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THE IRISH REBELLION.
ONE story was still current, and very frequently repeated, at the time of my own residence upon the scene of these transactions. It would not be fair to mention it without saying, at the same time, that the Bishop, whose discretion was so much impeached by the affair, had the candor to blame himself most heavily, and always ap plauded the rebel for the lesson he had given him; but still it serves to show the contagiousness of that blind spirit of aristocratic haughtiness which then animated the Royal party. The case was this: Day after day the Royal forces had been accumulating upon military posts in the neighborhood of Killala, and could be descried from elevated stations in that town. Stories travelled simultaneously to Killala, every hour, of the atrocities which marked their advance; many, doubtless, being fictitious, either of blind hatred, or of that ferocious policy which sought to make the rebels desperate, by involving them in the last extremities of guilt and massacre; but, unhappily, too much countenanced as to their general outline, by excesses on the Royal part, already proved, and undeniable. The ferment and the agitation increased every hour amongst the rebel occupants of Killala. The French had no power to protect, beyond the moral one of their in
fluence as allies; and in the very crisis of this alarming situation, a rebel came to the Bishop with the news that the Royal cavalry was at that moment advancing from Sligo, and could be traced along the country by the line of blazing houses which accompanied their march. The Bishop, of course, doubted, could not believe, and so forth. 'Come with me,' said the rebel.
It was a matter of policy to yield, and his Lordship went. They ascended together the Needle-tower-hill, from the summit of which the Bishop now discovered that the fierce rebel had spoken but too truly. A line of smoke and fire ran over the country in the rear of a strong patrol detached from the King's forces. The moment was critical; the rebel's expressed the unsettled state of his feelings; and, at that instant, the imprudent Bishop uttered a sentiment which, to his dying day he could not forget. They,' said he, meaning the ruined houses, they are only wretched cabins.' The rebel mused, and for a few moments seemed in self-conflict: a dreadful interval to the Bishop, who became sensible of his own extreme imprudence the very moment after the words had escaped him. However, the man contented himself with saying, after a pause, 'A poor man's cabin is to him as valuable as a palace.' It is probable that this retort was far from expressing the deep moral indignation at his heart, though his readiness of mind failed to furnish him with one more stinging. And in such cases all depends upon the first movement of vindictive feeling being broken. The Bishop, however, did not forget the lesson he had received, nor did he fail to blame himself most heavily,—not so much for his imprudence, as for his thoughtless adoption of a language expressing an aristocratic hauteur, which did not belong to his real character. There was indeed at that moment no need that fresh fuel should be applied to the irritation of
the rebels; they had already declared their intention of plundering the town; and, as they added, in spite of the French,' whom they now regarded and openly denounced as abettors of the Protestants,' much more than as their own allies.
Justice, however, must be done to the rebels as well as to their military associates. If they were disposed to plunder, they were found uniformly to shrink from bloodshed and cruelty; and yet from no want of energy or determination. 'The peasantry never appeared to want animal courage,' says the Bishop, for they flocked together to meet danger whenever it was expected. Had it pleased Heaven to be as liberal to them of brains as of hands, it is not easy to say to what length of mischief they might have proceeded; but they were all along unprovided with leaders of any ability.' This is true; and yet it would be doing poor justice to the Connaught rebels, nor would it be drawing the moral truly as respects this aspect of the rebellion, if their abstinence from mischief, in its worst form, were to be explained out of this defect in their leaders. Nor is it possible to suppose this the Bishop's meaning, though his words seem to tend that way. For he himself elsewhere notices the absence of all wanton bloodshed, as a feature of this Connaught rebellion, most honorable in itself to the poor misguided rebels, and as distinguishing it very remarkably from the greater insurrection so recently crushed in the centre and the east. 'It is a circumstance,' says he, 'worthy of particular notice, that, during the whole time of this civil commotion, not a single drop of blood was shed by the Connaught rebels, except in the field of war. It is true the example and influence of the French went a great way to prevent sanguinary excesses. But it will not be deemed fair to ascribe to this cause alone the forbearance of which we
were witnesses, when it is considered what a range of country lay at the mercy of the rebels for several days after the French power was known to be at an end.'
To what then are we to ascribe the forbearance of the Connaught men, so singularly contrasted with the hideous excesses of their brethren in the east? Solely to the different complexion of the policy pursued by Government. In Wexford, Kildare, Meath, Dublin, &c., it had been judged advisable to adopt, as a sort of precautionary police, not for the punishment, but for the discovery of rebellious purposes, measures of the direst severity; not merely free-quarterings of the soldiery, with liberty (or even an express commission) to commit outrages and insults upon all who were suspected, upon all who refused to countenance such measures, upon all who presumed to question their justice; but, even under color of martial law, to inflict croppings and pitch-cappings, half-hangings, and the torture of the picketings; to say nothing of houses burnt, and farms laid waste, things which were done daily and under military orders; the purpose avowed being either vengeance for some known act of insurrection, or the determination to extort confessions. Too often, however, as may well be supposed, in such utter disorganization of society, private malice, on account of old family feuds, was the true principle at work. And many were thus driven by mere frenzy of just indignation, or, perhaps, by mere desperation, into acts of rebellion which else they had not meditated. Now, in Connaught at this time, the same barbarous policy was no longer pursued ; and then it was seen, that, unless maddened by ill-usage, the peasantry were capable of the very fullest self-control. There was no repetition of the Enniscorthy massacres; and it was impossible to explain honestly why there was
none, without, at the same time, reflecting back upon atrocity some color of palliation.
These things duly considered, it must be granted that there was a spirit of unjustifiable violence in the Royal army on achieving their triumph. It is shocking, however, to observe the effect of panic, to excite and irritate the instincts of cruelty and sanguinary violence, even in the gentlest minds. I remember well, on occasion of the memorable tumults in Bristol, (autumn of 1831,) that I, for my part, could not read, without horror and indignation, one statement made, I believe, officially at that time, which yet won the cordial approbation of some ladies who had participated in the panic. I allude to that part of the report which represents several of the dragoons as having dismounted, resigned the care of their horses to persons in the street, and pursued the unhappy fugitives from the mob, up stairs and down stairs, to the last nook of their retreat. The worst criminals could not be known as such; and, even allowing that they could, vengeance so hellish and so unrelenting was not justified by houses burned or by momentary panics raised. Scenes of the same description were beheld upon the first triumph of the Royal cause in Connaught; and but for Lord Cornwallis, equally firm before his success and moderate in its exercise, they would have prevailed more extensively. The poor rebels were pursued with a needless ferocity on the re-capture of Killala. So hotly, indeed, did some of the conquerors hang upon the footsteps of the fugitives, that both rushed almost simultaneously, pursuers and pursued, into the terror-stricken houses of Killala; and in some instances the ball meant for a rebel, told with mortal effect upon a loyalist. Here, indeed, as in other cases of this rebellion, in candor it should be mentioned, that the Royal army was composed chiefly of militia regiments. The Bishop