The Penal Laws

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VII | Start of Chapter

No Catholic could have a seat in the Irish Parliament or give a vote for the election of a Parliamentary candidate. A Catholic could not be a judge, a member of the Bar, of the magistracy, or of any municipal corporation. He was not allowed to serve in the army or navy; he could not be a sheriff, a grand juror, a police constable, or even a parish vestryman. He was forbidden to carry any weapon. To prevent him and his kind from concealing arms two magistrates or sheriffs might, whenever they thought fit, issue a search warrant and ransack every home in the quest for them. Any Catholic found to have weapons hidden about his person or in his house was liable to be fined, imprisoned, whipped, or put in the pillory, or to undergo a combination of these punishments. Any Catholic owning a horse worth more than was acting against the law, and to discourage his possession of such forbidden property he was compelled by law to surrender his most valuable horse at once to any Protestant neighbour or passer-by who might tender that sum. He could not buy land, or inherit it; or even receive it as a gift. If the eldest son of a Catholic became a Protestant, he became also the owner of whatever estate his father might possess, and thus reduced the father to the position of a life tenant. A Catholic wife who turned Protestant was legally set free from the control of her husband, and a certain portion of her husband's property or earnings was assigned for her independent use. The child of a Catholic had only to profess himself or herself a Protestant in order to be put under the guardianship of some Protestant relative, the father being compelled to pay an annual sum for the bringing up of his offspring. So far as the law could accomplish such an end, all manner of education was denied to the Irish Catholic.