HC Deb 03 April 1838 vol 42 cc353-60
Sir R. Bateson

rose, in pursuance of his notice, to bring under the notice of the House certain circumstances which had created such a sensation among the Protestant inhabitants of the city of Derry as rendered the interference of Parliament necessary. On Sunday, the 14th of January, 1838, at the hour of three o'clock in the afternoon, the funeral of a Roman Catholic lady took place in the churchyard of the cathedral of Derry. She was a Roman Catholic, and notice was previously sent to the sexton of the cathedral that her friends intended to bury her there, and that two Roman Catholic priests would attend the funeral in their robes. This was communicated to the Dean of Derry, and he immediately sent word to the parties that he would not allow a Popish funeral to be celebrated in the churchyard of the Protestant cathedral of Derry. Notwithstanding this peremptory refusal on the part of the Dean, the funeral took place, and two Roman Catholic priests, the Rev. Mr. Monaghan and the Rev. Mr. Dempsey, came to it in their robes. When the nearest relation of Mrs. Cathcart heard that the funeral was to take place in this manner, contrary to the wishes of the Dean of Derry and the rest of the Protestant inhabitants of that town, he said, that if such an attempt were made, he for one would not attend the funeral. He held in his hand a copy of the informations, which were sworn the next day before the mayor of Derry by the sexton of the cathedral and another individual, who made affidavit that the funeral then took place in the churchyard, against the wishes of the Protestant clergy and of the officers of the cathedral; that the Roman Catholic priests attended in their robes; that all the ceremonies usually observed at Roman Catholic funerals took place; that they consecrated the clay, said certain prayers in Latin, celebrated the mass, and went through all the Catholic rites for the burial of the dead. The Dean of Derry wrote, on the 16th of January, to Mr. Drummond, giving him an account of all this transaction, and calling upon the Irish Government, through him, to punish the gross infringement of the law, and the daring breach of the statute, which had taken place on the 14th. On the 27th of the same month, an answer was sent by Mr. Drummond to the Dean, stating, that he had consulted the law officers of the Crown, meaning thereby the Attorney and Solicitor-General, and that he had received from them an opinion declaring, that the parties against whom the Dean complained, had not been guilty of any breach of the Act of 10 George the 4th, cap. 27, sec. 6. That opinion he afterwards discovered, was founded upon the assumption that the Dean of Derry had granted permission for this Popish funeral to take place. Now, was not that a most extraordinary assumption, after the Dean had written to Mr. Drummond complaining that, in the churchyard of his cathedral, an infraction of the law had taken place? It was an Irish assumption to say the best of it, but came with very bad grace from the Irish Attorney-General, seeing that that learned officer was himself a Roman Catholic. The Dean of Derry, on receiving that letter, instantly, and in the most decided manner, wrote to Mr. Drummond, contradicting the assumption that he had given any, the slightest countenance to the performance of a Catholic ceremony in a Protestant churchyard; and after a lapse of three weeks, he received another letter from Mr. Drummond, communicating to him that the law officers of the Crown- considered, that the transaction of which he had complained was a breach of the statute, and that the two Roman Catholic priests who had attended the funeral in their robes had made themselves each liable to a penalty of 50l. At the time when all this took place the Bishop of Derry was absent from his diocese, and resident in Dublin, and he (Sir R. Bateson) had the authority of that right rev. Prelate to state, that no leave had been given by him or by any clerical officer under his control, to celebrate that Popish ceremony in a Protestant churchyard. That right rev. Prelate