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Balch, William Stevens, 1806-1887 / Ireland, as I saw it: the character, condition, and prospects of the people (1850)

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Situation of Limerick.—A Porter.—Railway Station.—Scenes of Sin and Misery.—The Market.—Handsome Women.—Artillery Barracks.—Oppression.—A Wedding.—A Catholic Chapel.—Theory and Practice.—“Spitting.”—The Cathedral.—Bishop’s Court.—Monuments.—A Fine Landscape.—The Citadel.—History.—Interview with the Prioress of a Nunnery.—National Schools, their Changes and Present Condition.—Reading Room.—Newspapers.—Limerick-Stone.—Gentry.—Beggars.


For several miles along the shores of the river, before reaching Limerick, the land is level, and the hills recede to a considerable distance. Close on the banks the ground is low, a portion of it having been recovered from the domain of the water, by artificial dikes, which preserve it from being overflowed by high tides and unusual freshets. These alluvial bottoms are rich, and very productive. Back of these, a broad, undulating plain stretches off in all directions, bounded by distant hills on the east, south, and northwest, leaving the beautiful valley on the north and west,   [p. 236]   through which winds the majestic Shannon, the noblest river in the United Kingdom. In the centre of this vale, and directly on a bend in the river where it suddenly spreads into the estuary, called the Lower Shannon, is situated the city of Limerick. Several villages, private seats and villas, with old ruined castles towering up, here and there, from isolated rocks or projecting spurs of a range of hills, add much to the grandeur and beauty of this lovely region.

The city itself, as we approached it last evening, made a far more imposing appearance than I had expected to see in this part of Ireland. The size and beautiful situation of the city, the character of its buildings, the large quantity of vessels lying along its well built stone quays, as well as the business-like stir and bustle, and apparent good taste every where displayed, greatly surprised and pleased me. Nor was I disappointed on entering the town. Every thing I saw, confirmed my first favorable impressions. The width and regularity of the streets, some of them more than a mile long, the elegance of the houses, the appearances of the well-filled stores and well-dressed inhabitants, were so unlike any thing I had anticipated, that I could hardly realize that we were in the chief city of the west of Ireland. Every thing bore the marks of wealth, prosperity, and refinement, equal, if not superior, to what is common in our country. And what surprised me more, every thing appeared fresh and modern. The houses, churches, stores, and shops, looked as if recently erected, and with a full knowledge of all the improvements in the present system of utilitarian architecture.

My happiness on beholding these proofs of prosperity, taste, and comfort, was inexpressible. I felt relieved from the sadness forced upon me by an intercourse with the misery and degradation I had just passed through; and, like too many, almost forgot that there was any real poverty in the country, and wondered whether the scenes I have faintly described were not dreams, mere figments of a   [p. 237]   sickly and suspicious philanthropy. All about me seemed to be cheerfulness, activity, pleasure, and contentment, which, I must confess, harmonized much better with my natural feelings, and afforded me great relief.

The wharf was lined with car-men, hack-men, hotel-runners, and ragged, dirty boys, much in the fashion of our cities. As we had no need of either, we hurried from the pier as soon as possible, budget in hand. A crowd of boys followed us, teasing us to grant them the privilege of carrying our sacks, bidding one upon the other, from a shilling to a ha’-penny. At length, one poor fellow looked so wobegone, and begged so pitifully, that we agreed with him for a penny. On arriving at the hotel, he demanded, in the fashion of his country, two-pence, just four times his offer, and double the amount agreed on. We had resolved to give him three-pence, if he said nothing. But these poor fellows are so unused to anything like voluntary generosity, that they never wait to see the proof of it.

As much as I abhor this trait of character every where displayed, I do not marvel at its existence. It is consequent upon the system of social life. A sort of grab-law prevails, which allows every one to get what he can—except it be by actual robbery—from the Lord-Lieutenant down to the boy that carried our sacks. And it generally appears in the form of a demand—a direct tax, levied without an equivalent, which is the pride of Yankee traffic. A tax is put upon place, as at turnpike gates, where he who rides alone in a chaise must pay double the toll of him who drives a loaded team; not because he wears the road more, but is better dressed. In fact, this is the “common law” of all monopolies, and the whole political, social, and religious arrangement of Great Britain is little else than a grand scheme of monopoly, from the Queen down to the renter of a single rood of con-acre. The waiter, chambermaid and boots expect to be paid, whether they have seen you or not, and the driver of the car or coach, after receiving the full sum agreed on, will tip his hat and ask for   [p. 238]   “something”—in payment for his place and privilege. The whole system is an abominable annoyance to travelers. May the good sense of Americans prevent the introduction of such an absurdity into our country.

After securing quarters, we strolled about the town; passed a friary, and a national school-house, both respectable looking buildings, and went to the Dublin railway station, a large and elegant building, built in a deep cavity excavated in a hill. The contrast between the outlay of labor on all the public works of this country and ours, is very marked. Every thing here is done, seemingly, with reference to durability, and without much respect to present expense or profit. With us it is the reverse. We flatten every sixpence, to make it cover as much we can, and stretch every wire to make it reach as far as possible. Ours is the evidence of ambitious enterprise, of youthful vigor, and, sometimes, indiscretion—with small means, determined to make the most of it. Theirs is cool calculation, and mature judgment, irrespective of the gold and sweat which are to be wasted upon it. And, I must confess, that in the bridges, station-houses, quays, barracks, poor-houses, in fact, in every thing that is modern, there is a fair show of good taste and liberal outlay, mixed with abundant means and prudent judgment. In our country we have yet to acquire these attributes, in part. We may have the taste, but either lack the means or judgment; or else our calculating prudence—for-the present system—tells us that it would be bad economy, and a needless waste, to look to elegance and durability at the same time; that it is better to invest the surplus in some more productive stocks.

Extravagance is always to be avoided. Good taste requires it. But it is poor economy to make a thing so frail that it will not endure a year without repairing. And then, no one should be so utilitarian as to reprobate the comforts and decencies of life. Real elegance is in simplicity; and good taste never violates sound judgment. Our   [p. 239]   steamboats, for instance, are elegant, extravagant, foolishly so, in their fittings. The British are mean, inconvenient, and generally dirty. Our station-houses are ugly, misshapen, unsuitable things, and our bridges and wharves ten-penny structures. These are solid, durable, elegant. There are lessons for both to learn.

All that part of the town, called Newtown-Perry—from the name of the owner of the land on which the new town is built—is very fine, neat, regular, airy, and elegant; and our astonishment and admiration increased as we went over it. But the day did not close without proofs of destitution and misery, which awakened all my sadness, and gave full conviction that we were still in Ireland!

We visited the old part of the city, and all along the main street leading through the “Irish to the English town,” saw such sights of poverty and shameless degradation as we never saw before. There is no spot in our cities to compare with it. The Five Points, so graphically described by Mr. Dickens, who saw every thing through the most English eyes, does not afford the basis of a comparison; for that is filled up with the better class who have emigrated from Saint Giles, Saint Mary’s Gate, and the streets we are now describing. The more wretched could not go.

All along the street, centre and sides, were grouped masses of human beings, of both sexes and all ages, who exhibited the lowest depths of poverty, intemperance and vice. The gin, beer, junk, and slop-shops were in character with all the rest, in the style of Orange-street, though on a much larger scale. Smutty childhood, wrinkled age, hobbling decrepitude, gaunt distress, bloated drunkenness, shameless vice, barefaced crime—all the odiousness of ignorance, depravity and famine were mingled in a confused mass, the most loathsome and forbidding.

Crossing the bridge into the “English Town,” the hue became, if possible, still darker, as the evidences of moral depravity thickened on all sides. This added to the picture   [p. 240]   colorings of disgrace and wretchedness which transcend all attempts at description—most appalling and repulsive exhibitions of vice, in which soldiers from the barracks acted prominent parts. The principal business seemed to be vending old clothes. These, in every conceivable variety, from the laid-off coat of the nobleman, and the dress of his “lady,” down to those stripped from the corse [sic] of a beggar, or picked from the gutter, were displayed along the sides of the street.

Crossing another bridge, we passed one of the military stations, when still stronger marks of vice and infamy were to be seen. Under the best regulations, a large share of iniquity clusters about such large establishments. But here it seemed to revel without restraint. From this place flows the blighting influence which leaves such palpable traces of crime and moral pollution upon both men and women, young in years, but, it is feared, already old in vice and deep in depravity. Who ever searched minutely, the full history of large bodies of men, closely packed in barracks or monastery, without finding traces of depravity which have festered into the rottenest crimes; sometimes kept secret for a time, but afterward divulged? The Reformation corrected, in a measure the abuses of one, the prevalence of peace will remove the other.

