HL Deb 06 July 1869 vol 197 cc1226-8

My Lords, in pursuance of a private Notice, which I have given to the noble Earl, the Secretary for the Colonies, I beg to ask a Question relating to a serious disturbance which, according to the reports in the public papers, has taken place in Ireland—this disturbance originating in an attack upon a Wesleyan Methodist congregation at Carrigallen, in the county of Leitrim. According to a statement, attested by the minister, on Sunday, the 27th of June, a Wesleyan Methodist congregation assembled in open day, in the private grounds of a gentleman residing in that locality, when it was attacked by a large Roman Catholic mob, which dispersed the meeting after inflicting much injury upon many members of the congregation, including women and children, by dangerous and violent stoning. Now, my Lords, I must be allowed to say that this is a somewhat suggestive and instructive commentary on the future of that Protestant Free Church, which has been so much alluded to by noble Lords opposite; for your Lordships will observe this was not a case of Protestant ascendancy, nor the case of a violent Protestant preacher. It was not the case of an established or endowed Church where it might be supposed there was a grievance involved. The attack was made on one of the poorest, the most modest, the least grasping and the best conducted of Protestant communities, That congregation was attacked, not because it had any connection with the Established Church, but simply because they were assembled there, as Protestants, for religious purposes. I must confess, my Lords, that this outrage somewhat realizes an apprehension which I had entertained, but to which I have been reluctant to allude—namely, that when the Protestants of Ireland are deprived of the sanction and the prestige which the State gives to their Church, they will come to be regarded by the more ignorant of the Roman Catholic population as heretics and schismatics, and will be dealt with accordingly. I am perfectly aware, my Lords, that a large proportion of the Roman Catholic clergy and laity would do their utmost to discountenance such proceedings; but it is impossible not to foresee that in the more remote parts of Ireland, and amongst the less educated portions of the people, there is a strong probability that the members of a Protestant Tree Church may hereafter be subject to real personal danger in the exercise of their ordinary religious duties. I beg, my Lords, to ask her Majesty's Government whether they have received any information on the subject; and if so whether they are prepared to take any steps to bring the offenders to justice?


My Lords, although my noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies has willingly given leave to the noble Duke to ask the Question without the usual notice, yet I do not think he desires that the rules of the House should be violated by a discussion taking place on this subject. I will therefore not follow the noble Duke but will confine myself to answering the Question. I am not able to give a detailed account of what occurred at Carrigallen on the day referred to, as we have no official information on the subject. But on receiving notice of the Question we communicated with Dublin, and I believe the following are the facts of the case as far as we are at present informed. An open-air meeting was held on the day mentioned at Carrigallen, which was unfortunately disturbed by Roman Catholics; several of the offenders are identified, and proceed- ings will be taken before the magistrates. Further than that I have no information, but I may state that notice having been given of the intention to hold a similar meeting on the following Sunday, preparations were made to ensure security to the congregation, but no such meeting took place. I need not say it is a matter of great regret to the Government that the proceedings of this meeting should have been interrupted in the manner stated, and that there is every desire on our part to maintain freedom of meeting and discussion in Ireland. It may, however, I think, be questioned whether it was a prudent thing, in a district of this kind, to hold such a meeting in the open air when it was probable that a breach of the peace would, ensue.