went to Mr. Drummond in person. Whether the complaint which he had then made was of more weight than the complaints of the Dean and the other Protestant inhabitants of Derry, he could not tell; but certain he was, that, six weeks afterwards, the law officers of the Crown said, that the proceedings Of these Roman Catholic priests constituted a distinct breach of that statute. It was not the wish either of the Dean of Derry or of the Protestant inhabitants of that city, who had taken up this cause, to inflict any severe punishment on these who were guilty of that outrage, provided they were sure that they would not be guilty of a repetition of it. Whether what was stated in the papers was true or not, he did not know; but it had been asserted, that Dr. M'Loughlin had Written to Mr. Drummond, stating, that his clergy had not been guilty of that outrage. Dr. M'Loughlin, the titular Bishop of Derry; Who was respected by all who knew him, Was in a state of decrepitude from ill-health. He had no power over his clergy, but was completely in the hands of his coadjutor and namesake, Dr. M'Loughlin. But Dr. M'Loughlin, the coadjutor, had been guilty of that outrage, because he had not exercised the power which he had over his clergy in preventing it. If a similar offence should be repeated, he was certain that it would lead to riot and tumult, if not to blood- shed, in the city of Derry. There was no city in Ireland in which the Protestants felt such reverence for the bones of their ancestors, as the citizens of Derry did; and it appeared to them to be a gross insult to the memory of their brave ancestors to have these Popish ceremonies celebrated even in the presence of their remains. There was no occasion, he would add, for so gratuitous an insult: for the Roman Catholics of Derry had their own burying-ground and their own chapel, and until the last few years had lived on the very best terms with their Protestant fellow-citizens. The Protestants, however, felt that the transaction which he had just described, was an outrage upon their religion, and they called upon the Government to make the Roman Catholics feel the enormity of it, and to have such proceedings checked for the future. But was this all that the Protestants of Derry had to complain of? No. On the anniversary of the shutting of the gates of Derry, they had to complain that a Captain Robinson had entered their city at the head of an armed force, contrary to the chartered rights of the city, and had prevented the apprentices from shutting the gates. For such an outrage they had obtained no redress. All this made the Protestants of Derry feel that they had not had justice dealt out to them by the Members of her Majesty's Government. Would it be credited, that the apprentice boys of Derry had been brought up to the bar of a court of criminal justice for celebrating the successful defence of that city by their ancestors, and of that Protestant constitution which was now the recognised constitution of England? Yes, for no greater an offence than that they had been tried, convicted, and imprisoned. Their sentence was not commuted—their punishment was not mitigated. He thought that if they were brought to the bar of criminal justice, so also ought the Roman Catholic clergymen who had appeared in their robes in a Protestant churchyard to celebrate a Popish funeral. He could not conceive any justification for such conduct as that of which they had been guilty. His constituents felt sore on this subject, and demanded an explanation from the Government. In order to give the Government an opportunity of Making that explanation, he should now move for copies of the correspondence that took place between the Irish Government and the law officers of the Crown with the Dean of Derry, and with the rev. Messrs. Monaghan and Dempsey, Roman Catholic priests, in Derry; and also with Dr. M'Loughlin, titular bishop, and with Dr. M'Loughlin, coadjutor to the same, in Derry, relative to a breach of the law committed by certain persons in the churchyard of the cathedral of Derry on Sunday, the 14th of January, 1838."