We were satisfied to return to our inn, at an early hour, having looked upon scenes of beauty and wretchedness, depravity and shame, mingled in such confusion as we had never supposed possible. The events of yesterday I shall not soon forget. They form a chapter—nay a book of many chapters—in the history of my experience, never to be forgotten. The scenes of whole years have been crowded into a single day, and more phases of social life presented, than could be witnessed at home, by traveling from one end of our country to the other. The old and the new, the beautiful and the strange, from the days feudalism first reared these castle walls, to this hour, when wealth, sustained by a royal retinue of lords and armies, tramps with   [p. 241]   iron hoof upon the necks and virtue of this unfortunate people, are all confusedly huddled together; and I feel my spirit and my flesh completely exhausted. May the good Lord give faith and patience to endure one night of peace and quiet sleep.


May 23.—The only disturbance which troubled us during the night was the doleful cry of the watchmen, who passed our window every hour, drawling out the time of the night and “all’s well,” in a deep guttural tone, as if they had been released from the grave after a thousand years’ confinement, and expected soon to return to it. After the outbreak, a few nights ago, when Messrs. O’Brien, Mitchel, and Meagher were driven from public meeting, and having seen multitudes during the evening, in various parts of the city, engaged in warm discussions upon political questions which now so much agitate this country, and knowing that many apprehended another emeute of the citizens, we were easily disturbed; but nothing troubled us but the horrid cries of the night-watch.

We rose at four—the sun having preceded us by half an hour—and took a ramble about the still and quiet streets. Few were astir at that hour. Here and there, a solitary footman passed us, and occasionally a despondent ass, laden with a few vegetables, or boxes stowed into panniers laid across his back, and driven by a young woman with bare feet, dingy, and often ragged dress, and naked head, or covered by a white cambric cap, with a wide flowing ruffle about the face—appearing alike uncared for, and fit companions in misfortune and doom of servitude. Their tramp along the clean and solitary streets at that beautiful hour, seemed lonely and sad, and contrasted strangely with the cheerfulness and grandeur of that calm and sweet morning.

Soon the baker with his baskets of bread, the servant with her pail for water, the newsman with his bundle of papers,   [p. 242]   tripped more rapidly along the streets. By-and-by, a groggery was opened, and then a grocery, and, by six o’clock, there were signs of returning life in all the business parts of the town.

We visited the market places, which were first open. The only meat we saw displayed in the stalls was mutton, much of which appeared to be of an excellent quality. Butter, in large quantity, and of the very nicest kind, was all along the street, done up in neat rolls and handsomely stamped. There was also fish of various kinds, piles of boiled shrimps, early vegetables, mainly cabbage and cauliflower, bread, cheese, and articles common in our markets. The prices were not high—generally lower than in New York. Groceries are much dearer, especially tea, coffee, and sugar. Good coffee is from 30 to 40 cents a pound, and most dutiable articles are from three to four times as high as with us. The turf-sellers attracted our notice. Some were standing by asses loaded with the article, others had baskets which they had brought on their backs many miles, and were willing to deliver in any part of the city. These were the most deplorably miserable and dejected of any except the beggars which met us at every step, and followed us in droves, wherever we went, even into the hall of our hotel, and remained about the door, after being ordered out by our host, to waylay us when we came into the street again.

Many about the market were quite respectable in their appearance. I noticed several persons, well formed, tall, handsome, and genteel in their manners. I was surprised to see several women who could be called really beautiful, even dressed as they were. Every body knows that dress may be so tastefully selected and delicately arranged as to add much to nature’s charms, and help set off beauty in its most favorable aspects. But among these rude peasant girls who had come many miles to market, with the commonest products they had themselves reared, there were specimens of female beauty, I had not expected to find in any class in   [p. 243]   Ireland. At home we are in the habit of speaking of the Irish as exceedingly plain and often ugly in their appearance, and many of them are; but I never heard of beauty being sought for among them. It is a mistake, and I am happy in the disappointment; for there is something in the personal appearance of the inhabitants of any country which affects one’s feelings, and adds to or detracts from his pleasure while sojourning among them.

Ireland has been slandered for the ugliness of its inhabitants. There are differences in different parts of the kingdom, and ugliness enough, no doubt every where; for there are distinct races who maintain much of their primitive characteristics, which distinguishes them from those in other parts of the island. Those among whom we have been traveling, especially about Killarney, at Kinsale, Macroom, and Tarbert are shorter and smaller, and not so pretty in their forms and features as they are here. We saw many tall, and well formed figures, and handsome countenances in Cork and Tralee, owing no doubt, to the mingling of different races which have settled at different times in those business towns.

The same cause has conspired, unquestionably, to produce a similar effect in this city and the country about it; for, if I remember rightly, this was long ago, one of the great central spots in the conflicts of civil and foreign wars. The Danes and Normans came here and established themselves, far back in the history of the nation; and Cromwell disbanded his army in this neighborhood, and settled his officers and soldiers upon the lands from which he had driven the original inhabitants. The Scotch also circulated freely among this people, and many settled here. This was the seat of the O’Brians, the former kings of Munster. Being close upon the borders of the other provinces, and an important commercial town, the population naturally became greatly mixed, and hence, according to physiological laws, the improvement in the physical appearance of the people is to be accounted for.

  [p. 244]  

By seven all the shops were open, and the streets were full of bustle and business. Every thing in the main streets of the new town wore the appearance of thrift and prosperity. The stores are numerous, large, handsome, and well furnished, betokening an extensive and profitable business. The streets are wide, straight, neat, and airy, and intersected at right angles. Those nearest the river are occupied by large buildings used as stores below, and dwellings above. The land ascends gently from the river, and in the upper part of the town, especially along the Crescent, the dwellings are very large and elegant, the streets being ornamented with shade trees, and the yards filled with vines, flowers, and shrubbery, much in the character of the best streets in American cities.

We visited this morning, one of the barracks, occupying a large fort on the high ground in the eastern part of the city. We bolted in unasked, and looked at the comfortable quarters of the soldiers. English statesmen are wise in one thing, keeping strong the right arm of their power. The soldiers are well fed, and well paid, and have an easy time of it. None of the common people fare half so well. They are a sort of indigent nobility, furnished with red coats, glazed caps, and good rations at the public charge, and required to exercise barely enough to digest their food. And the ranks of an army are well suited to the hereditary gradations so indispensible in the working of British institutions. There is no motive for a soldier to desert, unless in a foreign land; it would be folly to forsake his beef, and bread, and whiskey, which come to him with perfect regularity, and at no cost, to seek a precarious livelihood on a patch of ground he might hire at an enormous rent, but could never own. His instinct makes him loyal, and natural rights and political and social wrongs do not trouble him. It is food and raiment, and a place to sleep, that concerns him most, and so he becomes mechanically valorous, when occasion requires.

Some three or four thousand of these minions of power,   [p. 245]   are now stored in the four barracks in this city, and thirty thousand more in different parts of the kingdom. Fresh troops are constantly arriving from England and Scotland. The agitation produced by O’Brien, M. P. Mitchell, and Meagher, the two former of whom are said to have used strongly seditious language in this city, a few evenings ago, is the cause of all this stir in military matters. I am told the officers are in pursuit of these men, and no doubt before this they are in “durance vile.”

I got into conversation with an under officer, and learned something of his feelings about the commotions which now agitate the country. I found him loyal, in every particular, though he admitted the wrongs of government, and the miseries of his countrymen. I asked him if the government was willing to trust him to fight his own friends in case of an outbreak. He said he was not amongst his friends; he came from the north, and should certainly obey orders. He further told me that companies from the west and south had been generally sent out of the country, to England, Canada, or other places, while their places had been filled from England, Scotland, and the north. He did not think there would be any serious outbreak, but the soldiers were fully prepared to quell any rebellion that might be undertaken. I expressed to him no opinion, and it was evident he took me for an Englishman.

Two or three squads were going through a course of artillery drill. They were tall, noble looking fellows; and as they strutted through the evolutions around their brass pieces, pretending to put in cartridges and ram them down, prime, elevate, take aim, fire off, and swob out, all at the direction of little slim lads, in cloth caps, who swaggered about, flourishing rattan canes, like Broadway dandies, a feeling of pity and disgust was awakened, to think that the best energies of these “noble” young men were to be prostituted to the base purpose of learning how to kill their fellow-men scientifically—by rule and by “law and order,” and subject to the command of her Royal Majesty, the Head of   [p. 246]   the Church! Shame and confusion! What arrogant folly! What bloody madness! Oh Heavens! Is justice lost? Is mercy dumb? Then, “Rule Brittania” and tramp on with thy aristocratic hoofs, still more ruthlessly, and crush what life is left in this wretched people! Drive on thy cart loads of tax and tithe gatherers, and arm thy constabulary to protect agents of absentees in distraining for rent or evicting tenants from desirable lands, turning them houseless and pennyless upon the world, and then train their military to shoot them down if they dare to make a show of resistance, or a particle of self-respect by way of objection. They have no remedy at law. Physical resistance is their only resource. And such a demonstration they must not make!

