Athenry and Tithes 1836-1838-Hansard Report

Source: Hansard House of commons Debates

THE CLERGY.—TITHES.—(IRELAND.)HL Deb 14 March 1836 vol 32 cc244-7 244

THE EARL OF RODEN rose to present a petition from a class of persons in Ireland, than whom he would venture to assert there were no more valuable members of society, or men more devoted to the sacred calling which they exercised. While he rendered them the just need of praise, which was their strict due, he was also bound to say, that no class of individuals in the community endured, at present, greater privations.

The body to which he alluded was the Clergy of Ireland. The petition, which he had been intrusted with, was from the clergy of the archdiocese of Tuam, the diocese of Ardagh  and Killala, and the deaneries of Athenry and Clonfert.

He would beg to call the attention of the House to a few of the particular circumstances connected with the case of these gentlemen, and detailed in their petition. The petitioners stated that they were anxious to disabuse the minds of their Lordships, in the first instance, of any idea which might have been impressed, or sought to be impressed on them, that the law as it stood in Ireland was insufficient for the recovery of their tithes, and to assure the House that it was fully competent to enforce the collection of their revenues from that source, especially in cases of tithe composition.

The petitioners complained that they were deprived of their property in tithes, which, he would say, was as much the property of the clergy as their Lordships’ lands were their property, by means of a foul conspiracy which existed at present in Ireland.

They stated, that there were two modes by which they might recover their dues: the first by distress upon the lands of those indebted to them—a mode which they avoided on almost every occasion, inasmuch as they were always averse to any unchristian collision with their parishioners; the second by Exchequer process in the superior Courts of the kingdom.

As he had observed, they were in almost all cases averse to exercise power conferred by the former mode, and they were anxious to adopt the latter; but it had been found so expensive, that it was put by that means beyond the possibility of their reach. The petitioners also stated, that they felt the deepest gratitude to those individuals in this country who sympathised with their sufferings, and stepped forward to relieve their privations and redress their injuries; but particularly they felt indebted to those “honourable and powerful persons,” as they termed them, who had associated together under the title of “The Lay Association,” for the purpose of recovering for them what they had been unjustly deprived of, and restoring them again to their property, by the aid of their purses and their exertions.

It was impossible for him (the Earl of Roden) not to concur in what the petitioners had stated, or to refrain from expressing his humble thanks and gratitude to a noble Earl connected with the county of Kent, who was the first to propose that association to the country. It had been stated in other places, falsely stated, that that Association was actuated by improper motives, and that it had acted in a harsh manner towards those whom it sued; but he (the Earl of Roden) defied any one to show one single case, or point out a solitary instance, in which it could be fairly inferred that it was actuated by improper motives, or prove that it had acted in a harsh manner in its efforts to recover the just rights of the clergy of Ireland.

The petitioners prayed their Lordships to consider well on any measure which would be proposed to affect the Church of Ireland, and besought them to weigh well all the circumstances connected with it before they suffered it to pass their House. They expressed a ready and a cheerful acquiescence in whatever plan Parliament should see fit to adopt in regard to their pecuniary concerns; but they stated that they would never sacrifice a single iota of those principles and that truth, which it was their duty and their privilege to teach and defend as well as practise.

The noble Earl concluded by stating his readiness to meet any noble Lord, who should choose to impugn the principles or proceedings of the Lay Association, then or on any future occasion.


said, that after the personal allusion which had been made to him by the noble Earl, he felt it his duty to make one or two observations in respect to the part he had taken in the origin and formation of the Lay Association. In what he had done towards organising that society he conceived he had only done his duty, a duty which he should willingly perform on all occasions, and which he should never abandon.

The petitioners had drawn a faithful outline of their privations, and of the state of ruin entailed upon them. Could any one stigmatise those who exerted themselves for the recovery of the clergy from that state? He was prepared to stand or fall by the principles which had established and which actuated the Lay Association, and he believed that no man in England with a right feeling would blame him for coming forward to assist the distressed clergy of Ire land.

Though the motive of the Lay Association had been impugned in another place, he would challenge those who impugned it to prove the slightest cause for their censure in regard to it. The clergy of Ireland were the victims of a foul conspiracy—they were in the utmost destitution and misery. To that state they were reduced solely by the remissness of the Ministry in coming forward with the power with which they were armed, and exercising it in the behalf of their rights.

The  clergy of Ireland had now no security— not alone for their properties and their rights—but for their very lives. It was a well known fact that there was an association in that country for the purposes of assassinating them. If such a state of things were to be any longer permitted, and if the Government did not at once come forward to put an end to it, it would be an indelible disgrace to the country. If that body of his fellow-countrymen were to be left any longer without that security for their properties and persons which was the right of every inhabitant of Great Britain, he should stand forward himself and rouse such a feeling on the subject among the people of England, as would speedily put an end to the system under which they now suffered so severely.

