Scenes from the Irish Tithe War

Here are some excerpts from the archives of The Spectator that concern the Irish Tithe War of .

First, from “Opinions of the Press: The Tithe War” ():

 … If in Ireland events are fast hastening to destruction the Protestant Established Church “guaranteed at the Union,” we have lay preachers in England haranguing every parish against the system of English tithes. The country papers teem with reports of resolutions of grand juries against the pressure of local taxation, revolts against church-rates, superadded to poor and country levies; determination of rate-payers not to sanction the expense of gas-light for evening services; parsons lowering their tithe 10, 15, and 25 per cent. under the illuminating influence of “Swing;” whole parishes meeting to proscribe the clergy and petition against this odious, oppressive, overwhelming impost! …The landowners and farmers are practically learning the rudiments of political economy; and low prices, high rents, and a restricted currency, have revealed to them that the clergy belong to the classes distinguished as unproductive labourers. They have picked up, in the course of their inquiries into the causes of agricultural distress (and some of them, may be, from Mr. Cobbett’s Sermons and Ecclesiastical Histories), that the support of the poor was anciently a lien on the tithe; and that the clergy have silently and cunningly contrived by process of time to get rid of that burden and shuffle it on the laymen. Hence the same men who, a few years since, were as willingly pewed in the parish-church as their sheep were penned up in night-folds, halloo out against a hired a paid priesthood as a public nuisance, the sooner gotten rid of the better! If this marvelous state of society is not a revolution, we do not know what merits that appellation. The farmers now everywhere inquire what services the clergy render for eight millions sterling per annum, forced out of the pockets of the people — whether the services rendered are in proportion to the wages — how their duties are individually executed, and what their moral conduct and personal character. …what farmer now believes that above one clergyman in a hundred dedicates his life to the ministry from any other motive than to get a good living, alias tithes? The agriculturalist, naturally, therefore, regards the parsons as a money-seeking, grasping set of men. He views the parish-spire as a deserter eyes the sentry-box of his obnoxious guard on duty — and there is one such sentry-box, if not two, in every parish! The scenes which are now acting beggar belief.

From “Ireland” ():

The Tithe war continues in Ireland; or rather we would say it has ceased, by the yielding at discretion of the weaker of the parties in the struggle — the Clergy. The most remarkable display of the energy of the people that has hitherto been made, was exhibited at Cork last week. On , fifteen cows distrained for tithes due to Mr. Freeman, Rector of Ardngeehy, arrived in Cork, escorted by a troop of Lancers — a most honourable escort for cows. The sale was advertised for . At , 10,000 people arrived in Cork to witness the sale. We quote the following striking description of the scene from the Cork Southern Reporter

Surrounded by the troops, the process of auctioning was commenced — the auctioneer, a stranger, it is said a resident of Middleton. They were set up at 3l. for each — no bidder; 2l. — no bidder; 1l. — no bidder; in short, he descended to three shillings for each cow, but no purchaser appeared. This scene lasted for over 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 subject 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. At this hour, the cattle, followed by the people, frantic with joy, have just passed our office. We never witnessed such a seene — thousands of the country people jumping with exulting feelings at the result — wielding their shillelaghs, and exhibiting all the other symptoms of exuberant joy characteristic of the buoyancy of Irish feeling. When the result was known, clamorous and irrepressible cheering for the military burst forth. Their conduct, indeed, was praiseworthy beyond any thing which language can describe. Three cheers were then given for General Sir George Bingham, and were followed by shouts the most deafening. Nothing could be more suitable to the occasion than his mode of conducting the proceeding. The people, to be sure, were under the guidance and amenable to the direction of persons in whom they could confide; but even were it otherwise, his manner and courteous demeanour would secure order. As the military passed through Patrick Street, they were loudly complimented by the gentlemen of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Reporter adds–

Would that the Irish Secretary could have witnessed this scene; it would guide him to more correct notions entire subject of tithes in Ireland.

We doubt this. The Secretary belongs to a set of men whom no evidence will turn from the way they have once chosen, — for the simple reason, that evidence had no concern with their choice. This is not the only case in which sales have been in vain resorted to. The same play has been played at Carlow, and with precisely the same success. We need not say, where will these things end. He must be very short-sighted who does not see that.