Is this christian? Is there aught of the spirit of the religion professed by the government, in all this method of oppression. Should not the strong be merciful, the wise generous, and the christian forgiving! And yet what has England done to elevate and improve the condition of the common people of Ireland. Every Englishman, and loyal Irishman, especially if a landlord, is for ever harping upon the ignorance, bigotry, laziness, filth, and wickedness of the Irish, and, heaven knows, not without a cause, for there is enough of all these. But is it the way to cure an evil, to be constantly finding fault, while nothing is done to remove the cause—to take off the yoke which has so galled their necks for ten centuries? Is the remedy to be found in the infliction of greater oppressions, or by adding insult to injury? It seems to me as if the principles of humanity, as recommended in the gospels, are never thought of in connexion with the government of Ireland. That it is by a mere display of pride and power, that respect and obedience are looked for—methods which the veriest heathen tyrant would have adopted in the government of a conquered province, which he wished to depopulate, to make room for more loyal subjects.

The ignorance and wickedness of this country does not   [p. 247]   justify the treatment it receives. One wrong does not justify another; and until England learns to be just and generous towards the masses of her citizens, regarding them in the light of common justice and humanity, instead of bestowing all her care and favors upon her nobility and gentry, no real improvement can be reasonably expected. If her statesmen would act the part of guardians and protectors, and devote her powers to educate the people, by giving them practical knowledge in the arts of civilization, and then afford them a chance to do for themselves, instead of keeping them the serfs of absentee landlords, to be abused and cheated to the last inch by merciless agents, and trafficking middle-men, and then taxing them to the last farthing to support lordly priests, whose doctrines they disbelieve, and armies of policemen and soldiers to help keep them in the traces, they might look with confidence for improvement, for the peace and happiness of Ireland. As it is, the darkness thickens in her skies, corruption festers at her heart, poverty and crime mark her career, and distraction and ruin are in reserve for her future. Not a ray of hope or comfort gleams from any point of heaven, upon the masses of her sons and daughters. Oppression, starvation, or emigration are inscribed every where—on every hill and valley, in every town, village, and hamlet. Peace, justice, and competence are no where to be found.

To the courageous, of small means, there are glimmerings of light, wafted in the arrival of each emigrant ship from the distant shores of a foreign land; and they breathe more freely, and their pulses beat quicker, a smile even kindles upon their pale lips, when the thought strikes them that there is a chance for them to forsake their native land, the homes and graves of their ancestors, and seek an asylum among strangers. But to the timorous, without means, there is nothing left but cold, blank despair, rendered more apparent by the glistening of the oppressor’s power, which glimmers about the bristling bayonets of these trained   [p. 248]   bands of death and destruction, sent here to overawe the masses, and protect the exclusive privileges of the favored few!

No country can really prosper, whose inhabitants are so treated that they learn to hate their homes, and to despise the authorities. Kings and noblemen may prate about “divine rights” as much as they will, but unless they have the hearts of the people on their side, they will have practical illustrations of the truth and meaning of the words “Vox populi, vox Dei;” for, sooner or later, God, whose love is impartial, and whose justice fails not, will give freedom and peace to His people.

From the artillery barracks, we wandered through the public square, and seeing many people gathering about a church near by, we went in. A woman who was serving as sexton, informed us there was to be a wedding, and invited us to walk in. We did so, and took our seats in the front of the gallery, but as it was some time before the parties arrived, we went below, and looked about the building. The pews are furnished with locks, and many of them were fastened to keep out the unbelievers. A tombstone is inserted in the wall, on the left of the pulpit, at the height of ten or twelve feet from the floor. Its lettering indicates that it is in memory of a Mrs. Russel, wife of one of the richest men in Limerick, we learned afterwards, made so by the distilling of whiskey, the monopoly of grain, and the fattening of hogs! The building itself is neat and respectable, of recent erection and in modern style.

A large number of people were gathered about the door, mere idlers, who came from curiosity, whom the lady sexton refused to admit. But one or two hundred, who were very respectably dressed, came in and seated themselves about the church. Their appearance fully justified my favorable opinion of the personal beauty of the inhabitants, especially the women, of Limerick. There was scarcely an ordinary looking person amongst them. Many were really   [p. 249]   handsome. Even among those standing about the doorway, there were many boys and girls, plainly dressed, and some ragged, whose countenances were actually beautiful. They needed only a little soap and water to bring out the lustre of rosy cheeks, and delicate and well-formed features.

Soon carriages began to arrive, with lackeys in livery, and the “parties of the first part,” as the lawyer would say, appeared and retired to a small, open room on the left of the entrance. Soon after, the “parties of the second part” were ushered in, and a formal presentation made, when the whole retinue entered the body of the church, and arranged themselves before the altar. The priest, in full canonicals, with book in hand, proceeded to read the marriage service, and, with all due formality, proclaimed the twain to be one, till death them should part. Then the salutations and greetings followed, which over, the happy pair were conducted to their carriage and departed, but not as they came. The beggars next claimed our notice, for they flocked about in abundance; but I saw nothing given them, except sour looks and harsh words. We were told this was a wedding in high life, the friends of the parties being among the most distinguished people of the town; and that, therefore, the poor beggars had hoped that a few pennies would have been scattered amongst them. They seemed to bear their disappointment bravely, as if used to it, for where so many are, who can give to all? A man must have a long purse or a hard heart to live long in Ireland.

On our way from the wedding, we passed a Catholic chapel, which was open. We entered. It was a large building, rather dingy, inside and out. Two women and an old man were kneeling on the cold stone floor, not far from the door, with their faces towards the high altar, in the farther end. Their pale, wan faces, wrinkled skin, and tattered garments, told a tale of misery, from which they were seeking relief in the offices of penance they were   [p. 250]   now undergoing. The women were not old, but they looked the pictures of wretchedness. Each was muttering prayers, and counting a string of old, worn beads, which hung about the neck, with the most apparent fervor and sincerity. They did not seem to notice us as we entered and passed them. After looking at a few pictures and statues about the church, we returned, to go out. The women broke short off, and came to us, holding out their thin hands. One said, “Plase, sir, give me a ha-penny, an’ may the Lord bliss ye, and give ye lang life.” The other said, “Give me a ha’-penny, an’ I’ll pray that the great God’ll bliss ye, yer honors, an’ kape yer shouls from purgatory, an’ carry ye safe, an’ kape ye, an’ ye’ll give me a ha’-penny.” They went from one to the other, bartering their prayers for our ha’-pennies, and promising to intercede with the blessed Virgin in our behalf. The old man did not rise from his knees, but reached out his old hat with one hand, while he held the beads in the other. A more perfect figure of patient destitution I never saw, not even the poor creatures under the boards at Tralee.

As we left that church, I queried whether the doctrines and precepts of Christianity are well understood; whether the errors and mistakes of past ages have not left shadows upon it, which dim its brightest beauties, and keep the world from enjoying its blessings. Sincerity, humility, faith in doctrines, submission to forms as a means, are valuable, it may be essential, qualities, but are there not active virtues which are equally so? Should not the people be taught to watch as well as pray; to work as well as believe; to do as well as know? And does not he who labors with his hands to support himself comfortably, and to give to the needy, as truly serve God as he who waits at the altar? It seems to me people, many of them, talk strangely and unadvisedly about this good and beautiful world, in which it has pleased our heavenly Father to place us for a time; for ever decrying it, and speaking of its blessings and comforts with ingratitude and disrespect, and holding out   [p. 251]   the opinion, that to love God we must hate the world, and the glorious works he has displayed in it; that religion requires pain and sadness, and the denial of all real temporal comfort to those who would become eminent in piety, and have a sure hope of the life to come; that a perpetual warfare is to be kept up with one’s self, refusing all the sources of present and prospective happiness, and laboring to be satisfied with the worst possible condition to which humanity can be reduced.

The practical of these doctrines is found in the degraded condition of mendicant friars, and severe devotees to all religious infatuations, who submit cheerfully to the most painful and degrading penances which a haughty, ambitious, and unfeeling priesthood are pleased to inflict. The evil is not so much in the fact that these views have not been well carried out, for then they would have corrected themselves; but in that they are yet preached, even by pleasure-seeking bishops, and ease-taking prelates, whose sporting habits, fat “livings,” elegant mansions, good dinners, and fine wines, present a strange illustration to the theories they advocate, and thus bring religion into disrepute.

