HC Deb 01 March 1825 vol 12 cc754-7
Mr. Brownlow,

in rising to present to the House a petition which he considered to be of great importance, begged to say, he had not the slightest wish to delay the consideration of that subject, which the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster, was about to bring before the House. It was a petition which came to him from the county of Kerry, at the close of the last session, and he could not conceive why it was placed in his hands. He had, however, employed himself during the vacation in examining its allegations, and found they were too well justified by the truth, to be passed by without consideration. It was the petition of John Kirby, an individual who had for fourteen years been a schoolmaster at Blenner-Ville, in the county of Kerry, and who had conducted himself, as appeared by the certificate of a parish priest annexed, in so exemplary a manner, as at one time to call forth the friendship and admiration of all his neighbours. The Hibernian School society had opened a school, of which the petitioner was appointed schoolmaster, in consequence of his good character. That school had not been opened many weeks, before there was a numerous attendance of scholars, and upwards of one hundred children were sent to it by their parents. In a short time after, the rev. John Quill, the coadjutor of the parish priest, called upon the petitioner, and told him to desist from teaching any more; alleging, that his system of instruction would tend to make the children Protest- ants. The petitioner added, that in his mode of education he had no catechism, and the attendance of a priest in the school was at all times desired. He stated to Mr. Quill, that he was a Catholic himself, and that he was as unwilling as any Catholic to make proselytes to the Protestant religion; but he insisted on his right to exercise his own discretion for the purpose of obtaining his livelihood in an honest manner. The priest became enraged at this declaration, and went away, vowing revenge. On the Sunday following, in church, the petitioner was pointed out ironically, as a reformer of the Protestant religion; and the people were exhorted by the priest to shed their blood rather than suffer their children to be educated in this way; and the penalties of excommunication were denounced against those who should continue their children at the school of the petitioner. Soon after, the time came on, when the priests were receiving confessions. They then took an opportunity of advising the children to stay away from the school, and the curses of the church were denounced from the altar against those who continued their children at it. With these oppressive efforts continued against him by the Catholic priests, the ruin of the petitioner was soon completed; and in this respect, owing to their threats among his neighbours, he was obliged to leave his house and neighbourhood, and betake himself to other parts. Nevertheless, wherever he went, the influence of the priests bad preceded him; and those who had been disposed friendly towards him, had withdrawn from him their friendship and assistance. Above all, he stated, that he was cruelly assaulted, and nearly deprived of his life, by a ruffianly attack on him by five individuals, because he had spoken against the parish priest, after he had endured from him all this oppression and persecution. Under the circumstances here detailed, the hon. member hoped the House would take such measures as they thought right, for the purpose of curbing and restraining the influence of the priesthood in Ireland. There were a great many more cases he could mention, where the priests were guilty of exciting personal violence towards schoolmasters, and stirred up the populace under them to commit outrages against those whom they thought fit to proscribe.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

concurred with the hon. member in deprecating the con- duct pursued by the priests, in this instance, against the petitioner; and believed that hundreds of instances existed of a similar nature. It showed a great struggle, on the part of the Catholic priesthood, on the one hand, to resist and oppose a particular religion; and the laudable endeavours of a particular society, on the other hand, to promote that which they conceived would be beneficial to the people in Ireland. Now, in the last session, an Address was moved on the subject, to the Crown, and a commission had been issued, on which he (Mr. L.) had the honour of serving. It was the duty of that commission to find a remedy for these grievances; and if a remedy could be found, it was useless to trouble the House with a detail of hundreds of similar instances of unjust persecution, every one of which he most sincerely deplored. He could only say he did not despair of finding a remedy, and when the commission had tried and failed, it would be time for this House to interfere.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

perfectly concurred in the observations of the hon. member who spoke last.

Mr. Plunkett

complained, that the hon. member had brought down this petition, after having had, as he said, a year to consider of it, and examine into the truth of its allegations, for the purpose of producing an effect on the question which was to become the subject of discussion that night. He felt himself entitled to say, that the House was bound in justice, in candour, and in fairness, to suspend its judgment, until every gentleman had the same opportunity with the hon. member, of examining into the statements contained in this petition; and he hoped it would have the opposite effect to that which it was intended to produce.

Mr. Dawson

thought his hon. friend, had pursued a course which was strictly parliamentary. He sent to Ireland to get information on the subject of this petition, and when he had got proofs, which warranted him in believing the allegations were well founded, he presented the petition. Plow would he have been situated if he had presented it, without being in possession of the facts of the case? He would then have been accused of practising a delusion upon the House.

Mr. Grattan

said, that the question arising out of the petition appeared to be simply this, whether the Protestants were to teach the Catholic children, or whether the priesthood were to educate their own flocks? Ill his opinion, this petition had been held over to have an effect on the question coming before the House that night; and that the case of a particular priest was thus introduced, to raise a prejudice against Catholic priests and their religion generally.

Sir T. Lethbridge

conceived, that the hon. member who had presented this petition, was entitled to the best thanks of the House. Upon the great question which was about to be brought before the House, it was highly desirable that every member should hear all that could be said for and against the Catholics.

Mr. Brownlow

said, he had thought proper to delay the presentation of this petition for the ascertainment of facts: but he begged to add, that at the commencement of this session, he was not certain whether he should present it or not; and that it was not until he received another application by yesterday's post, urging him to present this petition, that he felt himself called upon to bring it before the House.

Mr. Bright

presented a petition from the merchants, traders, and bankers, of Bristol, on the subject to which the attention of the House was about to be called. The petitioners were persons of the greatest respectability. He was sorry he could not agree, to the full extent, with the petitioners. He was ready to admit Protestant Dissenters to an equal participation of civil rights, but he must take a distinction between the case of Dissenters and Catholics, when he looked back to the principles on which the revolution was established, which was emphatically a Protestant revolution; and when he considered the deplorable effects which the Catholic religion had produced in this and all other countries where it had predominated.

The several petitions were then ordered to be laid on the table of the House, and also to be printed.