Government Worries about Irish Tithe War

Some excerpts from a report from a House of Commons select committee that investigated the ongoing Tithe War in Ireland, showing just how successful the tax resistance campaign had become, and how frightened it had made the government:

In the prosecution of the inquiries of your committee into the very important subject which has been intrusted to them, evidence has been adduced to establish beyond a doubt the existence of an organised and systematic opposition to the payment of tithe in several parts of Ireland. In some instances it appears that this opposition has been accompanied and enforced by acts of violence; but in most it appears to have been effected by a species of passive resistance to the operations of the law, in which the inhabitants of whole parishes, some voluntarily, and some from intimidation, have been induced to join.

The protection of the military and police, so far as it is authorized by the existing laws, appears to have been afforded to the Clergy of the Established Church in their endeavours to enforce their legal rights; but your committee regret to be compelled to add, that while the assistance thus afforded has led to collisions with the peasantry, deeply to be lamented in their immediate as well as in their ulterior results, the object sought has been only very partially attained.

Although, under warrants of distress, payment of the demand has been in some instances enforced, such cases bear a very small proportion to those in which the evasion of the law has been successful. The nature of the opposition given is such as to elude the mere application of physical force, so long as the law remains unaltered; and it appears that the clergy, unwilling to risk the effusion of blood in attempts, probably unavailing, to recover their dues, have latterly acquiesced in the total cessation of their income, as to abstain from taking active steps, and to await with patience the decision of Parliament.

In making, however, this temporary submission to the dictates of an imperious necessity, it is in evidence that many of them have been reduced to a state of the deepest pecuniary distress; and that more especially in the diocese of Ossory and of Leighlin, in which the opposition to the payment of tithe commenced, and in that of Cashel, several clergymen, with large nominal incomes, are in actual want of the ordinary comforts of life.

Your committee cannot but be of opinion that they should be wanting in the duty that they owe to the House, were they to postpone till the final close of their inquiries, calling the attention of Parliament to the distressing circumstances in which a highly-respectable class of men are placed by the success of the combination to deprive them of their legal income; and suggesting such temporary measures of relief as in their view appear calculated to meet the exigencies of the case.

But however strongly your committee might have been led to this conclusion by the circumstances to which they have already referred, they feel that there are other considerations connected with the same subject, which yet more imperiously press for the early attention of Parliament.

Your committee are deeply impressed with the danger which must threaten the whole frame of society, if a combination against a legal impost be permitted ultimately to triumph over the provisions of the law. They cannot but feel how small the step from successful resistance to tithe, to resistance to rent and taxes; and how great is the temptation held out by the experience of such success in one case, to a similar opposition to the payment of other pecuniary demands.

If the sanctity of the law be systematically violated, if the proof be once afforded that turbulence leads directly to relief, and that popular combination is sufficiently powerful to overbear legitimate authority, the most effectual security of all property is shaken, the framework of Government and of society is disorganized, and a state of confusion and anarchy must ensue.

Your committee have too much reason to apprehend that the general success which has hitherto attended the resistance to tithe, has already given proof of its tendency to produce this effect. Not only is the opposition to that species of property rapidly extending, not only has the same cessation taken place in the payment of the lay impropriations, the resistance to which cannot rest upon the same religious scruples which have been urged with respect to ecclesiastical tithes, but intimidation and violence of a similar character have, in some few instances, been manifested against the recovery of the landlord’s rent; and your committee are deeply impressed with the necessity of resorting, without delay, to such measures as may enable the executive government, by a vigorous interposition of its authority, to put a stop to a system ruinous to the tranquility and welfare of the empire.

More on the Tithe War, from the edition of The [New Brunswick] Courier:

The combination in Ireland against the payment of tithes has of late assumed a new shape. Immense meetings are held, which form themselves into tribunals, before which persons accused of the crime of tithe-paying are summoned to appear, and give an account of their conduct; and defaulters undergo the punishment of being abandoned at once by every person in their employment. Country gentlemen and farmers are left without a servant or labourer to perform the most necessary work. The hay is left to rot on the ground, and the cattle to perish for want of the necessary food, drink, and care; and even on the roads it is common for the horses of the mails and stage-coaches to be changed by the coachmen and passengers, because the unhappy recusant innkeeper has been deserted by every one, even to his hostler. Such is the terror of this new species of judicial authority, that numbers of highly respectable persons have found it necessary, in order to avert ruinous consequences, to appear before these self-constituted courts, acknowledge their jurisdiction, and promise to give obedience to their decrees! For this new evil the Irish government is providing a remedy. An official circular has been issued, under the authority of the Lord Lieutenant, to the magistracy, in which they are informed, that, whether the means employed in resisting the payment of tithes be actual violence or intimidation, they are illegal, and that the most prompt and effectual measures should be adopted to counteract them. In regard to such meetings as the above, it is stated that the recurrence will render it incumbent on Magistrates to exert the powers with which the law invites them, to suppress the mischief and bring the guilty to punishment. And with respect to cases of doubt whether the law has been violated, they are directed to cause the parties implicated to be identified, and to have informations of the particulars of the case sworn and transmitted to Government for the opinions of the law officers.

Another report from the same paper reads:

The people of Ireland have now virtually abolished tithes. They will neither pay the tax themselves, nor have any dealings or intercourse with those who do. They will not even purchase for a twentieth or hundredth part of their value goods and cattle which have been distrained for tithes. The man who in any way upholds the obnoxious system, whatever his previous character or services may have been, is branded as an object of universal execration. The people meet in thousands and hundreds of thousands — peaceable, orderly, quiet; but animated with one strong and universal sentiment — the detestation of tithes. It is admitted on all hands that a most richly-endowed Church in the midst of an impoverished people, nine-tenths of whom do not belong to her communion, and receive no return whatever for their forced contributions on her behalf, is an anomaly which cannot much longer exist.

This comes from the edition of The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (showing that certain tactics of the “Tithe War” were already in place well before ):

The Irish papers describe many recent outrages. The last offences on record are — 1st, a wanton burning of farm produce, and barbarous mutilations of cattle, in the neighbourhood of Doneraile, county of Cork; 2d, the destruction of a Mr. Nash’s house, at Balivaloon, in the same county, the villainy of which act was doubly detestable, because it was in charity to a tenant that the proprietor had taken this farm off his hands, after remitting to him a large arrear of rent;— 3d, a large quantity of stacked corn, the property of a churchwarden of Morne Abbey, consumed by fire;— 4th, a horse butchered near Garrycloyne, as a punishment to the owner who had lent him to draw home some tithe corn;— 5th, a stack of wheat burned near Limerick, because it had been seized and sold for an arrear of rent; some other corn, sold for a similar cause, carried off;— 6th, cows and gunpowder plundered from the owners near Limerick, by a gang of men in arms.

This comes from the edition of The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (the reason so many of these reports of Irish tax resistance are from Australian papers, is that the Historic Australian Newspapers project has put large archives on-line for free searching and browsing):

A most extraordinary scene has been exhibited in this city. Some cows seized for tithes were brought to a public place for sale, escorted by a squadron of lancers, and followed by thousands of infuriated people. All the garrison, cavalry and infantry, under the command of Sir George Bingham, were called out. The cattle were set up at three pounds for each, no bidder; two pounds, no bidder; one pound, no bidder; in short, the auctioneer descended to three shillings for each cow, but no purchaser appeared. This scene lasted for above an hour, when there being no chance of making sale of the cattle, it was proposed to adjourn the auction; but, as we are informed, the General in command of the military expressed an unwillingness to have the troops subjected to a repetition of the harassing duty thus imposed on them. After a short delay, it was, at the interference and remonstrance of several gentlemen, both of town and country, agreed upon that the cattle should be given up to the people, subject to certain private arrangements. We never witnessed such a scene; thousands of country people jumping with exulted feelings at the result, wielding their shillelaghs, and exhibiting all the other symptoms of exuberant joy characteristic of the buoyancy of Irish feeling.

At Carlow a triumphant resistance to the laws, similar to that which occurred at Cork, has been exhibited in the presence of the authorities and the military. Some cattle had been seized for tithe, and a public sale announced, when a large body of men, stated at 50,000, marched to the place appointed, and, of course, under the influence of such terror, none were found to bid for the cattle. The sale was adjourned from day to day, for seven days, and upon each day the same organised bands entered the town, and rendered the attempt to sell the cattle, in pursuance of the law, abortive. At last the cattle are given up to the mob, crowned with laurels, and driven home with an escort of 10,000 men.