Could the practical doctrines and precepts of Christianity be brought before the people, and their perfect and beautiful adaptedness to all the affairs and conditions of men be shown, a most favorable result might be expected. Could this Irish people, now so miserable and degraded, or so exalted above the affections, duties, and responsibilities which belong to a true Christian, be made to understand and feel the spirit and power of Christian truth, which owns one God and Father, who is over all, and one Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all, and requires all men, every where, to repent, to lead quiet and peaceable lives, to be not idle, busy-bodies, but to be industrious, frugal, tender-hearted, merciful, just, forgiving, forbearing; to avoid oppression, injustice, and cruelty; striving to make this earth a paradise of peace and plenty, remembering that   [p. 252]   Christ came to establish His kingdom “in the earth,” amongst men; that with Him the distinctions of nation, race, birth, and position are nothing; that each and all are held directly and personally to account before God for every act, and word, and thought; that the poor, oppressed, and outcast have a friend and defender in Him, whose cause He will plead, and whose wrongs He will avenge; that He abhors the forms and fashions of religion which disguise the truth, corrupt the heart, and deceive the world; that he requires righteousness in the “inward parts,” purity of soul, and a perfect life;—could these things be understood and felt, I venture to prophecy that these poor devotees would not be here, on this pleasant day, counting over their beads and muttering the Ave Marias for the ten thousandth time; nor those train-bands studying the science and art of human butchery—actual murder;—nor those whole villages forsaken by the evicted tenants of some cruel landlord, who has compelled them to live in caves dug from damp turf beds, and beg, or starve to death. We should see right respected, industry encouraged, innocence protected, and prosperity and happiness prevailing in all parts of the kingdom. The teachers of religion are under a fearful responsibility! And who shall escape? May the Lord give grace and mercy.[1*]

I should not fail to record one fact which had some significance,   [p. 253]   the more so to us in as much as it afforded an opportunity to hurl back a missile sent at us by British tourists which might as well have been kept at home for domestic use. A notice was posted in different parts of the church, “Please avoid spitting on the floor.” I never saw such a notice at home, though I confess there is often need of it, not only in churches but every where else. But henceforth we shall have companions to share with us the disgrace of being a “nation of spitters.” It is a miserable, filthy practice to chew or smoke tobacco; but if chewers and smokers would keep their filth to themselves, and not invade the rights and comfort of others, with their habits, none would ever complain. I do not therefore mention this notice by way of excuse for my own countrymen, or as an apology for the nasty practice so justly complained of, but to remind our trans-atlantic brethren of their own sins, and the propriety of having a care for the “beam” as well as the “mote.”

Our next point was to St. Mary’s church, formerly the Catholic cathedral, but now the high church of the Establishment, gained to the service of God, and the glorious reformation, vi et armis, like innumerable other churches throughout the realm. We do not obtain churches in that way at home. I remember hearing an Englishman express his astonishment at the sale of churches in our country, from one sect to another, as though it was a very strange and sacrilegious procedure. He doubtless thought it better to gain them by conquest. It has been so here. The decrees of courts, enforced by military power, has helped to rob the Catholics of all their ancient temples, and that too when the great masses of the people adhere to their original doctrine. As a republican I call this robbery. The majority should rule when rights are equal. The change of one’s opinion should not jeopardize his liberty or his property. But England has yet to take some lessons in the doctrines of equal justice, and religious toleration. She has made great improvement of late, but there still is room for more.

  [p. 254]  

It is difficult to make these people understand the workings of our free and voluntary church system. They will not believe us when we tell them it is a very common thing in various parts of our country, for two or three sects to unite and build a church, own it and occupy it in common, the ministers of each sect taking part in the service of dedication. But really it seems to me there is quite as much of the spirit of our holy religion exhibited by such a procedure, as there is in the exclusiveness and robberies which have marked the past history of both Catholics and Episcopalians, or the government churches in Scotland, Germany, or any where else. One is a free and voluntary act in honor and support of religion; the other a forced contribution to answer the demands of intriguing religio-politicians. Give us the free, the liberal, the tolerant, and we will trust the true and right.

St. Mary’s Church, to which we obtained admittance, on the payment of 2s., is a venerable, and majestic pile, erected in the 11th century. It is built somewhat in the Gothic style, though some of the arches are Norman. It is in the form of a cross. The choir and transept only are used for service. Stalls are erected on both sides of the choir, and ornamented with fantastic carvings. The altar itself, is a tasteful structure, viewed as a work of art. Numerous monuments to the honored dead, are arranged about the interior. Among them I noticed one of Bishop Jebb, which represents the venerable prelate much larger than life, sitting in an easy posture, attired in his robes of office, with a book open resting on his knees. The statue is in fine white marble, and richly finished. Near it, in a recess in the wall, is the tomb and sculptured monument of the O’Brien’s, kings of Munster. It is an elaborate work, bearing some inscriptions in Irish, and surmounted with the harp, shamrock, and the Arms of Munster.

The seats in this vast building will not accommodate more than two or three hundred sitters. There are rows of stalls on each side of the choir, for the magnates, ecclesiastical,   [p. 255]   civil, and military, facing each other. Before them are seats and desks, slightly elevated, for the readers, singers, and other officers. Then in the area between, directly in front of the altar, loose benches are arranged, as also in the transept, for the “common people,” worshippers of the lower order. About the galleries are arranged pews, for the use of the families of the nobility. The whole plan and arrangement of the building is indicative of the various grades recognized among the men of this world. It is not copied after the “pattern set in the heavens.” And hence the thought stole into my mind, that worldly pride has a little too much to do in the church of God. I can not say it was well founded, but I confess these stalls reminded me of “Moses’ Seat” and one or two parables of the Master. It might have been wrong, but I could not help it. If it was wrong, I have confessed, and hope to be forgiven.

The well-worn pavement, the gray crevices of the immense arches, the stained windows, and lofty columns, all attested the antiquity of this edifice; send I felt strangely as I gazed upon it. I stood where kings, princes, and noblemen, rich and poor, worshipped eight hundred years ago. Here moulder the bones of monarchs long dead, some slain in battle. Here have resounded the acclamations of praise and thankfulness for friends returned victorious, and here have wept the hearts of the vanquished! Strange and indefinable thoughts came through my mind, as I lingered about that old cathedral, and caught glimpses of the dark centuries that are past, and some of the stirring events here chronicled. Sad thoughts they were, for, in the solemn stillness and pompous grandeur here displayed, I could not forget the living world without. The tears and sighs of beggared millions, the clanking chains of oppression, galling the very hearts of a crushed people, and driving them to madness, or to foreign lands, still rung in my soul, and I could not feel at peace—I could not admire the architectural splendor as I would under other circumstances. I left the interior without regret.

  [p. 256]  

Near the main entrance of the nave, on the left, is the Bishop’s court, arranged very much in the style of a common court-room in our country, with a bench, witness-stand, and all the appurtenances for a regular trial at law. What the precise legal jurisdiction of the bishop is, how far he is restricted to spiritual matters, and what authority he has over secular sins, I am not able to say, definitely, having never familiarized myself with any other system of jurisprudence than may be found in the Old Book. That, especially the New Testament, has little to say on subjects of this kind, except that we should “judge not, lest we be judged,” nor “entangle ourselves in the affairs of this world.” The floor and benches were well worn, which led me to infer a large amount of business, of some sort, was done at this court.

On the opposite side of the entrance is a room enclosed by an iron railing, in which is the tomb of the young Lord Glentworth. An elegant monument has been recently erected, which represents the young nobleman, as large as life, in full dress, lying upon a couch, with a pillow beneath his head, and the whole elevated about four feet above the floor. A linen cloth was spread over it, which the sexton removed, at our request. It is a fine specimen of art, and, what is more, is said to be in honor of a very worthy man. There are several other monuments in the same enclosure, and others inserted in the walls and floor of that part of the building. Some of the lettering is in old Irish characters, but those in the floor are nearly effaced, having been trod upon for centuries.

From this part we ascended to the top of one of the lofty towers, which commands a beautiful prospect of the whole city, and a wide extent of the surrounding country. North, the eye wanders to the hills about lake Derg. East and south, over a vast undulating plain, bounded by the hills in Tipperary, and those which bound the valley of the Lower Shannon, and west, down the broad estuaries of that river, to the range of rugged hills which skirt the shores of the   [p. 257]   sea. The scene is vast, varied, and beautiful. From lake Derg, the basin of which is distinctly seen, the line of the Shannon is traced, as it meanders through a lovely valley, with here and there a village, hamlet, elegant mansion, or dingy parapet of a forsaken castle, studding its green banks. Just above, it divides into two branches, and sweeps around the island, on which stands the English or old town, which includes the castle, the church, in the tower of which we are now seated, a convent, and, perhaps, a third of the city. Immediately below the town, the river widens and bends more westward, towards the sea. The site of the city is remarkably fine, at the head of tide-water, and navigation, except by canal and steamboats, which ascend the Upper Shannon from lake Derg, by the help of a few locks, as far as Shannon harbor and Athlone. The banks are elevated, so as to give a healthy and pretty appearance to the city. Shipping, strung along the elegant stone quays, the basin into which smaller vessels and canal boats are locked, lying between the English and the New town, the magnificent bridges spanning the main river below the junction, and one leading from King John’s castle in the English town, close to which we now are, to Thomond-gate, on the Clare side, and two or three which cross the Abbey branch, which divides the English from the Irish town; these, and the public buildings are all distinctly seen, embosomed in a rich and beautifully changing country, and present a scene of varied beauty rarely to be met.

