Irish Alliance and the Tenant Right League

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A good deal of prominence was given in ‘The Nation’ to the report of an “Aggregate Meeting” held in the Music Hall, Lower Abbey Street, on the 20th November 1849, and called on the requisition of “80 dignitaries and 110 curates of the Catholic Church; 22 members of the regular clergy; 120 magistrates; landed proprietors, corporators, and poor law guardians; 200 members of the learned professions; 700 land-owners,and farmers, and 900 merchants, traders and artizans”.

Richard Grattan, M.D., J.P., Drommin House, County Kildare, presided, and the speakers included Gavan Duffy and M. R. Leyne.

Resolutions were adopted declaring that “legislative independence is the clear, eternal and inalienable right of this country, and that no settlement of the affairs of Ireland can be permanent until that right is recognised and established,” and forming a new organisation to be known as “The Irish Alliance” “to take the most prompt and effective measures for the protection of the lives and interests of the Irish people, and the attainment of their natural rights.”

Other resolutions dealt with the land question, the disestablishment of the Protestant Church, and the promotion of measures for developing the resources, and encouraging the manufactures, trade and commerce of the country, “having due regard to the rights of labour.”

In a leading article on the 24th November, Duffy welcomed the new organisation:
“At last – at long last,” he wrote “out of the huddled chaos wherein Ireland seemed succumbed to absolute death and destruction, comes a courageous and articulate voice – not a beggar’s whine or a braggart’s bawl – not a petition for alien ,alms not a ‘peccavi’ , for past offences – not an invocation to arms – not a dereliction, of present pressing duties for hopes that lie fair but far in the future – not an abjuration of the cause which time, and truth and heroism, have hallowed – no, not one of these, but an enunciation or a plain and vital policy;. the assertion of national principles, which, thriving through the cruel persecutions of the past; and little scathed by the wasting disorganisation of the present time, still live in our, hearts; the prophecy of an era to come; the utterance of a determination which, if patient, is cool, practical, unflinching”

Meetings of the new organisation were, held throughout the country, but it was soon ecilipsed by the Tenant Right Movement

The Tenant Right League, formed in the City Assembly House, William Street, Dublin, in August, 1850, brought Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic together, on the same platform, and promised to do much to kill sectarian bitterness

At the inaugural meeting there was a remarkable gathering, which included magistrates and landlords, representatives of tenants, Catholic priests and Presbyterian ministers, prominent Catholic journalists like Gavan Duffy, and John Francis Maguire of the ‘Cork Examiner’; and Presbyterian journalists like, James Godkin, editor ,of the ‘Derry Standard’, and James McKnight, LL.D., Editor of the ‘Banner of Ulster’, who was moved to the chair and presided during the four days the Conference was in session. Unanimity, earnestness and enthusiasm marked the proceedings throughout.

Gaven Duffy had largely contributed to the establishment of the League; and a letter in The Nation on the 25th May, 1850, signed “T.W. Croke, C.C. Charleville” -afterwards the famous Archbishop of Cashel – advocating the establishment of Tenant Protection Societies, had riveted attention on the unfortunate condition of the farming community.

Meetings of the new organisation were held throughout the country and aroused a good deal of enthusiasm. They were supported by Orangemen as well as by Nationalist & The columns of The Nation were inundated with poems on the League, which gave every indication of activity and progress. It was not surprising therefore, to find that at the General Election of 1852, some fifty Tenant Right candidates were returned to parliament, including Duffy far the Borough of New Ross.

The League was making remarkable progress when the English Government, in a fit of fanaticism, introduced on the 6th of February, 1851, the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, rendering illegal the assumption of territorial titles by Catholic Bishops, as a counterblast to the action of the Vatican in restoring the Church in England to its parochial and dioscescan form. This action was described as “Papal aggression”, and aroused a storm of panic and fury throughout England.

This storm antagonised Catholics and Protestants, not only in England, but in the Tenant Right League. Duffy strove to keep the organisation together and opposed a proposition for the establishment of a “Catholic Defence Association.” Knaves and hypocrites, he declared, would rant and rave as tremendous Catholics, and lash the multitude into madness about “our holy Church” in order that they might effect the destruction of. a popular movement, which threatened to sweep away speculative politicians, ” We shall not serve the Church the more ” he said, “but we shall lose the land.”

John Sadlier, Solicitor, Banker and M.P. for the borough of Carlow, and William Keogh, Barrister-at-law, and M. P. for Athlone, fought the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill at every stage, and were acclaimed great Popular heroes. They were prominent figures at the “aggregate meeting” held in the Rotunda on the 22nd August, 1851, to protest against the. Bill, which had been passed, and to take measures for Catholic defence. The chair was occupied by the Archbishop of Armagh (Dr. Cullen), in a short time to be Archbishop of Dublin.

Keogh raised the gathering to the highest pitch of enthusiasm by giving the Chairman his territorial title, and promising that he and his friends would have the Act repealed if the people of Ireland would but send them a few “more Parliamentary colleagues.” We will make no terms,” he declared: “with any Minister, no matter who he may be, untill he repeals that Act of Parliament”

In his own constituency, where he was entertained to a public banquet on the 28th October, 1851, Keogh declared, in the presence of Archbishop McHale : “I will not support any party which does not make it the first ingredient of their political existence to repeal the, Ecclesiastical Titles Act;” Again, in Cork on the 8th March, 1852, he declared : “So help me God, no matter who the Minister may be, no matter who the party in power may be, I will support neither that minister nor that party, unless he comes into power prepared to carry the measures which ,universal popular Ireland demands.”

The sequel to these pledges is well known to the Student of history. In a few months Keogh and Sadlier became brazen pledge-breakers and accepted office under the Government – Keogh as Solicitor-General for Ireland, and Sadlier as Lord of the Treasury; and to the disgust of Duffy and his supporters were re-elected to Parliament with the assistance of Catholic bishops, priests and laymen.

Dr. MacHale had no hesitation in expressing his opinion of the pledge breaking place-hunters, but Dr. Cullen remained silent.

The Tenant Right League was rocked from head to foot by dissension. It struggled on for some time, but soon ceased to exist as an effective organisation.

The League candidates returned to Parliament had formed an independent Irish Party, but on the 16th August, 1855, Duffy; despairing of doing any good for the country issued his valedictory address to the electors of New Ross, and, two months later, emigrated to Australia, transferring The Nation to A. M. Sullivan and a businessman named Michael Clery. In a short time Sullivan became sole -proprietor.

In the Memoir of his brother, A. M. Sullivan, T. D. Sullivan, speaking of Duffy, said:
“While he had only the ancient enemy, the open foe of his race, to contend with, he never despaired, but when treachery sundered the national ranks, when champions of the people sold their principles in open market, and when their traitorism was condoned by eminent persons whose exalted office should make them the inflexible guardians of Truth and Honour, and the sternest censors of every kind of immorality, then he felt that he had better confess defeat, at all, events so far as he was persona1ly concerned, retire from the scene of action, and let the Irish people look to their political fortunes for the future as best they could.
Many who belonged to the war party in 1843 looked with dislike, arid even with contempt, on Mr. Duffy’s revived Nation, with its constitutional and parliamentary policy, and its variety of industrial projects; and his unhappy controversy with Mr. Mitchel put a feeling of intense bitterness against him into many hearts.”

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