From “The Tory Tithe War in Ireland: Down with the Tithes!” ():

Irish nature is human nature still, notwithstanding centuries have been employed in brutalizing it. Quick sensibility to wrong, and the determination to resist it even unto the death, are characteristics of the Irish nation. Ireland has become as unfortunate a field for Tory experiments in the art of governing, as could well have been selected. As long as money was to he had by any means, however extortionate and cruel — as long as tithe-proctors could get the “rem, quocunque modo rem,” all went on smoothly to the eye of Protestant dignitaries. But now, the very poverty which formerly rendered the latter so easy a prey, makes him desperate. The little he has to give, he will not give to the Protestant parson without fighting. He is not a person to be reasoned or treated with. Like Rob Roy in the novel, “he has gone down to the hill-side, shouldered his claymore, and become a broken man.”

Every week adds to the national exasperation against the Protestant Church. A few days ago, there was a battle in the county of Armagh between a tithe-collecting party of military and police and the racked and ruined peasantry. Shots were fired, many were wounded, and one poor fellow was killed. The tithe-owner, the Reverend Mr. Blacker, a Magistrate, witnessed the battle, as he was out tithe-gathering with the party. A fitting employment this for a lowly minister of Christ’s gospel of peace! The account of this affair will be read to the Catholic peasantry, with probably half-a-dozen others of a similar description, at every polling-place throughout the country, and by every priest from the altar.

From “Irish Tithe Massacres: Down with the Tithes!” ():

A few days ago, thirteen men were shot, and eight others wounded, in resisting a party of the military, who were employed to force the payment of tithe from a widow woman, to a dignitary of the Church, Archdeacon Ryder, in the county of Cork. It matters little how the massacre began: it may be (though the accounts are, as usual, contradictory,) that the country-people commenced the attack by throwing stones. This may make a material difference as to the strict legality of the slaughter that ensued, but does not lessen our abhorrence of the system of supporting that unbearable nuisance the Irish Church, which the Tories are pledged to maintain. The Rathcormack massacre adds one other to the thousand proofs already before the British nation, that the Church in Ireland can only be maintained on its present footing by bayonet and bullet.

From “The Church in the Three Kingdoms” ():

The [following] extract is taken from the Carlow Sentinel, a Tory advocate of a vigorous prosecution of the rights of the Church; and will form a fitting conclusion to our present survey of Church affairs.

On Friday, the Sub-Sheriff of the county, Henry Butler, Esq., accompanied by Captain Blake, Sub-Inspector of the county, Chief Constables Fitzgibbon and Trent, and forty of the Constabulary, with a Captain and twenty of the Fusileers, proceeded to post tithe-notices in the parishes of Hacketstown and Rathvilly. At an early hour, the whole party arrived at Hacketstown, and posted the notices according to law on the chapel and church doors: they were hooted and abused, but no further obstruction was given the civil authorities, in the execution of their duty. From Hacketstown they proceeded to Rathvilly, where they met a different reception from the lawless and disorganized population of that parish. On their arrival at the latter place, large masses of men were concentrated at the avenue leading to the chapel. The walls enclosing the chapel-yard were lined with men armed with pitch-forks, scithes, bludgeons, and stones, while the women had a plentiful supply of boiling water, supplied by the inhabitants of the village. After the notices were posted on the church-door, the Sheriff marched his party to the chapel; the gates of which were locked, and the chapel-yard filled with men to oppose his entrance. He proceeded to the house of Priest Gahan for the key; but he was not to be found! The Sheriff next ordered the Police to scale the walls to post the notices on the chapel; upon which the party were assailed by a general volley of stones and missiles. The Police were repeatedly beaten off the walls; but they again retook them, with a cool intrepidity and a forbearance unparalleled. Having gained the yard amid showers of stones, the Police formed, and, after priming and loading, succeeded in posting the notices. Captain Blake acted, we are informed, with firmness and determination; and, we regret to say, is desperately wounded. The Police, in self defence, after seeing the Sub-Inspector fall from blows of stones, fired some shots; but whether they took effect or not, we have as yet received no intelligence. Nine Policemen are severely wounded, three of whom were assailed by boiling water. Here is an awful picture of the county. We would offer some observations on this awful outrage on the civil authorities, but far the lateness of the hour the intelligence reached us.

Further Intelligence.

We have received information on going to press, that the boiling water which was poured on the Police was actually brought out of the chapel! Such is the dreadful state of one poor man, that the hair has dropped off his head!