He hoped that some noble Lord would bring forward the subject in a substantive nature, and then it would be found that such a conspiracy existed against the lives and property of the clergy of Ireland as compelled them to fly to foreign countries to preserve the one, and effectually and completely deprive them altogether of the other.

Petition to Be on the Table.

TITHES (IRELAND.) HC Deb 26 July 1838 vol 44 cc648-97


Although he agreed in most of the sentiments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, yet, as an Irish representative, and a well-wisher to Ireland, he felt justified in voting for the third reading of this bill; and he did so on this simple principle, that whilst he believed it would effect great temporary good, no future mischief could possibly result from it.

He owned he was surprised at the charge of inconsistency launched, not only against her Majesty’s Ministers, but against a large body of their supporters, on the ground of their having abandoned the appropriation principle. And he must complain, that his hon. Friend, the Member for Kilkenny, had not quoted correctly the resolution of 1835. His hon. Friend read the words as if they ran, “no settlement can take place;” whereas they really were, that “no final and satisfactory settlement could be arrived at, which did not involve the principle of appropriation.

Now, did any Member of her Majesty’s Government, did any Member at this side of the House, or did the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) pretend that the present proposal was meant as a “final and satisfactory” adjustment of this most important question?

When he heard that question answered in the affirmative, he should admit, that the charges of inconsistency so freely dealt out against those who, though they supported the appropriation clause, felt bound not to negative the present bill, were well founded. His hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. D. Browne) knowing, he supposed, that a distinguished foreigner (Marshal Soult) was that night in their gallery, seemed fired by his presence with unwonted ardour, and insisted that, whilst they had the principle of appropriation to fight for, they should never desist, however repulsed from the breach, or however diminished in numbers, until they perished in the attempt. It struck him at the time his noble Friend was delivering this strong appeal, that the quotation might not unnaturally have occurred to him, Of the three hundred grant but three To make a new Thermopylæ.

He did not see, that there was anything unmanly in not struggling for a principle which was at present unattainable, nor did he consider it inconsistent with honesty and public spirit to take a measure as good as he could get, because it was not as comprehensive as he could wish. There was no use in concealing the fact, that such was the excitement generated by resisting the rational demands of the people, that the appropriation principle, which would have given satisfaction in 1835, would be treated with scorn in 1838. The sentiments expressed at those meetings to which his hon. Friend referred, were equally condemnatory of this bill and of the measure which his hon. Friend blamed the Government for having abandoned.

Though he did not think the people of England were totally free from blame in the apathy, or he should, perhaps, rather say, in the religious prejudice, which their conduct exhibited on this question, the affirmation of the principle of appropriation was now rendered useless, so far as the demands of the Irish people were concerned. He knew what pains had been taken to disseminate unworthy prejudices in the minds of the English people. Like Scrub in the play, when those who pandered to narrow-minded bigotry, and uttered the cry of “murder” and “thieves,” had failed, they raised that of “popery.” There was no doubt, that that cry had been raised throughout every part of the country, and the opposite benches testified how well it had succeeded.

But as he was convinced, that the people of England were a rational and thinking people, he had no fear, that they would remain permanently wedded to error, but common sense and justice must soon resume that sway which it seemed they now unfortunately did not hold over their minds.

There were two things which tended especially to point out the enormous injustice of the Irish Established Church; one was, that its revenues were on a scale befitting the church of a nation, and the other, that it was devoted to the service of a minority. And of what minority? Of the ignorant of the destitute, and of the hard-working classes, who had not the means of supplying themselves with religious instruction? No, but of those who incessantly and almost insultingly boasted, that they were, to a great extent, the aristocracy of the country, that they constituted a majority amongst the squirearchy, that in the magistracy they greatly preponderated, that in the learned professions they had more than their share, and that amongst the merchants, traders, and more comfortable artisans, they were also to be found in considerable numbers.

This, then, was the minority as described by themselves for whose exclusive benefit a church of extravagant revenues was supported. He did believe, that when the people of England came calmly to reflect on this anomaly, and to consider in what circumstances the other religions in Ireland were placed, this state of things could not long endure.

He was delighted to hear the manly expression of sentiment on the religious consequences of the present state of the Irish from the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Somerville). He fully participated in the hon. Baronet’s belief as a Protestant, that no system could be devised which would more effectually check the progress of the Protestant religion. It had been said by the hon. and learned Sergeant, the Member for Bandon, that the demands of the clergy fell short of their rights.

About a century ago the question of tithe agistment was raised in the Irish Parliament, and he had extracted from the journals a few passages, which showed how the result, of which the hon. and learned Sergeant complained, was brought about.