I do not wonder that Irishmen boast so much of their Emerald Isle. It is, without dispute, so far as I have seen, endowed by nature with a profusion of beauties, and all the sources of abundance, comfort, and wealth, which the heart of man can desire. Strange that such a charming spot of earth should be so disfigured and despoiled by the wickedness of man! that oppression, misery, and degradation should find such a home to revel in! But alas, weeds grow best in the richest soil; and the mildew blights most the fairest flowers! Such are the antagonisms of the   [p. 258]   world, which, here, have been struggling with the mightiest forces for many centuries, till the wrong has well nigh triumphed, and left the true and good to wither into a miserable and disgraceful death.

Near the cathedral is the old castle, or citadel, still occupied as an infantry barracks. It stands upon the most elevated point of the island, and commands the old city. Not far off is the “Bishop’s Palace,” and north of it, fronted by a pretty lawn, is a convent, connected with which there is a public school. Having a desire to see how public education is conducted in this country, we applied at the entrance door for admission, but were referred to the Lady Superior. We rang at the gate, and a servant came across the lawn from the nunnery, to know our business. We sent word that two gentlemen from America were desirous of visiting the school under her charge. After some delay an answer was returned, that we might do so in half an hour. We spent this time in looking about the streets and lanes of that part of the city.

This was the original town of Limerick. It occupies the south end of what is now called King’s Island, an elevated plat, which descends gently, in all directions, to the river. It bears the marks of high antiquity, its history going back to the fifth century. It was, at one time, in the possession of the Danes, and the architecture of this portion affords proof of the fact, for the Danish or Flemish style of building is often to be seen. After the expulsion of the Danes, it became the royal residence of the Kings of Munster. The famous Brian Boroihme assembled his army here, with which he subdued Leinster, and conquered Dublin, in 999. He lived here in great splendor, till 1014, when he led the combined armies of the several Irish kingdoms against the Danes, and won the great victory of Clontarf, which, however, cost him his life. In the 12th century, the English invaded Leinster at the request of Dermod Mac Murrough, who had refused submission to Roderic O’Conner, the King of Ireland, and, in the true policy of   [p. 259]   that nation, demanded, as a recompense, the submission of the entire country to their authority. When has England listened to a call for aid without making booty of their bounty? Having got possession of the East, the English forces, under Strongbow, Earl of Clare, caused the people to submit to English laws. But Limerick and the West held out till the commencement of the 13th century, when King John succeeded in subjecting it to his authority. Many Englishmen were imported, who took possession of this part of the town, and compelled the native inhabitants to settle on the other side of the narrow stream. Hence the names English-town and Irish-town. King John built a fort or castle which still stands at the end of the Thomond bridge, formerly the only entrance to the town. Some of the old walls are also to be seen.

After the commencement of the New town, a little over half a century ago, with wide streets and handsome buildings, this part has been forsaken by all the wealthy inhabitants, who have preferred the elegance and comfort of Newtown Perry, to these narrow streets and crowded lanes. Little is to be seen here now but old rookeries, decaying from neglect, and a most squalid and immoral class of inhabitants. Some of the old public buildings remain in a dilapidated condition, but close beside them is collected filth, misery and vice which baffles description, showing how soon the fairest spots of earth may wither and decay, when touched by the polluted hand of sin, or forsaken by a moral, enterprising, and industrious population. The Irish town has suffered less by the change, for the New is joined immediately to it, and therefore it derives some advantage from the general improvement.

The time appointed having arrived, we returned to the “National School,” and, after a long delay, were invited to “walk up.” On entering the ante-room, we were presented to the Prioress, who stood, like a statue of marble, in princely dignity, attired in the robes of her order—a white flannel dress, tinged slightly yellow, fitted close about her neck and   [p. 260]   waist, and flowing in liberal folds to the ground. A chain, with a cross suspended, was hung about her neck, and a white cap or turban, set gracefully on her head. She belonged to the order of “The Sisters of Mercy.” She was a tall, well proportioned, masculine figure. Her height must have exceeded six feet. Her features were smooth, and well formed, though pale and sad. She might be forty years old. She received us with a slow, graceful courtesy, and a very slight inclination of the body, and then resumed her former attitude of solemn, conscious dignity, in appearance, cold as the frigid marble.

I confess I felt abashed, awe-struck, for I had not expected such courtly grace, and this was the first time I ever came in contact with any of its pretensions. I had stood before the great men of our nation, presidents, governors, judges, bishops, priests, and school ma’am’s, and all sorts of republican magnates, but I never before stood before the superior of an Irish nunnery. Summing up what dignity I could command, I presented my right hand with Yankee honesty, as a token of fraternal regard. She accepted it, but with apparent reluctance, and did not return very warmly my friendly and cordial greeting. Perhaps she thought me rude, and my friend afterwards read me a homily on convent manners, which I had never heard of before. I was there an American, and I would not disgrace my nation by apeing foreign customs. I felt, as I acted, a true respect for my Irish brethren and sisters. This was one, at the head of a whole sisterhood of my father’s daughters, and why should I not be sincere, frank, and cordial at meeting with her.

Never mind, she did not resent my rudeness, but received us as friends. Her countenance did not brighten with a single glimmer of warm feeling, though she spoke the words of sincerity and gratitude. So completely withering has been the mental discipline over the exterior faculties, which link her to mortal and social life. She maintained an icy coldness during our whole stay; except once, at one remark I made, I saw a faint smile play about her lips, like a   [p. 261]   moonbeam on the haze that surrounds an iceberg floating at sea.

I introduced my friend, made known our object, and we entered, at once and freely, into conversation. She invited us into the school room. Five black and two white nuns were engaged in teaching, and over-looking the classes in different parts of the room. Not one of them appeared to notice our entrance, though I saw them steal glances at us, occasionally, but timorously, as though afraid of being observed. Two of them I noticed were young, and, except their paleness, of beautiful appearance. The Matron asked one of them to call up a class of girls for us to examine in the various branches of a common English education. They were misses, I should say from twelve to sixteen years old. We found them intelligent, and well advanced in practical arithmetic, geography, history, and grammar; some of them were excellent readers, pronouncing distinctly, and in that clear, full rich, voice for which Irish orators are justly distinguished. We were also shown specimens of their chirography, which were truly elegant.

I have forgotten the exact number of scholars in the school, but should judge not less than two hundred and fifty, probably more. I remember the matron told me there were eighteen hundred in the several national schools which were under the care of nuns. They were generally comfortably dressed, though many looked poor. The sisters clothe the most destitute, and the civil authorities furnish plain food for their noon-day lunch, which is distributed in the school room. This we were assured is a strong inducement for many to attend school, who, but for it, would be left to grow up in ignorance and neglect, to swell the vast catalogue of miserable wretches, old and young, which swarm in this country, and live in poverty or die of starvation.


The “National Schools” are one of the main hopes of   [p. 262]   Ireland, for which the English government deserves some praise, though it has failed to give them the importance and privileges they deserve. It has not adopted a thorough, comprehensive, efficient, and liberal system of education. It has been jealous and treated meanly, and grudgingly with this people. It is not long since all learning was confined to the Established church, for which large appropriations were made; while upon a Roman Catholic teacher, as a school master or private tutor, the punishment of transportation was inflicted. Who can wonder that, under such laws, enforced upon a nation bigoted in its religion, the people would prefer ignorance to apostacy, and nearly one half grow up unable to read and write. Add to this as a result, perhaps, that many priests have opposed the general and indiscriminate education of the people, for fear they would know too much to be controlled by their false claims. But the people generally have always been anxious to obtain an education, and many, in all ages, have been ripe scholars.

It is not much over fifty years, since a Catholic was permitted to act in the capacity of a teacher, nor is it forty since he received any support from Parliament, while the Episcopal teacher was well paid. In 1811, a society was formed in Dublin, of both Protestant, and Catholics, called the “Kildare St. Society,” to unite in a system of national education. The next year Parliament made liberal appropriations to this society, and withdrew the exclusive aid before given to the church teachers. This society was in character, much like the New York “Public School Society”—a private corporation entrusted with the expenditure of public money. It insisted upon the Holy Scriptures being read in the schools—the Protestant version to Protestants, and the Catholic version to Catholics, but in both cases without note or comment.

