On Repeal of the Act of Union at the "Monster Meeting" at Mullingar
On Repeal of the Act of Union at the "Monster Meeting" at Mullingar
14 May 1843
The central tactic in Daniel O'Connell's campaign for repeal of the Act of Union in 1843 was the holding of a series of about forty "monster meetings" (a term first used in derision by The Times of London). At these meetings O'Connell was always the featured speaker, and as at Mullingar on 14 May 1843, he explained why he wanted Ireland to have its own parliament and what reforms he thought such a parliament should adopt. The tactic, designed to overawe British opposition to Repeal, failed when the government banned the "monster meeting" scheduled for Clontarf in October and O'Connell called it off.
My first object is to get Ireland for the Irish (loud cheers). I am content that the English should have England, but they have had the domination of this country too long, and it is time that the Irish should at length get their own country—that they should get the management of their own country—the regulation of their own country—the enjoyment of their own country—that the Irish should have Ireland (great cheers). Nobody can know how to govern us as well as we would know how to do it ourselves—nobody could know how to relieve our wants as well as would ourselves—nobody could have so deep an interest in our prosperity or could be so well fitted for remedying our evils and procuring happiness for us as we would ourselves (hear, hear). Old Ireland and liberty! (loud cheers). That is what I am struggling for (hear, hear). If I was to tell the Scotch that they should not have Scotland—if I was to tell the English that they should not have England—if I was to tell the Spaniards that they should not have Spain—or the French that they should not have France, they would have a right to laugh at, to hate, to attack, or to assail me in whatever manner they chose. But I do not say any such thing. What I say is that as all these people have their own countries, the Irish ought to have Ireland (hear, and cheers). What numberless advantages would not the Irish enjoy if they possessed their own country? A domestic parliament would encourage Irish manufactures. The linen trade and the woollen [trade] would be spreading amongst you. An Irish parliament would foster Irish commerce and protect Irish agriculture. The labourer, the artizan, and the shopkeeper would be all benefited by the repeal of the union; but if I were to describe all the blessings that it would confer, I would detain you here, crowding on each other's backs, until morning before I would be done (laughter). In the first place, I ask, Did you ever hear of the tithe rent-charge (groans)? Are you satisfied to be paying parsons who do not pray for you (no, no)? It is time, therefore, that they should be put an end to (hear, hear). The people of England do not pay for the church of the minority.
A voice: "No, nor the people of Scotland either."
You are quite right, though I think I heard the remark before (laughter). But carry home my words with you and tell them to your neighbours. I tell you, the people of Ireland will not be much longer paying them (hear, hear, and cheers). I next want to get rid of the poor rates (cheers). England does charity in the way a person will throw a bone to a dog, by slashing it in between his teeth (hear, hear). That is the poor law charity, the charity of the commissioners and assistant-commissioners, and all concerned under them except the poor themselves, and when they do give relief, they take up the poor as if they were criminals, or as if poverty were a crime to be punished by perpetual imprisonment (hear and cheers). . . . I know it will be said that I want to leave the poor destitute. I do not want to do any such thing. Would I not have the tithe rent-charge and the ecclesiastical revenues to apply for their relief? And would I not with their aid be able to maintain hospitals for the sick, the lame, the impotent, the aged, and all those who are real objects of charity, and for whom the doors would be open at every hour of the day and during a part of the night, so that anybody who did not like to remain might go out when they liked (hear, hear, and cheers)? I would thus do you two pieces of service by the repeal of the union. I would relieve the poor without the imposition of poor rates, and I would prevent you from paying any clergy but your own (loud cheers). I should not have used the word prevent, because if any of you wished to pay both, you might do it if you pleased (laughter). I often asked Protestants how would they like to pay for the support of the Catholic clergy by force, and they always said they would not like it at all; and why should the Catholics like it one bit the better (hear)? [William] Cobbett had a phrase for it. He used to say, "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" (laughter). The next thing that the repeal would abolish is the grand jury cess (cheers). I believe it grinds some of you (cries of "It does so"). There is not a more iniquitous tax in the world, for it comes on the occupier instead of on the country at large. Give me the repeal, and the national treasury will pay for the making and repairing of all the roads, bridges, and public buildings; and instead of the poor farmers and occupiers paying the money themselves, it will come from the treasury and would go in giving employment to those who now have to pay it (hear, hear). I will tell you another thing I want to do. I want that every head of a family, every married man and every householder, should have a right to vote for members of parliament. They say that I would have an interest in that because I would then have more votes; but my answer is, if I would, it is because the people know I am acting honestly by them, and everybody else who does the same will be equally supported. The landlords now persecute those who vote differently from their wishes, but I would institute the ballot-box. Every married man should have a vote, and any blackguard who could not get a wife anywhere, I would not pity him to be without the vote (cheers and laughter). The good landlord would then be sure to be supported by his tenants; but if he were a scoundrel, whether he was a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Presbyterian, he would deserve to be turned out (hear, hear). If he was serving notices to quit or holding up his head in the street and not looking his tenants in the face and speaking to them, or if he was a man who would not salute their wives and children as he passed them, or if, when he sat upon the bench, he was always fining, fining, fining (loud laughter), the tenant would always have the advantage of using the ballot-box against that fellow (hear, hear, and cheers). . . . You know that the landlords have duties as well as rights, and I would establish the fixity of tenure (loud cheers) to remind them of these duties. I will tell