The first was as follows:—

December 6, 1735. Petition complaining of the new demand for agistment tithes referred to a Committee, who on the 22d December reported ‘that the allegations were proved. March 5, 1735 (O. S.). Petition of Samuel Low and others, also referred to a committee, and, on the 18th March, report made, ‘that the petitioners have fully proved the allegations of their petition to the satisfaction of the Committee, and deserve the strongest assistance the House can give them. These and two other resolutions were agreed to, and the following resolution— That the commencing suits upon these new demands must impair the Protestant interest, by driving many useful hands out of this kingdom; must disable those that remain to support his Majesty’s establishment, and occasion popery and infidelity to gain ground, by the contest that must necessarily arise between the clergy and laity”— was carried on a division, 110 voting for it, and only 50 against it. And this resolution was carried by a House of Commons, which gave decisive proof of its Protestantism by resolving, on the 16th December, 1735, nemine contradicente, That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, setting forth, that the reversal of the outlawries of persons attainted for treason in the rebellions of 1641 and 1688, or the enabling any of them, or their descendants, to sue those Protestants who have purchased estates forfeited by those rebels under several Acts of Parliament, will be dangerous to his Majesty’s person and Government, and the succession in his royal house, and highly prejudicial to the Protestant interest of this kingdom.

As the land, however, ceased to be used for grazing, and agriculture advanced, the resistance to tithes increased, and the incomes of the clergy became proportionably diminished. Even in the provinces in which Protestantism prevailed most, there were so many cases of pluralists, sinecurists, overpaid rectors, and underpaid curates, that he could not abstain from mentioning a few to the House.

The hon. Gentleman read the following list:— The Rev. Charles Le Poer Trench, rector, Dunleer Union, diocese Armagh, 531l. 17s. 1½d. Population of Union, Protestants of Established Church, 289; Roman Catholics, 4,925; Protestant dissenters, 1.

Also rector of Athenry, diocese Tuam, 902l. 15s. 0½d.; Established Church, 170; Roman Catholics, 7,454. Has also two prebends, Faldown, worth 92l. 3s. 4d.; Ballywoulta, 21l. 3s. 1d. Non-resident in both benefices, being vicar-general of Clonfert, where he lives; has a curate in each benefice, and pays each 69l. 4s. 7½d.

Rev. Charles Cobbe Beresford, rector of Termon M’Guiske, diocese of Armagh, 1,267l. 6s. 10½d.; Established Church, 1,722; Roman Catholics, 8,249; Presbyterians, 941; parish contains 41,000 acres. Rectory of Killesher, diocese of Kilmore, 1,211l. 3s. 10d.; Established Church, 2,457; Roman Catholics, 2,641; contains 21,000 acres. Two curates in Termon M’Guiske, 75l. each; one in Killesher (where rector does not reside) 83l. 1s. 6½d.

Rev. William Athill, rector of Findouagh, diocese of Clogher, 828l. 6s. 11d.; Established Church, 3,519; Roman Catholics, 7,084; Presbyterians, 1,400. Also rector of Magheracalmoney, same diocese, 575l. 15s. 5½d.; Established Church, 3,586; Roman Catholics, 3,298. Resides in latter parish, and has one curate at 80l.; in Findonagh one curate at 60l. a-year, and forty acres of land rent free.

Resistance to tithes, continued the hon. Gentleman, was not confined to the Roman Catholic districts of Ireland, but had extended to the Presbyterian and Protestant North, in proof of which it was only necessary for him to remind the House of the case, which had lately appeared in the newspapers. (The hon. Member quoted a case brought before the Court of Exchequer, Dublin, in which the defendants, in a tithe process, were Presbyterians.)

He felt satisfied, that these facts, when they came to be known, would produce an impression on the minds of the people of England, and enlist their feelings of fair play in favour of the claims of the Irish nation to a reform of these enormous and crying abuses.

It might be asked, what remedy could be devised for these evils? The Roman Catholic Members of the House were often taunted for wishing the church to which they belonged to share in the emoluments of the Protestant Church establishment. As a member of the Roman Catholic church himself, he begged distinctly to state, that there was nothing to which he should so strongly object as to see that church placed in the invidious position of deriving its support from a State provision.

He wished it to be understood, that the Roman Catholics of Ireland repudiated any connexion whatever between their church and the State. Then came the question of whether there ought to be any appropriation of the funds of the Protestant Established Church other than that which was now made.

For his own part, he was decidedly in favour of what was called the voluntary principle; but, at the same time, he was strongly of opinion, that if a portion of the enormous revenues of the Established Church were applied to the purposes of general education in Ireland, agitation in that country would cease, and religious tranquillity be for the first time established.

Unless something of that kind were done, he was satisfied, that the days of the Established Church in Ireland would be numbered.