The schools prospered for a time very well, till the Catholic clergy took the alarm, and brought their whole influence against a practice so dangerous as teaching the young to read the Bible! They did not allow adults to   [p. 263]   read, or to understand it for themselves, and how could they consent to have children deceived and corrupted by a knowledge of its sacred pages? Hence, in twenty years, few schools existed, except among the Protestant parts of the kingdom. The clergy had persuaded the people to abandon them, preferring ignorance to knowledge, unless stamped with the “traditions” of the church. It is said the Pope ordered this procedure, fearing, doubtless, his children would become too wise to submit to his dictation in matters of faith and practice; as the Established church had before found, that with an equal education. Protestantism would be endangered with the superior ability and claims of the Roman Catholics.

At length, in 1831, Lord Stanly procured the passage of a law which withdrew the grants from the Kildare Society, and constituted a board of education for the poor of Ireland, including the Protestant and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin, and other distinguished men of all persuasions. This board is entrusted with the outlay of public grants, in building school houses, paying teachers, furnishing books, and managing all the schools which receive aid from the government. Like the common schools in some of our States, no help is given to those who will not help themselves. Each town, or neighborhood, district we would say, which will raise a certain amount, receives liberal grants from the board, in most cases equal to seventy per cent. Every four years sets of primary books are furnished gratuitously, and others at half cost prices. A normal school has been established in Dublin, on the most approved and thorough plan of education under the direction of the board, where all teachers must be graduated. Model schools in each county are also established.

The management of the schools is on the most liberal plan. Neither prayers nor the reading of the Bible, nor any attempt at proselytism is allowed, during the regular hours; though the clergy of any sect may visit the schools and, out of school hours, teach what they choose. The following   [p. 264]   excellent summary of christian duties, prepared by the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, I saw suspended in the school rooms we visited.

“Christians should endeavor, as the Apostle Paul commands them, to ‘live peaceably with all men,’ even with those of a different religious persuasion. Our Saviour, Christ, commanded his disciples to ‘love one another.’ He taught them to love even their enemies, to bless those that cursed them, and to pray for those who persecute them. He himself prayed for his murderers. Many men hold erroneous doctrines, but we ought not to hate or persecute them. We ought to seek for the truth, and to hold fast what we are convinced is the truth; but not to treat harshly those who are in error. Jesus Christ did not intend his religion to be forced on men by violent means. He would not allow his disciples to fight for him. If any persons treat us unkindly, we must not do the same to them; for Christ and his Apostles have taught us not to return evil for evil. If we would obey Christ, we must do to others, not as they do to us, but as we would wish them to do to us. Quarreling with our neighbors and abusing them, is not the way to convince them that we are in the right, and they in the wrong. It is more likely to convince them that we have not a Christian spirit. We ought to show ourselves followers of Christ, who, ‘when he was reviled, reviled not again,’ by behaving quietly and kindly to every one.”

A plan has been suggested to incorporate the historical parts of the Bible, together with the precepts and illustrations, in a book to be read in the schools, and the Board, I believe, have agreed, with perfect unanimity, to recommend such a work, but whether it has been executed, I am not able to say. It was understood that the reading of such scriptural lessons was to be left optional with the parents in the different localities. Nobody certainly could object to such a course. In fact, every thing has been managed in good faith by the Board, and the great body of the community have seconded their efforts. The Catholics, generally, have approved the plan, and the priests, as in the case mentioned at Tralee, have urged their people, from the pulpit, to avail themselves of these opportunities to educate their children in the knowledge indispensable to a successful and honorable life. The Presbyterians, Methodists, Independents, Unitarians, Quakers, and in fact all sects, have joined in this noble and benevolent   [p. 265]   enterprise. But, strange to say, a large portion of the Established Church oppose it most strenuously—more virulently than the Catholics did the former method. The most ridiculous, abusive, and slanderous language is employed against the liberal course pursued by the Board of National Education.

I could not account for this bitter hostility, had I not witnessed a like conflict in some parts of our own country; for, so far as I can learn, the whole objection originated in the clause which leaves the reading of the Bible optional with the parents. The very matronly Church wants to enforce King James’ translation upon the young as the “true word of God.” They forget that on the title-page of that version it is said to be “appointed to be read in the Churches.” It says nothing of schools! That is a matter left discretionary, for those who should encourage a more liberal scheme of popular education. I have asked several for a solution of this Episcopal opposition to the general diffusion of useful knowledge. The only answer I get is, that it is calculated to bring the Established Church into disrepute, and help sustain the “old harlot that sitteth on seven hills.” I never hear that expression without inquiring after the conduct of her Eldest Daughter!

In spite of the opposition of the Establishment, manifested in many ways, the Board have gone steadily forward with their Christian work, and have had great success. I am told more than four thousand schools have been established, which are attended by over five hundred thousand children.[2*] This is doing gloriously. It should be remembered   [p. 266]   that these schools are generally patronized by the children of the poor, but such poor as are able to pay a portion of the expense. This fact I regret more than any other, inasmuch as there are thousands of families who have no means at all, to pay any part of their children’s education, as in cases mentioned at Cloghereen. We meet with innumerable families too poor to educate their children. In such cases, under the present arrangement, private charity is to be invoked, or the children of the poorest classes must grow up, after all, in ignorance. The large school we have above described, in connection with the convent of the “Sisters of Mercy,” is an illustration of the necessity of this kind of aid.

I again mention, with feelings of the profoundest satisfaction, the honorable and truly Christian conduct of the Catholic clergy, and people generally, in reference to the   [p. 267]   present liberal system of national education. Too much can not be said in their praise, for this noble demonstration in behalf of their countrymen. It is a triumphant refutation of the accusation that they are the advocates of ignorance. I can not assert, with confidence, that they have fully changed their ground upon this subject. But if they have, there is the greater reason for joy and approbation. It is one step, and an important one, towards Irish emancipation; better and wiser than all the Repeal movements of O’Connel, or republican attempts of less prudent agitators.

It may be regretted that objection is made to the public and formal reading of the Scriptures. But the propriety of that measure has been questioned by many honest and zealous Protestants, in England and America, who respect the authority of the written Word as highly as any can, and repudiate, in toto, the false and ridiculous traditions of the Romish church. It is a great cause of lamentation that the Established clergy are so bitterly opposed to this liberal system. It is the best, if not the only method, by which the hatred and hostility of the churches and races can be removed, and any thing like union and peace be secured to this distracted nation. Let children of all ranks, races, and religions be educated in the same school, and the next generation will know nothing of the social evils that now exist. It does seem as if there was no mercy, no respect for the welfare of the Irish people on the part of the English, but a settled determination to crush the hope of the nation, by opposing every measure which government may adopt for their amelioration, enfranchisement as a part of the British empire.

As a Protestant and a republican, I have no sympathy nor respect whatever for the Roman Catholic faith and pretensions, as such; but I love justice and humanity from a sentiment deeper than sect or nation, I trust, and therefore speak as I do upon this subject. Had the church party at once and heartily joined in the plan of Lord Stanley   [p. 268]   for a liberal system of national education, instead of opposing it, the ten years past would have advanced the nation half a century, and could have saved it from the sights of poverty, ignorance and crime which now so disgrace all parts of it, and agitate it to the very centre. But with a degree of madness, stupidity, and bigotry the most reprehensible, they have held out in opposition to the acts of the government, and the pleadings of philanthropy, and used their utmost endeavors to paralyze these efforts and destroy the forlorn hope of Ireland’s redemption. And they have succeeded but too well; not so much by the numbers of children they have persuaded from the National schools, as by keeping up and increasing a most inveterate hatred between the inhabitants, wherever they could.

It does really seem as if the Church, and its supporters and abettors, were determined to extirpate by ignorance, persecution, oppression, and famine, the whole Irish race, that the lands, lakes, and streams of this beautiful island they have so long coveted may be theirs. I am every hour more thoroughly convinced that such is the settled policy of the Anglo-Irish population, and that the government winks at their doings, except in pretence. I should not be surprised if another half century should see the Irish people all banished, by an indirect expulsion, or by a positive edict, as in Cromwell’s time. The Church and the landlords seem to contemplate such an event with great satisfaction, and to hurry it on as fast as they can.

But here comes in another view of the subject, alike reprehensible on the part of the Catholics, or, rather, a portion of them, who have the interest of party and sect more at heart than the good of the nation, and the honor and happiness of humanity. I mean the opposition lately shown on the part of the “Roman See” to the extended and completed system of national education. The government, in accordance with the advice of the Board, had adopted measures for the establishment of colleges in the different provinces, to give opportunities for a thorough and   [p. 269]   finished education. The operations before noticed referred only to a common education in the useful sciences, and were designed principally for the poorer classes. The colleges were established for those who were able and willing to pursue a course of classic education. The same liberal basis was adopted, which lay at the foundation of the elementary schools. All sectarian interference was strictly forbidden, while a proper respect for the authority of religion, and a strictly moral life were distinctly enforced. But theology was to form no part of a regular course. Professors in the various departments were all appointed from the ranks of laymen, and irrespective of sectarian bias. They are men of enlarged and liberal views, well-educated, and every way fitted for apt teachers. It is understood that the dignitaries in the Romish church were pleased with this arrangement, as well as with the grants given to the Maynooth college, which is avowedly Roman Catholic.