you what my plan is, and you can consider it among yourselves. My plan is that no landlord could recover rent unless he made a lease for twenty-one years to the tenant—no lease or no rent, say I (loud cheers). Unless he made a lease, he would have no more business looking for his rent than a dog would have barking at the moon (cheers and laughter). It may be said that the landlords would in that case put too high a rent on their lands, but I have a remedy for that too in my plan (laughter, and cries of "more power"). At present, if a man goes to register his vote, he must prove on oath what a solvent tenant could pay to his landlord for his holding, and in the same manner I would give the tenant an opportunity of proving what a solvent tenant ought to give for his land in order to fix the amount of rent he would have to pay (cheers). I would give the poor man the benefit of a trial by jury in such case, so that it would be impossible for a landlord to get more than the fair value of his land. It may be said that the poor man would be turned out of his holding at the expiration of his lease, and his land given to another, but I have a cure for that also (cheers). I would allow the tenant by law every year to register, as he can now register trees that he plants, all the improvements that he makes on his holding, and if the landlord did not pay him the full value of these improvements, he could not turn him out, but would be obliged to give him a new holding. Every tenant would be then building a better house for his pigs than he now inhabits himself, as he would be sure to get every farthing he laid out on his holding before he could be deprived of possession at the end of his lease (hear, hear, and cheers). Is it not, I ask you, worthwhile to look for a repeal of the union for that alone (cheers)? Would it not do more to produce happiness and prosperity in the country and put an end to the horrible wholesale murders of the landlords who now send their tenants to die by twenties in the ditches, and the fearful retaliations by assassination that so frequently take place on the other side (hear). But that is not all. Every year since the union nine millions of money has been sent out of Ireland after being raised from the produce of the soil (cries of "Oh, murder, murder"). It is no wonder you should cry "murder," for there is no country in the world where such a system would exist that must not be poor. The only countries except Ireland where anything like it occurs are Sicily and Sardinia, and both of these, from having absentee landlords, are miserably poor. There is not, however, a country in the world so impoverished as Ireland, where it has been found that there are 2,300,000 persons in a state of destitution every year. . . . For the last ten years, no less than ninety millions have been drawn out of Ireland, but if we get the union [repealed], there will be ninety millions spent in Ireland that would otherwise be taken from her (hear, hear, and cheers). This will leave an average of £750,000 a month, or £125,000 a week of six days, to be spent in wages in giving employment to the people (cheers). I have all this within my grasp if the people join me. Now, what is there in all this that Wellington should stammer at in his old age, and that Peel should bluster and get very angry about it (groans)? . . . They say we want separation from England, but what I want is to prevent separation taking place, and there is not a man in existence more loyally attached than I am to the queen—God bless her. The present state of Ireland is nearly unendurable, and if the people of Ireland had not some person like me to lead them in the paths of peace and constitutional exertion, I am afraid of the result (hear). While I live, I will stand by the throne (hear, hear). But what motive could we have to separate if we obtain all those blessings and advantages I have been enumerating? They would all serve as solid golden links of connexion with England. But I would be glad to know what good did the union do (hear, hear)? What I want you to do is for every one of you to join me in looking for repeal. As many of you as are willing to do so, let them hold up their hands (here every person in the immense assemblage raised his hands aloft amidst loud continued cheers). I see you have ready hands, and I know you have stout hearts too. But what do I want you to do? Is it to turn out into battle or war (cries of no, no)? Is it to commit riot or crime (cries of no, no)? Remember, "Whoever commits a crime gives strength to the enemy" (hear, hear, and cheers). . . . I want you to do nothing that is not open and legal, but if the people unite with me and follow my advice, it is impossible not to get the repeal (loud cheers and cries of "we will"). And our country deserves that we should exert ourselves for her. Other countries changed their religious opinions at the fantasy of their governors, but Ireland is the only country that for centuries set her governors at defiance, and she is also the only country that was converted to Christianity in the short space of four years (hear, hear, hear). . . .
But nothing could be more true [than] that there was no pursuit of Roman Catholic interests as opposed to Protestant, and that the object in view was to benefit the whole nation; and because it was a national movement, it should never be abandoned until justice was done to the nation (loud cheers). Even their enemies should admit the progress they had made; and let him have but three millions of Repealers, and then he would make his arrangements for obtaining repeal. He would have the Repealers send up three hundred gentlemen, chosen from various parts of the country, each entrusted with £100, [and] that would be £30,000. They should meet in Dublin to consult upon the best means of obtaining legislative independence. They would not leave Dublin till they would agree to an act of parliament to establish a domestic legislature, household suffrage, vote by ballot, fixity of tenure, and a law against absentees having estates in the country. Many estates would then be sold in lots and purchased by those who would become small proprietors; and it was a fact well ascertained that in proportion as the owners in fee were numerous in any country, so in proportion were the people prosperous (hear, hear). It was truly said by Mr Martin, their chairman, that if they had their own parliament, taxation would be diminished to almost nothing—for in five or six years they would be able to pay off their portion of the national debt—the duty upon every exciseable article would be reduced—they would have a pound of tea for little more than was now paid for a couple of ounces, and a pound of sugar at the price of a quarter of a pound, the duty on tobacco would be reduced, so that there was not an old woman in the country who might not have her pipe lighted from morning to night if she pleased (laughter). . . .
Nation, 20 May 1843.