From The Hobart Town Courier :

Carding the tithe proctors (who certainly were the genuine tyrants of Ireland) was occasionally resorted to by the White Boys, and was performed in the following manner. The tithe proctor was generally waked out of his first sleep by his door being smashed in; and the boys in white shirts desired him “never to fear,” as they only intended to card him this bout for taking a quarter instead of a tenth from every poor man in the parish. They then turned him on his face upon the bed; and taking a lively ram cat out of a bag which they brought with them, they set the cat between the proctor’s shoulders. The beast, being nearly as much terrified as the proctor, would endeavour to get off; but being held fast by the tail, he intrenched every claw deep in the proctor’s back, in order to keep up a firm resistance to the White Boys. The more the tail was pulled back, the more the ram cat tried to go forward; at length, when he had, as he conceived, made his possession quite secure, main force convinced him to the contrary, and that if he kept his hold, he must lose his tail. So, he was dragged backward to the proctor’s loins, grappling at every pull, and bringing away, here and there, strips of the proctor’s skin, to prove the pertinacity of his defence. When the ram cat had got down to the loins, he was once more placed at the shoulders, and again carded the proctor (toties quoties) according to his sentence.

From The Hobart Town Courier :

Tithe Affray.

An affray, attended with the loss of two lives, occurred on between the peasantry and some persons who were endeavouring to issue notices upon some tithe defaulters, in the parish of Blarney, near Cork. A Mr. Hudson, a very respectable man, took upon him unfortunately to accompany and direct a small body of men (not police) who were commissioned by Mr. Beresford, the rector of Inniscarra, to serve notices upon several in the parish spoken of; and as they proceeded in the discharge of their duty they were assailed violently by the country people, who continued to fling stones and other missiles at them for a considerable time before any hostile defence was adopted by the other party. At length Mr. Hudson cautioned the crowd to desist, at least, from offering any assault, whatever else they might please to do. However, this forbearance had quite a contrary effect, and the multitude were approaching Hudson with the evident intention of sacrificing him, when he fired and shot one of the ruffians; the rest immediately withdrew. The men whom Hudson had in his immediate charge very imprudently scattered; and thus, abandoned by them, he was brutally murdered by the mob, who mangled his corpse in a very frightful manner.

Finally, this editorial from The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, :

Tithe Horrors.

The state of Ireland, according to the latest accounts, has by no means tended to allay the anxiety so generally felt in regard to the stern and deadly feeling of resistance to the levy of tithes, prevailing throughout every province of that noble Country. The Catholic peasantry had evidently become embued with a sullen spirit — they suffered their property to be torn from them, rather than yield a little to pay the Protestant Clergyman from whose religion they derived no benefit. This state of things cannot long last — patience must become exhausted, and rebellion or violence overspread the Country.

We had, during the Whig Government of Earl Grey, some prospect of a change, favourable to the Catholics, as a people who are fleeced and oppressed by a lavish non-resident Aristocracy, and a ravenous Clergy. When Tory mis-rule superseded the Liberals and Reformers, anticipation ceased to operate freely and favourably. The Whigs have again a voice in the National Council — but we fear much that the prediliction of His Majesty, as the third estate, and the rooted determination of the Lords, as the second, to support the Protestant Church in all its abuses, and power, will frustrate for a long time, the zeal of the Commons and the energy of the British people.

When we see a tithe of only one shilling raised by expenses to two pounds more, and property actually sold under the bustle of bayonets, because the Catholic peasant will not pay this trifle, surely such a feeling presents an ominous picture, and should oblige Government to pause before the endurance of an oppressed people seeks a fierce and violent remedy for all the injuries of which they have been the victims. This grievous and sacrilegious exercise of a sovereign power can hardly be excelled by any act of wanton extravagance in a conquered province, on the part of an insolent and powerful enemy.

One instance of this dreadful state of existence, will serve as an index to thousands equally enormous. We have before us a list of six persons against whom collectively the Reverend H.F. Williams, a Protestant Clergyman, had a tithe claim of twenty shillings and two pence; they refused to pay — expenses on this trifle, by separate processes, were incurred to the amount of twenty-four pounds, and shameful to narrate, the miserable furniture of these conscientious Catholic peasants was brought to the hammer, in presence of the claimant, and a party of armed soldiers!!!