much vaunted by Lord Beaconsfield died - it was still bom - in Parliament. If it had been carried out in good faith, it would have permanently pauperized large districts of Ireland. The ereat underlying cause of the famine is landlordism. The landlords have always exactcd as rent absolutely every shilling that the poor tenant couïd pay over and above the most meagre subsistenco for their families. In the best of times the peasants oan save nothing. Their cabinsare nieaner than the slave cabins of our South were in the worst days of slavery. The pcasants were never as well ciad, and they ncver lived bo well as the Southern flaves. And yet our Southern negroes lived and were ciad and lodged so poorly that huinanity denounced their masters so fiercely that their voices beoame as potent for destruction as the sound of the truinpets around Joricho. If landlords, even in New England, acted as the landlords of Ireland act, they would perish at the hands of vigilance committees. If Shakespeare had knowu them, he would have made Shylock an Irish landlord. If Dante had secn the misery I witnessed witb. my own eyes in the West of Ireland, he would have gone there to gather stronger pictures of human wretchedness than he conceivcd in liis 'Inferno.'