Viscount Morpeth

said, that with one exception, he had no objection to the production of the documents for which the hon. Member had moved. It was not usual to produce the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, and he therefore trusted that the hon. Member would omit from his motion the words, "law officers of the Crown." With that omission, he had no objection to the motion. With respect to the case itself he had no hesitation in saying, that the proceeding in question was a most improper, a most unauthorised, a most indelicate, and, he must add, a most illegal proceeding. When it first came under the consideration of his hon. and learned Friend, the Solicitor-General for Ireland, as it did not appear that the performance of these funeral rites, had been celebrated without the permission of the clerical officers authorised to give it, it was assumed that that permission had been given. The delay which had taken place in answering the representations made to the Irish Government was owing to his absence from Dublin, and to the despatches having followed him from Ireland to this country. When it appeared to him that the intrusion of these Roman Catholic clergymen into the consecrated ground of the cathedral of Derry, was without the permission of the dean, the law officers of the Crown immediately declared their opinion as to the illegality of their proceedings. He did not understand the Dean of Derry to have expressed any wish that any prosecution should be instituted against them. What he called upon the Government to do was, to prevent the inhabitants of Derry from being annoyed by a repetition of it. The Irish Government thought that this would be best done, by pointing out the indelicate and illegal nature of the proceeding, and by warning the parties that it should not be repeated without exposing them to severe and summary punishment. Accordingly, a letter had been sent to Dr. M'Loughlin, informing him of the enactments of the law, and warning him and his clergy against any repetition of the offence. The Irish Government had received a communication from Dr. M'Loughlin that no such proceeding should occur again within his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The right hon. Baronet had said, that the titular bishop was not authorised to make any such declaration as he had done. He (Lord Morpeth) was not sufficiently acquainted with the ecclesiastical discipline of the Romish Church in Ireland, to know whether that was the fact or not. The Irish Government thought that the Roman Catholic bishop had a right to communicate with it, and the Dean of Derry had called at the castle and had expressed himself satisfied with what the Government had done. With respect to the invasion of the chartered rights of Derry, by a stipendiary magistrate, he had only to say, that it had been made in consequence of the representations of the Protestant inhabitants that they feared some outbreak on the part of the apprentice boys. The Irish Government had, in consequence, sent a small detachment of the police to Derry to preserve the peace, but with no other motive whatsoever.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that it was quite ludicrous to call a proceeding like this, an outrage upon Protestant feelings. What were the facts? An old woman had died. She was buried in the open churchyard. Two Roman Catholic priests went to her grave in their robes. They said the prayers of the Church over her corpse. There was no riot, no tumult in their proceedings, and yet, because their prayers were uttered in Latin, the whole course of their proceedings was styled an outrage. Was not this making a mountain of a mole hill? The hon. Baronet had told the House, that at three o'clock in the afternoon mass was said over the corpse of this old woman. Now, it was a pity that the hon. Baronet should be so little acquainted with the religious principles and practices of the neighbours amongst whom he lived, as not to know that mass could not be celebrated at that hour. Either the hon. Baronet had read his affidavits wrongly, or his affidavits stated what did not, and what could not, take place. But it had been said that this was a trespass on the parson's freehold. But this poor woman on the payment of her fees, had a right, if she pleased, to be buried in that free- hold; and it had not been said yet that she had ever refused to pay them. By the statute of easement of burial a penalty of 50l. was imposed on any Roman Catholic priest who said prayers in the churchyard without the permission of the incumbent. Instead of seeking to recover this penalty himself, however, the Dean of Derry wrote a letter to the Castle, demanding a prosecution by the Government. Was this judicious conduct? Ought not that clergyman to have recollected the principles on which it had been announced that the government of Ireland was in future to be carried on? The Dean of Derry, however, actuated by a better feeling, had afterwards abandoned the complaint; and he could wish that the hon. Baronet had followed his example. Even in their graves, the Roman Catholics of Ireland were not free from religious animosity. Would the bones of the Protestants of Derry lie worse, because those of old Mrs. Cathcart lay among them. It would have been a much more sensible course in the Dean of Derry, if, instead of writing to the Irish Government, he had remonstrated with the Roman Catholic clergymen, and threatened to prosecute if the trespass were repeated.

Mr. Colquhoun

remarked, that an occurrence like the present, of a kind quite unprecedented was very likely to produce angry feelings between the Catholics and Protestants, and the Dean of Derry had only done his duty in acquainting the Government with the particulars of the transaction. The Protestant apprentices of Derry had been prosecuted with great promptitude by Government on a late occasion, for closing the gates of the town, in infringement of the Procession Act, and punished for the offence. Instead of acting with fairness on the occasion referred to by the hon. Baronet, Government had avoided all cognizance of the facts, and all enforcement of the law to the utmost extent in their power; and when the facts were forced on their notice, they had entered into a secret and stealthy compromise with the person who was the head and from of the offending.

Mr. Hume

thought the Government deserved the greatest praise, instead of blame, for quietly settling an unfortunate difference.

Mr. Plumptre

said, in his opinion, Government had acted with the greatest partiality. The offences of Protestants connected with religion, were punished summarily and heavily, while those of Catholics were in a great measure passed over.

Captain Jones

thought, the occurrence laid before the House was not only a breach of the law, but a gross sacrilege.

Sir E. Sugden

observed, that the act alluded to by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, had been passed to preserve peace between the Protestants and Catholics, by preventing collisions in the churchyard where burials took place, and ought, therefore, to be enforced with peculiar strictness. As the titular Roman Catholic bishop was present to set an example of breaking the provisions of the act, he did think the case required the gravest consideration on the part of Government. The hon. Baronet was certainly quite justified in bringing it before the House.

Sir G. Sinclair

said, that continual encroachments were made by the Irish Roman Catholics, on the rights and privileges of the Protestant Church, and it was proper that public attention should now and then be directed to the spirit manifested by them. That spirit convinced him that nothing would satisfy them but the destruction of the Protestant Church, and the substitution of the Roman Catholic establishment in its room.

Viscount Morpeth

said, as to the charge of partiality, this case was of an entirely novel and unprecedented nature, while the case of the Derry apprentices recurred annually, and had been made the subject of an act of Parliament. He regretted that hon. Gentlemen opposite were so much less easily pleased than the person who made the complaint.

Sir R. Bateson

remarked, that the noble Lord had not made the shadow of an attempt to defend the outrage, as he must still call it. He had no objection to omit from his motion the words requiring the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, since that was contrary to the usual custom.

Motion agreed to.

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