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Bits of Blarney

Bits of Blarney.  By R. SHELTON MACKENZIE.  New York and Montreal: D. & J. Sadlier & Co.  1875.  12mo, pp.426.  (Taken from Brownson’s Quarterly Review, Last Series.—Vol. III, No. III., July, 1875.)

MR. MACKENZIE is a man of considerable literary ability and reputation, and, though a Protestant, we believe a genuine Irishman.  Perhaps we ought not to say though a Protestant, for our poetical friend of the Boston Pilot,---a high authority in such matters,---assured the public, not long since, that the truest and best Irishmen going are Protestants.  Why, then, complain of “Protestant ascendancy,” and denounce the Irish Parliament of 1800, that sold the Irish nationality for British gold, every member of which was a Protestant?  Grattan, Flood, Plunkett, Curran, and a few others, were, no doubt, able and eloquent, and regarded Ireland as their country, but they were powerless against the mass of their Protestant countrymen; and we have never seen, and never expect to see, any good come to Catholic Ireland from following Protestant and infidel leaders.  We have much more confidence in the Catholic bishops and clergy than in Protestant and infidel “Head-Centres.”  We have no confidence in those Catholics even who sink the religious in the national question, for no nation can be really free and independent that is not Catholic.

Protestant Irishmen are for us neither more nor less than the Protestants of any other nationality; and Catholic Ireland has suffered far more from Protestant Irishmen than from Englishmen.  We are simply disgusted when we find the Boston Pilot prating about “our element,” and telling us, when it hears of a man somewhat noted, that, if his great-great-grandfather came from Ireland, though he was a bitter Protestant without a drop of Milesian blood in his veins, he belongs to “our element.”  Our interest is in Catholic Ireland; and Irish politics, save so far as they affect the Church, are no more to us than the politics of any other foreign nation.  We have very little respect for those Irish patriots who think they can serve their country by leaving their religion in abeyance and acting under the lead of its enemies.  If the Boston Pilot insists on glorying in “our element,” let it visit our prisons, penitentiaries, almshouses, etc.; above all, let it look into the reports of our police courts and mark the frequency with which “our element” is brought up for drunkenness, and husbands of the same element for brutally beating and kicking their wives, not seldom even to death.  It may also count the “street Arabs,” belonging to the same “element” that swarm in our cities and live only by begging and stealing—chiefly by stealing.  There it can find “our element,” as also in the emigrants from remote Irish districts, who have never been instructed in the first principles of religion and morality, and hardly know how to bless themselves.         

These certainly do not include the whole or even the larger portion of “our element,” but they are enough to render the claims so confidently made by the Boston Pilot, and kindred journals, simply ridiculous.  There are Irishmen and Irishmen.  We want no better citizens or better Catholics than the great majority of our population of Irish birth or descent; but here, as in Ireland itself, there is a large class, that, to say the least, do no credit either to their religion or to their race,---a class large enough and vicious enough to moderate the tone, not a little impudent, of such journalists as our poet of the Boston Pilot.  We say not that even this class are worse than a much larger class of native-born Americans, and we should never single them out or refer to them as belonging to “our element” but for the impudence of the Irish-American journals, which are, what General Sherman calls army correspondents, “a first-class nuisance,”—a nuisance which, we have no doubt, our venerable bishops and clergy, if they had leisure to attend to it, would soon abate if they could.  The worst enemies of the Irish people settled here are their journals and professional patriots, who only trade on their natural and laudable affection for the land of their birth.  “Our element” is rich, it must be admitted, in demagogues, and demagogues of the first water.  These demagogues go far to neutralize the influence of the Church in redeeming the country and giving it a sound, healthy moral and political tone, for they have been mostly baptized in her communion.  Yet they are an evil that must be borne.

No one can deny that to the emigrants from Ireland and their children born here we are indebted for a large, industrious, enterprising, and thriving portion of our population.  They constitute probably two-thirds of the Catholic congregations, and more than that proportion of the clergy and religious of the Union; and all honor is due to their zeal and liberality.  Nothing can be more admirable or praiseworthy than the love and reverence of these congregations for their clergy, or their liberality in contributing of their often scanty means to the erection of churches, the founding of colleges, asylums, hospitals, and other charitable institutions.  Yet they are too apt to forget that they are not the only Catholics in the country, that they are not still in old Ireland, and that Irish politics are out of place here.  As much as they profess to hate England, to be loyal to the United States, seven thousand of them, in a single city, who had abjured the British crown, sworn allegiance to the Union, and voted at our elections, in order to escape the draft in the late civil war, denied their American citizenship, and claimed British protection as British subjects.  But enough of this, too much, perhaps, and far more than we would have said, if such journals as the Boston Pilot and the Irish World had less impudence, and showed some interest in Catholicity separate from Irish politics.  What have Americans to do with Fenianism, Home Rule, and other like questions?

To return to “Bits of Blarney.”  Some of Mr. Mackenzie’s pieces are amusing, witty, and funny, but, like most popular Irish literature, low in their moral and religious tone.  The biographical sketches of Henry Grattan and Daniel O’Connell are interesting and instructive.  O’Connell was, say what you will of him, a great man, a true Irishman, and an enlightened and fervent Catholic,--a complete refutation of our poetic friend’s assertion that the truest and best Irishmen are Protestants.  He is a proof, too, that it is only under Catholic leaders that good can come to Catholic Ireland.