Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Penal Laws enacted against the Irish Catholics— General State of the Kingdom in 1652. part 9.

§ 9.—Constancy Of The Irish In The Faith.

The author of Cambrensis Eversus well contrasts the condition of the Irish nation, with that of other countries, at the close of this sad period :—

"The happiness of the other nations of Europe has often excited our envy. They have peace on every side, and dwell everyone under his own vine and fig-tree, but we are expelled from our home and country; others overflow with abundance of all things, we are emaciated by want; the foreigner is naturalized amongst us, the natives are made aliens. In foreign cities majestic piles of new buildings are every day towering to the skies, with us the foundations of not a single house are laid, while the old are heaps of crumbling ruins, their roofs open to the rains, and their walls rent, or mere shells and shapeless masses. In other countries temples are zealously decorated, with us they are either levelled to the ground or roofless, or desecrated by tribunals which condemn men to death, or by similar sacrilegious uses. The children of foreigners receive a learned education, which is contraband and penal in our country. With them the clergy are honoured, with us they are either in dungeons or forests, bogs or caverns. The universal law of the Christian world has exempted from slavery all who profess the Christian religion; but your Irish subjects are torn from the" arms of their wives and children by civic vultures, and transported and sold as slaves in India. Thus are the children of the Irish made a prey, and their wives carried off, and their cities destroyed, and their holy things profaned, and themselves made a reproach to the nations. . . . There is no species of injury which the enemies have not inflicted on the Irish, no virulence which they have not disgorged, no torture which they have not employed."

It would, indeed, be difficult to find in history a parallel for that ever-redoubled cruelty which the Puritans displayed. Yet it was impossible to weaken the innate attachment of the Roman Catholics to their holy religion. Countless was the number of those who perished by the sword of the persecutor, or on the scaffold, yet the survivors declared themselves ready to risk the same torments rather than renounce the Catholic faith. When they were offered the enjoyment of their possessions, should they embrace the new creed, all, as in Cork, went forth from their homes, embracing poverty, and cold, and nakedness, in preference to prosperity with the wicked ; when their lives were offered to them if they only delivered up their priests to the mercy of the enemy, they choose to be butchered with the martyrs of God rather than live with the impious ; when, as we have just seen, the oath of abjuration was commanded, under penalty of the loss of the little goods that yet remained to them, they, with one accord, resolved to cling to the cross of Christ, and reject the proffered boon. As a true Christian people, they looked upon all their sufferings as chastisements from the hands of God, and their chief care was, by penitential deeds, to avert his indignation. One instance is especially recorded in the "Description of Ireland in 1654" :—

"Throughout the entire kingdom prayers and fasting were ordered; the priest in each district exhorting- the people to appease the anger of God. With such exactness was this order obeyed, that there was not one Catholic throughout the entire kingdom who did not fast for three days on bread and water, and even the little children of four, or perhaps only three years, most rigorously observed that fast; moreover, all that had attained the proper age were consoled with the holy sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. No sooner did this piety of the people become known, than, like oil cast upon the fire, the fury of the heretics was rekindled three-fold, and, like hungry wolves, they now breathe nothing but slaughter, and threaten to pursue, with still more atrocious violence, the children of Christ."

Thus, as often in the ways of God, the immediate result of the piety of our people seemed to be only a redoubling of the persecutor's rage, and yet these prayers were not breathed in vain; "a remnant remained in Israel;" all the power and ingenuity of the enemy could not root out the tree of faith, and the 500,000 Catholics that then survived in Ireland were in less than two hundred years swelled to more than eight millions.

Sir William Petty, writing in 1672, states that the population of Ireland, in 1641, was 1,466,000, the Catholics being to Protestants as eleven to two. After the devastation of the country by the Puritans, the population could not be accurately determined, yet the same writer (page 29), estimates the proportion of Catholics to Protestants as eight to one- Lord Orrery, writing to the Duke of Ormond, Feb. 26, 1662, says—" It is high time to purge the towns of the papists, as in most of them there are three papists to one Protestant." At the same time, in the rural districts, the Catholics were as fifteen to one. Dr. Plunket, in some of his letters, states the proportion of Catholics to Protestants throughout Ireland as eleven to one; but he subsequently adds that the proportion was small in the northern counties. It cannot, of course, be pretended that these calculations were accurate, for, owing to the state of the country, it must have been impossible to learn the precise number of the Catholic inhabitants in the rural districts. One thing, however, they sufficiently prove, that the persecutors had not attained the desired end, and that with the Irish race the Catholic religion was still firmly rooted in Ireland. Sir William Petty describes as follows the religion of our country at this period :—"All the Irish are Catholics; the Scotch colonists are Presbyterians; the English are one-half Protestant, the other half Independents, Anabaptists, Quakers, and other dissenters."

We have already often had occasion to refer to a manuscript narrative of the Jesuit Mission in Ireland, written about the year 1655; from it we extract the following record of the devotedness of the surviving natives in enduring every suffering rather than abandon the Catholic faith :—

"Although heresy and tyranny, in the fullness of its pride, strove by every artifice and cruelty, to extirpate this people, and wished that there" should be no smith in Israel, that thus the nations might be either overwhelmed in ignorance, or compelled to whet their arms in the forges of the Philistines; nevertheless, the Irish, despising every danger, choose rather to send their children to distant lands in search of learning, than that they should enjoy at home domestic ease under heretical masters, imperiling their faith. So tenaciously and indomitably has the whole nation clung to the Catholic faith in its full integrity and purity, that in a thousand Irishmen, scarcely one can be found who is not thoroughly devoted to the Holy See; and even the heretics who came to Ireland from other countries, when they have lived there for a little while, and become accustomed to the genius of the people, gradually detest their heresies, and embrace the Catholic religion."