More of the Causes of Bad Feeling

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXX (9) start of chapter

A similar instance of this holding the British Government responsible for an act of individual cruelty was related to me by an eminent Irish ecclesiastic in one of the Eastern States. In the course of his periodical visitation he became acquainted with a respectable and thriving Irish farmer, who appeared to be in great comfort, his land in fine condition, and his stock of cattle of a good description and abundant. This man was always glad to see the priest coming round, and thought 'he could never make enough of him.' A widower with several children, his house was managed by his wife's sister, who had altogether devoted herself to their welfare. He was a man of abstemious habits, regular life, and inclined to reserve, as if, as the clergyman said, there was some kind of cloud always over his mind. Nothing could exceed his care in the religious training of his young people, in which task he was well seconded by their excellent aunt. But there was this singularity about him,—that, whatever his desire to have his family grow up in the practice of their faith, he never would go to confession.

The priest, as was his duty, spoke to him more than once on the subject; but he was answered evasively, and put off on one plea or another. At length, determined to push the matter home, he said to him—'Now I must speak to you seriously, and you must listen to me as your pastor, who is answerable before God for the welfare of his flock. Your children are now growing up about you, and they will be men and women in a short time, and you should show them an example in your own person of a Catholic father. You are aware how important it is that they should be strong in their faith before they become men and women, and go into the world, where they will no longer be subject to your control, or that of their good pious aunt; but if you don't yourself set them the example, how can you expect they will always continue as they now are—devoted to their religion? Tell me, then, why won't you go to your duty here—where God has prospered your industry—as you did in the old country in former times?' 'Well, Father,' he replied, 'I tell you what it is—I can't go; that's the truth of it, and for a good reason too. I know my religion well enough to tell me I must forgive my enemies, or I can't get absolution—that I know sure enough, for my mother wasn't without telling me as much, and I never forgot it, and 'tis always before me, sleeping and waking. Then, as you must know the truth of it—and 'tis the blessed truth I'm telling you—I can't and I won't forgive them—I never can, and what's more, I never will, to my dying day. Father, that's just the whole of it.' 'Nonsense, man,' said the priest, 'that's not the language of a Christian—an infidel might speak to me in that manner. Why, the Redeemer, who saved you and yours by his blood, forgave his enemies —and you, a Christian man! brought up in a Catholic country, to talk of not forgiving your enemies!' 'True for you, Father—all true—true as the Gospel—I know it; but still there's something in me that I can't get over. I told your reverence I was turned out of my land, where my father and his people before him lived, I don't know how long. Well, sure enough, that same has been many a better man's case, and more's the pity. But that wasn't it. but the way 'twas done. There didn't come out of the heavens a bitterer morning when the sheriff was at my door with the crowbar men, and a power of peelers, and the army too, as if 'twas going to war they were, instead of coming to drive an honest man and his family from house and home. My poor ould father was at his last with rheumatics, and the doctor said 'twas coming to his heart—and my wife too, saving your reverence's presence, was big with child. 'Twas a bad time, God knows, for us to be put out. I asked the agent, who was there, for a week, to see and get a place; but I couldn't get a day—no, not an hour; he said the law should take its coorse, and it did take its coorse, and a bad wicked coorse it was. My mother—she did it, Father, before I could stop her—knelt down to him in her grey hairs; but 'twas no good—you might as well talk to that stone there. I told them the state of my poor ould father—that was no use either; out we should go into the bitter could, and not as much as a place to put our heads! There were others as bad as ourselves, for the whole townland was 'under notice.' I can't tell you all that happened that morning, or that night—I was like a man out of his rayson, that didn't know what he was about, or what was happening to him. But this I know well enough—that my ould father was taken out on the bed he lay on, and he died that night in the gripe of the ditch, under the shelter we made for him with a few bits of boords and sticks and a quilt; and my wife—God rest her blessed sowl this day!—was brought to bed—what a bed it was!—of the youngest child—she you heard just now in her catechism; and my poor wife—my poor girl, Father, died in my arms the next day!'

Here the strong man, with a fierce gesture, dashed the tears from his eyes. 'Well, Father, I went down on my knees, and, the Lord pardon me! I swore I'd never forgive that night and day, and the men that done that wrong—and I never will—and I'll never forgive the bloody English Government that allowed a man to be treated worse than I'd treat a dog, let lone a Christian, and sent their peelers and their army to help them to do it to me and others. No, Father, 'tis no use your talking to me, I can't forgive them; and what's more, I teach my children to hate them too. It would be like turning false to her that's in the grave—the mother of my children—if I ever forgave that bitter day and bitter night.' Again and again, for years, the zealous priest never ceased to urge on that dark spirit the necessity of imitating the Divine example; and it was not until the illness of the daughter whose birthplace was the ditch-side in the bleak winter, softened the father's heart, that he bowed his head in humility, or that the word 'forgiveness' passed his lips. But forgiveness did not necessitate love; and though he had never taken an active part in any organisation, yet whatever was ostensibly adverse to the British Government had his sympathy, and that of his children.

I do not care to speculate as to the number of the class of evicted tenants scattered through the United States, whether, like the men just mentioned, prosperous possessors of land, or adding unduly to the population of some of the great towns; but wherever they exist, there are to be found willing contributors to Fenian funds, and enthusiastic supporters of anti-British organisations.

Then there are the descendants of 'the men of '98,' to whom their fathers left a legacy of hate. Americans these may be, and proud of their birth-right; yet they cherish an affection for the land of their fathers, and a deep-seated hostility to the country which they were taught to regard as its oppressor. From the date of the Irish rebellion to the present hour every successive agitation. or disturbance has driven its promoters, its sympathisers, or its victims, across the ocean; and thus, from year to year, from generation to generation, has an anti-English feeling been constantly quickened into active life, and been widely diffused throughout America; until now, not only does it permeate the whole Irish mass, but it is cherished as fondly and fiercely in the log cabin of the prairie or the forest as it is in the midst of the bustle and movement of the city.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America