New Causes of Strife

Patrick Weston Joyce

355. If there had been no additional disturbing influences after the reign of Henry VIII., it is probable that Ireland would have begun to settle down, and that there would have been no serious or prolonged resistance. But now two new elements of discord were introduced; for the government entered on the task of forcing the Irish people to become Protestant; and at the same time they began to plant various parts of the country with colonies of settlers from England and Scotland, for whom the native inhabitants were to be expelled. The Irish on their part resisted, and fought long and resolutely for their religion and their homes; and the old struggle was intensified and embittered by religious feelings. The Plantations succeeded, though not to the extent expected; the attempt to Protestantise the Irish, though continued for three centuries, was a failure. These two projects were either directly or indirectly the causes of nearly all the dreadful wars that desolated this unhappy country during the period comprised in the present part of our history.

356. There were other evil influences also. When a chief who had got a title from the king died, his son or next heir succeeded to title and land, according to English law; but according to the Irish law of Tanistry, he whom the tribe elected succeeded to the chiefship and to the mensal land (53 and 58). Thus when this titled chief died, English and Irish law came, in a double sense, into direct antagonism; and there was generally a contest, in which the government supported the heir, and the tribe the tanist. This was the origin of many disturbances.

357. The disturbing influence next to be mentioned was in some respects the most general and far-reaching of all. Ireland was then, as it has always been, the weak point of the empire in case of invasion from abroad. For some time before the accession of Elizabeth, and all through her reign, there were continual reports, both in England and Ireland, of hostile expeditions from Spain or France to Ireland. These reports, some of which, as we shall see, were well founded, generally caused great terror, sometimes panic, on the part of the government.

358. The best plan to provide against this danger would have been to govern the people so as to attach them to the empire and make them ready to rise in its defence. But the government took the other course: they governed the people by force and kept them down to prevent them giving aid to an invader; and they made themselves intensely unpopular by needless harshness. The consequence of this was that any invader, no matter from what quarter, would have been welcomed and aided, by both native Irish and Anglo Irish.

359. All this again had a further result. If a chief encouraged by the prospect of help from abroad, rose in rebellion, it was not enough, as it would be under ordinary circumstances, to reduce him to submission, inflict reasonable punishment, and take guarantees for future good behaviour. He was executed or banished, or brought prisoner to London; and the people, who were mostly blameless, were expelled or exterminated, and the whole district turned into a desert, in order that an invader should have neither help nor foothold. For examples of this see paragraphs 407 and 503.

360. A disquieting agency less serious than any of the preceding, but still a decided element of disturbance, was the settled policy of the Tudors to anglicise the Irish people. To accomplish this the government employed all the agencies at their disposal, and employed them in vain. Acts of parliament were passed commanding the natives to drop their Irish language and learn English, and to ride, dress, and live after the English fashion. The legislators undertook to regulate how the hair was to be worn and how the beard was to be clipped; and for women, the colour of their dresses, the number of yards of material they were to use, the sort of hats they were to wear, with many other such like silly provisions. These laws were, as might he expected, almost wholly inoperative; for the people went on speaking Irish, shaving, riding, and dressing just the same as before. But like all such laws, they were very exasperating; and they were among the causes that rendered the government of that time so universally odious in Ireland.