All went well, however, till a rescript from the managers of the Church at Rome was received, which condemns these colleges as “Godless institutions,” calculated to sustain infidelity and irreligion, and subvert the work of grace, and insists, pertinaciously, that all the true and faithful children of the Church shall withhold their encouragement from them, and devote all their influence to the support of a Catholic university, where the young men can be nursed in the saving principles of the “Holy Catholic Church.”

This movement, it is supposed, was got up in retaliation for the course pursued by the “Church Society,” in refusing to act harmoniously in the management of the National Schools. It is much to be lamented, that a Pope who has gained some reputation for liberality, should adopt a policy so destructive to the peace and permanent prosperity of this island. No doubt he has been deceived by the fabrications of designing and malicious priests, who are afraid that evils will attend the free education of the   [p. 270]   people, or else, would take vengeance upon the government Church. It does seem as if every effort to redeem this nation, however wise, just, and liberal, is destined to failure, through the bitter hatred and perpetual animosity of sectarists. The British Parliament deserves much credit for keeping aloof from this partisan and suicidal warfare, and I can but hope the government will keep straight on in its determination to give a liberal and unsectarian education to the young men of Ireland. A few years will convince the most sceptical and bigoted of the wisdom and humanity of this course. The measure will be sustained, and these schools will stand up the pride and glory of the nation, when party zeal and sectarian hostility are lost, like the darkness of night, in the universal enlightenment and liberality which shall soon prevail all over the world.

The good matron expressed her opinions very freely on many subjects, and exhibited a large share of knowledge in the domestic affairs of her nation and our own. She spoke of several pupils who had left her tuition and gone to America, most of whom had made out very well. She also expressed the highest admiration of our country, especially for the generous conduct of our citizens towards her famished countrymen last year.

The hour for dismission having nearly arrived, we took our leave, thanking her for her kind attentions, while she expressed, in words, her great gratification at receiving a visit from us, and bestowing many blessings, and prayers for bur successful journey and safe return. But she, all the while, manifested the same cold and reserved dignity as at first—the result, no doubt, of the severe austerity of her manner of life. I can not believe that human nature receives its highest attainments by this system of training. There is wanting that vivacity, spirit, and cheerfulness, so often commended in the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. The acts of benevolence, and even a whole life consecrated to virtue and charity, I can understand and appreciate. But I can see no propriety in the cold, stiff formality   [p. 271]   and exclusiveness of the ascetic life. It is a withering misdirection of the tenderer sympathies and holier affections of the human heart—the extreme of the rash, impetuous, and violent passions of persons of mere impulse. Christianity indicates a steady, regular, full flow of the kindliest feelings, and the friendliest interchange of the social and domestic affections, controlled by reason and good judgment; and not a refusal to apply to these sources of present, innocent enjoyment, and growing happiness. Still, in the present admixture of affairs in this imperfect world, it is well, undoubtedly, that these monastic orders exist. They have a space and a mission appointed them, and help do something to make up the sum and variety of a perfect whole. They are not an end, however—only a means; and, for all their good works, deserve to be praised, while for their errors we have forgiveness, and for their miseries a tear.

The Irish-town, viewed by daylight, is a decided improvement, in some respects, upon the other. Its streets are wider, its houses generally better, and its inhabitants less squalid and wicked: at least we saw less open shame and degraded misery, though quite enough of both. Near one of the bridges which joins these towns, are the extensive flouring mills of the Russels, the great business men of the city. They are said to be immensely rich; to own, in addition to these mills, distilleries, breweries, and a “pig factory,” containing nearly a million of pigs, which number are slaughtered here annually, besides several ships engaged in the American trade.

There is in other parts of the city large glove, brush, cotton, blonde, and lace manufactories. In the latter it is said over one thousand girls are constantly employed, and that an article, equal in beauty and goodness to the best Mechlin lace, is manufactured in them. In fact, as before remarked, the city presents the evidence of a fair amount of enterprise, industry, and thrift.

  [p. 272]  

Coming down the main street, we were invited into the large, elegant, and well furnished reading-room. Files of English, Irish, Continental, and American papers were arranged about the spacious apartment, and forty or fifty well dressed, and intelligent looking men were busy reading them, or discussing the movements of the government, and the conduct of the agitators. We read and listened, and found most of the papers and the talkers to be truly loyal. I busied myself also—for a time, in copying from a Limerick paper, the number and character of the ejectments which had taken place in that neighborhood, within a short time previous. From one estate seventy-two families, of five hundred and twenty-one persons, had been turned houseless and friendless upon the world; from another, twenty-one families, one hundred and nine persons; from another, thirty-three families, and one hundred and eighty-two; and so on, till I counted up from two papers, over seventeen hundred persons who had been forcibly ejected from their homes, and from all means of subsistence.

I noticed particularly the merciful conduct of one landlord—a clergyman, which was given as a specimen of true philanthropy, and Christian benevolence, in contrast with the more barbarous cruelty of other cases described. Wishing to get rid of his tenants, instead of turning them out penniless, to shirk by beggary or plunder, as so many others had been, he gave to each family, for their improvement, half enough to pay their passage to America, in case they actually went. This case was lauded to the skies, and offered as an example for others to imitate.[3*]

There are often cases of the grossest cruelty and injustice, in the ejectment of tenants, who do not please the   [p. 273]   landlord, middleman, or the agents, or who stand in the way of the introduction of some English or Scotch tenants, who understand better the arts of agriculture, or are more supple to further the ambitious projects of their noble master! Sometimes a sporting landlord, long an absentee, wants to lay out a hunting park, and therefore drives off fifty or a hundred families, from their homes, turns four or five hundred poor helpless creatures, empty-handed, upon the cold charities of the world, who must beg, steal, or starve, for there is no chance for them to work, and they have no means with which to obtain a lease, nor to get “till Amiriky.”

Talk of Southern slavery! In practice it is not a thousandth part as wrong, as cruel, and abominable as the tenant system of Ireland. Our planters are obliged to treat their slaves mercifully, to provide for them in sickness and old age, and always give them enough to eat. But here if the rent is not paid, the constable is called in, and the tenant distrained, and if he can not pay he is evicted—wife and children turned pennyless upon the world to dig a shelter in a bog, or build one by the stone wall, and get his food as best he can. I abominate the American slave system from the bottom of my soul. What then must be my feelings in the midst of such scenes of wrong and suffering as abounds in all parts of this ill-fated country. They are indescribable.[4*]

  [p. 274]  

I am overwhelmed! Oh England, thou boasted land of freedom and justice, of philosophy and nobleness, of religion and philanthropy,—English laws, the models of christian jurisprudence—British honor and magnanimity—spirit of Blackstone and Wilberforce—speeches of Peel and Russell—glory of Wellington, himself an Irishman—pride and extravagance of Victoria! What meaneth these roofless huts, these starved stomachs, cadaverous faces, naked limbs, and scattered corpses! Have ye compassion for the well-fed, laughing, singing, shining black men of our republic? It is well. But remember “charity begins at home.” When ye have purged away the wrongs and miseries of your own sea-girt isles, then come to our relief. But till then stand mute, in shame! Who ever heard of the starvation of slaves, whether crops fail or not? But who has not heard of the famished thousands of Ireland, whose carcasses are strown [sic] over the lands of “noble lords, and right honorable barons,” who live in magnificence and luxury in London, and help make laws for the empire, and still weep crocodile tears over the wrongs of American slavery? Oh Heavens, is there no cloud to cover the disgrace of earth!

I also read in one paper a very precise account, which ran thus: “Her majesty, with his royal highness, and the Prince of Wales took an airing in Hyde Park this morning. Her majesty was clad in,”—too much fustian for me to copy. In another part of the same paper was a glowing account of a drawing-room at St. James’, with a full and particular account of the dresses of the noble ladies in attendance, the wives of several Irish lords among them. The dress of one of these ladies would have purchased food enough to have saved the lives of fifty starving persons, who   [p. 275]   have been ejected from their rights for the non-payment of rent. But no, that is nothing! What are the lives of fifty poor, ignorant Irish Catholics to a diamond pin or a satin dress? Nothing, sir, nothing! Away with your radical democracy, socialism, “sickish sentimentality.” You use seditious language! You speak against the Queen. But I speak in the name of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Art thou a Christian? Thou professest to be. Thinkest thou then that God will hold thee guiltless of the life of thy starved tenant—thy brother? Hast thou no care, no wish for his soul, that it may be saved—for his life, that it may be spared? What have these poor little children done to deserve such neglect—such abuse—that they should be turned out of doors to starve in the fields, or in the road, and there lay unburied—while thou hast no need for their poor mud hovels, but begrudged them even those? Canst thou rest in peace, while these tortured souls are crying to heaven for mercy, as their bodies lay quivering on the cold ground till death comes to their relief? Dance on, then, in your royal court robes of gilt and satin, and eat what you can of the delicate dainties set before you, but know that for all this, thou and thy country shall be brought into judgment! But one thing I beseech of you, for your own sakes—do not squander your tears upon the poor slaves of America while you have so much more need of them at home! It is needless.

