Observations on Affairs in Ireland
SETTLEMENT in 1691
Were I to recite, in this place, the legal incapacities and penalties laid on the Irish Catholics, though the whole reign on Queen Anne, I should wear out the reader's patience, and my own, before half my task could be over, I refer to the statute books. I will only observe here, that those penalties and interdicts had their natural effects,, in the dispeopling greatly those three fine provinces, wherein the bulk of the Catholics reside. They took their effect particularly in putting a stop to the cultivation begun in King William's reign:- No sooner were the Catholics excluded from durable and profitable tenures, than they commenced graziers, and laid aside agriculture: they ceased from draining or enclosing their farms, and building good houses, as occupations unsuited to the new post assigned them in our national oeconomy.- They fell wasting the lands they were virtually forbid to cultivate; the business of pasturage being compatible with such conduct, and requiring also little industry, and still less labor, in the management- This business, moreover brings quick returns [Page 13] in money; and tho' its profits be smaller than those arising from agriculture, yet they are more immediate, and much better adapted to the condition of men, who are confined to a fugitive property, which can so readily be transferred from one country to another.- This pastoral occupation also eludes the vigilence of our present race of informers; as the difficulty of ascertaining a grazier's profits is considerable, and as the proofs of his enjoying more than a third penny, profit, cannot so easily be made clear in our courts of law. The keeping the lands waste, also prevents, in a great degree, leases in reversion; which Protestants only are qualified to take; and this (by the small temptation to such reversions) gives the present occupant the best title to a future renewal.- This sort of self-defence, in keeping the lands uncultivated, had the further ill consequence, of expelling the most useful body of people, called Yeomanry, in England, and which we denominated Sculoags, in Ireland. Communities of industrious house-keepers, who in my own time, herded togethers in large villages, and cultivated the lands everywhere, lived comfortably, until, as leases expired, some rich grazier, negociating privately with a sum of ready money, took these lands over their heads.- This is a fact well known. The Sculoag race, that great nursery of labourers and manufacturers, has been broke and dispersed, in every quarter; and we have nothing in lieu, but the most miserable wretches on earth, the Cottagers; naked slaves, who labour without any nourishing food, and live while they can, without houses or covering, under the lash of merciless and relentless task masters!
The Catholics, as we have seen, keep their farms in a bad plight, as they are excluded, by law, from [Page 14]durable and profitable tenures; and they derive some advantage from a source, which brings infinite mischief to the nation. Agriculture, the mother of population, the nurse of every useful art, the support of commerce, is exchanged in Ireland for pasturage, the parent of inconsequence, and the purveyor of national indigence! an occupation, (if they may call it one) which occasions such frequent returns of famine, drains the kingdom of its specie, and occasions the emigration of numbers, who, for want of employment at home, are yearly on the wing!- This is the price we pay for groundless panics, which sober reflexion despises, and which King William did despise.
It may be urged, that all this labour might be spared; that, tho' the facts be fairly recited, and my reasonings on the consequences just, in a general sense; yet, that "we can not pay too much for the internal peace, and public security of our country: that no composition for the public safety can be made with men, who are our enemies by principle; and that the sufferings of the nation, on their account, must be borne, till they gradually fall off, as the rotten branches of community, or exchange their religious principles for those established by law."
To this, it has been already answered, that such reasoning is founded on a supposed fact, which without clear and incontestible proof, recoils upon itself. To prove Irish Catholics irreclaimable enemies to this Protestant government, it will necessary to shew that they profess different principles (religious and civil) from their brethren in Holland; from those who are endowed with so many civil immunities in his present majesty's Germanic dominions; or those [Page 15] under his Prussian majesty, in the electorate of Brandenburgh, Without such a proof, the charge against Irish Catholics is unfair; it is shameful also; and if it be both, it is full time to lay aside groundless apprehensions, and recur to those judgements of nature, which, sooner or later, must blot out the comments of opinion, and impositions of prejudice.