Republican News · Thursday 09 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Surviving the Penal Laws

Grace's Card: Irish Catholic Landlords 1690-1800
By Charles Chenevix Trench
Published by Mercier Books
Price 12.99

The survival of Irish families through 100 years of sectarian oppression that was enforced by the Penal Laws (1693-1793 approx) is the subject of perennial fascination. In Grace's Card, Chenevix Trench focuses on a range of Irish Catholic landowners whose families survived and on how the Penal Laws affected them.

The wholescale emigration of the younger sons of these families is particularly noted, once the law as a profession had been forbidden to them in 1727. A lot of the book's interest lies in letters written by these younger sons from abroad back to their relatives in Ireland. Daughters do not figure in this book, since they did not constitute a political threat to the new Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.

The iniquitous law of gavelling is also examined, showing how estates were broken up by legally by allowing every son a share, unless of course the eldest son and heir became a Protestant.

Also shown was the nasty work of `discoverers', who could discover a Catholic landholder, denounce him and get his land. The benign part played by a few decent Protestant neighbours who helped Catholics to hold their land by making false declarations and concocting legal stratagems for them is also clarified. The fact of the matter is that in 1703, approximately 14% of the land of Ireland was in Catholic hands and by the 1770s this had shrunk to 5%.

The style of the book is anecdotal and makes easy, pleasant reading. Eighteenth Century Ireland was not a pleasant place for any Catholic, but we see here that they made the best of it. A few changed their religion, but the book clearly shows how the seeds of the `98 Rebellion were sown in the intolerable legal conditions of the relatively peaceful 18th Century.

References to published works in Irish seem to be missing from the sources listed. This is a great lack, for the execution of Sir James Óg Cotter in 1720 is dismissed with a few throwaway witticisms (p161-2), while Cullen (as quoted by Ó Buachalla) says: ``It was the most traumatic political event of the first half of the 18th Century.''

Chenevix Trench seems to have no idea of how seriously Cotter's contemporaries viewed his death. Ó Buachalla (Aisling Ghéar) says ``is beag file Muimhneach nár scríobh tuairim ar an bhfeillghníomh''. He gives quotations from at least ten of these poets.

This makes one wonder if by being given only evidence based on the side of the story being told in English, are we being given only half of the story? After all, in the 18th Century about two-thirds of the people of Ireland spoke only Irish.


Crooked leader

Short Fellow
A Biography of Charles J. Haughey
By T. Ryle Dwyer
Published by Marina
Price 17.99.

This is not the first attempt to write the story of CJ Haughey, and given the former Taoiseach's newsworthiness, it almost certainly will not be the last. If there is any justice in matters literary, however, then T. Ryle Dwyer has just written the definitive account.

I dislike reading gushing reviews, so it's difficult for me to write this, but this work, quite simply, should become the standard text on Haughey. No doubt, if events unfold out of the tribunals, there may be other events to recount, but you need go no further than this book for the background story.

Haughey's life starts two years before Fianna Fáil is founded and it is from him rather than de Valera that the DNA of Fianna Fáil can be deciphered.

The Tan War generation of Fianna Fáil that followed Dev could always pull medals to young Shinners and stand on their collateral of IRA service. As I have argued before in this paper, however, the DNA of Fianna Fáil as a vehicle for delivering the Republic was flawed from its outset. Once the Lemass generation had gone, the malignant gene that was the acceptance of partition in 1927 and the wholesale abandonment of northern nationalists would come into full view. The embodiment of that political corruption was Charles J Haughey.

His own father was a Free State Republican (sic) who went with Collins and had personally taken 400 rifles to the Northern IRA in the Six Counties from Donegal while Collins was alive. Haughey's own limp wristed attempt to get gear into the Six Counties is adequately dealt with here, though it deserves an updated book on its own.

Dwyer also recounts how he was finally helpless to help the Hunger Strikers in the face of Margaret Thatcher's intransigence. This was the same CJ who blustered about the Four Green Fields at Fianna Fáil Ard Fheiseanna.

The sense of CJ always being steadfast in the cause of CJ comes through from the earliest pages of this biography. From a strategic marriage to Maureen Lemass to being involved in any organisation that would benefit his advancement - the GAA, Fianna Fáil itself - Charlie was there.

Fianna Fáil was a party without a viable belief system, a Republican Party that didn't want the Republic; it simply became a means of securing office and dishing out largesse. This suited Haughey perfectly - after political corruption came personal corruption. This part of Haughey's life has been well-ventilated now - Le Coq Hardi, Charvet shirts, massive borrowing underwritten by his golden circle.

When there is currently much blather about ``ethics and transparency'' from Bertie, this book does a great service in finely drawing the career of Fianna Fáil's biggest Soldier of Fortune so far.


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