After some hours spent in writing, we took a walk across the Wellesley bridge, a magnificent structure, which we inspected closely and with admiration. We have few such specimens of solid, and thorough architecture in the bridges of our country. It consists of five large elliptic arches extending from the solid stone quay across the Shannon. An elegant stone balustrade forms the parapet on either side, and the roadway is level and wide. The end on the city side is formed of a swing for the admission of vessels through the lock into the basin above. In our country this   [p. 276]   bridge and the quays adjoining, would be considered a great curiosity. They are so to us, and can not fail to be attractive to everybody, as massive works of art.

The inhabitants complain, and probably not without cause, that the government ought to add to the other improvements, a good dock for the better security of the shipping. It is said that strong gales often unmoor vessels and strand them on the opposite shore, or dash them against the bridge and quays with great destruction. By some, it is added, that the outlay of a small amount of money would remove the bars from the lower river, and admit vessels of all sizes, such as are now compelled to unload below the town. On the merits of these complaints, I am not capable of forming a judgment; but there seems to be force in them, much greater than in many other things which have received the notice of government. Employment would, at least, be afforded to many now idle, and a permanent improvement be gained, which would be of great advantage to the city and nation.

From the bridge we passed the Royal Pauper House, or barracks—the curse of liberty, and the poverty of the nation—to the famed “Limerick-Stone,” near the Thomond bridge. On this stone the treaty of Limerick was signed, in 1692, which ended its liberties, after a noble struggle, the year previous, against the English army, commanded by King William in person; compelled to surrender to the superior numbers under General Ginkle, afterwards created a nobleman by the gift of a large domain, under the title of the Earl of Athlone. Whether any “royal or noble blood” was thus infused into his veins, does not appear from the account, but his descendants have held the honorable right to oppress the Irish population as much as they pleased ever since. The stone itself has been raised from the bank of the river, so as to appear prominent above the street. The inscription on it is much worn, but we learned that it was upon this stone that the nobles of the beleaguered city signed their submission to English dictation—the concluding   [p. 277]   act in the drama of English intervention, besought by Dermod Mac Murrough four hundred years before! A not unfrequent result of English interventions.

From the bridge we visited a work-house on that, the Clare side of the river, and had a conversation with the overseer, whom we met near by. We had no desire to inspect it. It is a large building, and the outside appearance is very respectable. The keeper made a bitter complaint, alledging that the immense taxation of Irish property is the cause of the ruin of the country. I at once guessed he was a landowner, which he confessed afterwards. This class are for ever grumbling about exorbitant taxes. In fact, nobody seems to be satisfied in this country. All complain in one way or an other. Most assert that the “poor-law” is the great evil—the prolific source of all the misery, forgetting that fifty thousand soldiers are quartered in the country, and as many policemen, who must be paid and fed, to say nothing about the millions exported annually, to feed and clothe absentee landlords, and pay for their extravagance and carousals, for which no return is made.

On the side of the hill, overlooking the city and river, is situated a splendid mansion of some body, whose name I did not learn. The grounds about it are laid out and ornamented with princely magnificence, and, but for the hovels of the poor near by it, would make a beautiful appearance. As it is, it appears like a “pearl in a swine’s nest.” The front garden is adorned with statues of heathen gods, lions, and eagles—kings of men, of beasts and birds! I at once concluded he must be a true and loyal knight, for these are fit emblems of one whose splendor contrasts so strangely with the poverty about him.

Wherever we went, we were beset by beggars, who stuck to us like the gallinippers of our southern States. We could not shake them off. To give to one was to call about us twenty others more destitute and clamorous. The evening is the time when they issue out from their   [p. 278]   dens, and loiter about the streets, sit at the corners, about the doors of the hotels and places of resort, every where, stretching out their withered hands, and turning up their sunken eyes, imploringly, with a “The Lord bliss yer honor, an’ ye’ll give a poor crayture a ha’-penny, till buy soome bread for the childers.”

This is the time, too, when a still more abandoned crew—the morally depraved—crawl out of their lurking places, and perambulate the streets, in search of their prey. Hosts of these miserable, unfortunate beings patrol the streets, accosting one at every turn, but in a manner so abashed and hesitating as to prove that all sense of virtue and decency is not yet destroyed. We were glad to make a retreat at an early hour to the quiet rooms of our hotel, and find, in writing, reflection, and sleep, a relief from the miseries we had witnessed.


[1*] I do not mean by what I have said, to disparage any form of doctrine, or mode of worship. Such is not my object, and this is not the place. But I could not forbear the utterance of these thoughts, which have borne heavily upon my mind, since I was in the country. I would by no means discourage those poor, comfortless, unfortunate beings from coming to the only sure fountain of help and hope—the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I wanted to suggest that the mere forms and externals of religious worship are not enough: that the people must be taught how to live here, as well as how to prepare to live hereafter. I am reminded of rather a witty remark, of one of my own countrymen, who was once a slave, but is now distinguished for his talents as a public advocate of abolitionism. Said he, “We are told we must pray to God, and he will give us liberty. But I can tell you what, my friends, I might have prayed with my mouth till doom’s day; but if I had not prayed with my heels, I should still have been in slavery.” This explains my meaning.

[2*] The Church Establishment had, last year, only 116,968 enrolled scholars in 2,000 schools, scattered all over the kingdom. These are parochial schools, patronized by the nobility, gentry, and church magnates, whose money and zeal are given freely for their support; though, as yet, the government has refused to bestow the grants asked for. By the report I see that 57,633 pupils are the children of Episcopalians, 14,697 of Dissenters, and 44,688 of Roman Catholics. These are not much better schools than the others, from which they are distinguished by two considerations: First, They insist upon a thoroughly sectarian education. Every teacher must be a member   [p. (266)]   of the Established Church, and not only cause the Bible to be read as a part of the school exercises, but also give special instruction in the doctrines and formularies of the church, especially to all the children of parents in her communion, and to such others as will consent to such proselyting interference. These schools are placed in the superintendence of the parochial clergy, who have the right to interfere and direct in their management. Secondly, They are the schools of the higher classes, of the aristocracy, and are attended by children who are not permitted to associate with the common people. They are sustained for the purpose of preserving distinction and sustaining rank, as well as the Episcopal Church!

Hence it is not surprising that they have succeeded so well. They have wealth, influence, pride, and religious zeal and bigotry in their favor, and all the appliances necessary to great prosperity, and need not the charity of Parliament to help them forward. It is regretted that a more liberal spirit can not be infused through them, that the “better classes” are so determined to keep up invidious distinctions among the young, and thus hinder the moral and intellectual elevation of the nation. But such is aristocracy, and such is sectarianism, in all ages and countries, let the name be what it may. In our own boasted land of free and republican schools, a society taking the lofty name of “National Education” has been formed, to educate for, and send teachers to the Western States, of a particularly religious stamp. Anti-republican and un-christian as the movement is, it finds many friends and advocates. But I am thankful that neither there nor here are the governments guilty of approbating such inconsistencies.

[3*] Numerous cases came to my knowledge afterwards, where the landlords had bought up leases and tenant rights, on condition the owners would remove to America; and also other instances where collections had been made to send persons from the workhouses—paupers and persons guilty of small crimes—to our country for us to support. Such is the glory of British philanthropy and justice! and such the source of the wretchedness and high taxes which abound in our cities!

[4*] “In Galway Union, recent accounts declared the number of poor evicted, and their homes leveled within the last two years, to equal the number in Kilrush—4,000 families and 20,000 human beings are said to have been here also thrown out upon the road, houseless and homeless. I can readily believe the statement, for to me some parts of the country appeared like an enormous graveyard—the numerous gables of the unroofed dwellings seeming to be gigantic tombstones. They were, indeed, records of decay and death far more melancholy than any grave-yard can show. Looking on them, the doubt arose in my mind, am I in a civilized country? Have we really a free constitution? Can such scenes be paralleled in Siberia or [Caffraria]?”—P. Scrope, M. P. Notes on Ireland.

“Dear Sir: I have been for the last ten days through the Counties of Limerick, Galway, Clare, and across thence to the King’s County. . . . . . All   [p. (274)]   attempts to depict the existing state of the misery of the masses beyond the Shannon must come utterly short of the truth. All that tract of country from Killaloe to Portumna, on the Galway side of the Shannon, is lying waste and uncultivated. About three out of four of the miserable huts are unroofed. Some of the former inmates are dead, some in the union, and some few huddled together in one or two of the huts still existing. The men generally have perished.”—Evening Packet.

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