The Dawn (1779-1782)

Patrick Weston Joyce

809. So far the popular party in Ireland had been successful all along; and their ideas grew with their success. They had obtained some relief for trade: they now resolved that their parliament, which was bound down by Poynings' law (308) and by the Sixth of George I. (721), should also be free.

810. On the 19th of April 1780, in a magnificent speech, Grattan moved his memorable resolutions:— That the king with the lords and commons of Ireland are the only power on earth competent to enact laws to bind Ireland.

That Great Britain and Ireland are inseparably united under one sovereign.

The question however was not put directly to a division: Flood was in favour of postponement, the parliament adjourned, and consequently the resolution was not entered on the journals. It was obvious however that the sense of the house was on the side of Grattan.

811. The next conflict was on a Mutiny bill. In England the Mutiny bill—the bill to maintain and regulate the army—is not permanent: it is passed from year to year, lest the army might be used by the king or government as an instrument of oppression. The Mutiny bill for Ireland was passed by the Irish parliament; but having been transmitted to England it was returned changed to a perpetual bill. When this was proposed by the government in the Irish parliament, it was most resolutely opposed, and created fearful irritation and excitement all over the country. But the court party carried it in spite of all expostulation.

812. Meantime the excitement and enthusiam for home government went on; and the opposition, led by Grattan, gained strength and confidence by the great increase of the volunteers, who, much against the wish of the government, continued to be enrolled in the four provinces, and at last numbered 100,000 men.

813. In December 1780, the English government, not satisfied with lord Buckinghamshire's administration, recalled him and sent over the earl of Carlisle as lord lieutenant, with Mr. Eden (afterwards lord Auckland) as secretary.

814. This new viceroy found the whole country agitated on the question of legislative independence. During the early months of 1781 innumerable meetings were held all over Ireland; and what was more significant, there were reviews of the volunteers everywhere in the four provinces.

815. In Belfast lord Charlemont rode through the crowded streets at the head of his splendid corps, and issued an address in which he hailed the spirit of freedom that had enabled them, without help from outside, to provide against foreign invasion, and looked forward to the accomplishment of legislative independence.

816. The action of the English government appears to have been singularly short-sighted and ill-judged in irritating the Irish people at the very time of wars with America, France, Spain, and elsewhere. Their proceedings instead of suppressing the spirit now abroad through the country, or allaying excitement, intensified the discontent and spread the agitation.

817. In the session of 1781, which did not open till October, Grattan was the great leader of the popular party. He was seconded with almost equal ability by Flood, who towards the end of the preceding year, finding his position of enforced silence unendurable, had thrown up his government appointment, joined his old friends, and thereby regained much of his former popularity. They had at their back a number of able and brilliant men—Hely Hutchinson, John Fitzgibbon (afterwards lord Clare, and a bitter enemy of the cause he now advocated), Hussey Burgh, and others.

818. Barry Yelverton had given notice of motion for the 5th of December 1781 for the repeal of Poynings' act; but on that day news came of a great disaster, the surrender of lord Cornwallis and his whole army in America, which ruined the cause of England in the war. Whereupon Yelverton, abandoning his motion for the time, moved an address of loyalty and attachment to the king, which was carried.

819. On the 7th December Grattan drew attention to the rapidly increasing debt, largely due to pensions; but the government, nevertheless, carried their money bills, pensions and all.

On the 11th December, Flood took up Yelverton's motion for an inquiry into Poynings' act; but was defeated by government.

820. During all this session government were able to secure a majority by a skilful and plentiful distribution of patronage:—pensions, places, promotions, titles, and other such inducements. At last Grattan, hopeless of being able to contend successfully in parliament with the government, determined to let the empire hear the voice of even a more powerful pleader. Under the management of lord Charlemont, Flood, and himself, a convention of delegates from the volunteer corps of Ulster was summoned for the 15th of February 1782, at Dungannon, the old home of Hugh O'Neill.

821. Two hundred and forty-two delegates from 143 volunteer corps of the northern province assembled in the Dissenting Meeting House of Dungannon, most of them men of wealth and station. They passed thirteen resolutions, of which the most important were:—

822. That the king, lords, and commons of Ireland have alone the right to legislate for the country.

That Poynings' law is unconstitutional and a grievance, and should be revoked;

That the ports of Ireland should be open to all nations not at war with the king:

That a permanent mutiny bill is unconstitutional:

And "That as men and Irishmen, as Christians and as Protestants, we rejoice in the relaxation of the penal laws against our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects." This last was inserted at the instance of Grattan.

823. The resolutions of the Dungannon Convention were adopted by all the volunteer corps of Ireland; and they formed the basis of the momentous legislation that followed.

824. These spirit-stirring proceedings were altogether the work of Protestants: the Catholics were still shut out from taking any part in them. Yet, though the volunteers were originally instituted for Protestants only, many Catholics were enrolled as time went on.

825. On the day that the Dungannon resolutions were passed. Mr. Gardiner introduced a measure for the relief of Catholics which was adopted. They were allowed to buy, sell, and otherwise dispose of lands the same as their Protestant neighbours; they could celebrate or hear Mass; Catholic schoolmasters could teach schools; the law prohibiting a Catholic from having a horse worth £5 was repealed, as well as those which made Catholics pay for losses by robberies, and which forbade them to come to live in Limerick and Galway.