Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 487
Publication Date: 1848
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During the first two months of the year 1844, the greatest possible excitement existed in Dublin respecting the State Trials, in which Mr O'Connell, his son, the Editors of three different repeal newspapers, Tom Steele, the Rev. Mr Tierney—a priest who had taken a somewhat prominent part in the Repeal Movement—and Mr Ray, the Secretary to the Repeal Association, were indicted for conspiracy. Those who only read of the proceedings in papers, which gave them as a mere portion of the news of the day, or learned what was going on in Dublin by chance conversation, can have no idea of the absorbing interest which the whole affair created in Ireland, but more especially in the metropolis. Every one felt strongly, on one side or on the other. Every one had brought the matter home to his own bosom, and looked to the result of the trial with individual interest and suspense.
Even at this short interval Irishmen can now see how completely they put judgment aside, and allowed feeling and passion to predominate in the matter. Many of the hottest protestants, of the staunchest foes to O'Connell, now believe that his absolute imprisonment was not to be desired, and that whether he were acquitted or convicted, the Government would have sufficiently shown, by instituting his trial, its determination to put down proceedings of which they did not approve. On the other hand, that class of men who then styled themselves Repealers are now aware that the continued imprisonment of their leader—the persecution, as they believed it to be, of "the Liberator" —would have been the one thing most certain to have sustained his influence, and to have given fresh force to their agitation. Nothing ever so strengthened the love of the Irish for, and the obedience of the Irish to O'Connell, as his imprisonment; nothing ever so weakened his power over them as his unexpected enfranchisement . The country shouted for joy when he was set free, and expended all its enthusiasm in the effort.
At the time, however, to which I am now referring, each party felt the most intense interest in the struggle, and the most eager desire for success. Every Repealer, and every Anti-Repealer in Dublin felt that it was a contest, in which he himself was, to a certain extent, individually engaged. All the tactics of the opposed armies, down to the minutest legal details, were eagerly and passionately canvassed in every circle. Ladies, who had before probably never heard of "panels" in forensic phraseology, now spoke enthusiastically on the subject; and those on one side expressed themselves indignant at the fraudulent omission of certain names from the lists of jurors; while those on the other were capable of proving the legality of choosing the jury from the names which were given, and stated most positively that the omissions were accidental. "The traversers" were in everybody's mouth—a term heretofore confined to law courts, and lawyers' rooms. The Attorney-General, the Commander-in-Chief of the Government forces, was most virulently assailed; every legal step which he took was scrutinised and abused; every measure which he used was base enough of itself to hand down his name to everlasting infamy. Such were the tenets of the Repealers. And O'Connell and his counsel, their base artifices, falsehoods, delays, and unprofessional proceedings, were declared by the Saxon party to be equally abominable.
The whole Irish bar seemed, for the time, to have laid aside the habitual sang froid and indifference of lawyers, and to have employed their hearts as well as their heads on behalf of the different parties by whom they were engaged. The very jurors themselves for a time became famous or infamous, according to the opinions of those by whom their position was discussed. Their names and additions were published and republished; they were declared to be men who would stand by their country and do their duty without fear or favour—so said the Protestants. By the Roman Catholics, they were looked on as perjurors determined to stick to the Government with blind indifference to their oaths. Their names are now, for the most part, forgotten, though so little time has elapsed since they appeared so frequently before the public. Every day's proceedings gave rise to new hopes and fears. The evidence rested chiefly on the reports of certain short-hand writers, who had been employed to attend Repeal meetings, and their examinations and cross-examinations were read, re-read, and scanned with the minutest care. Then, the various and long speeches of the different counsel, who, day after day, continued to address the jury; the heat of one, the weary legal technicalities of another, the perspicuity of a third, and the splendid forensic eloquence of a fourth, were criticised, depreciated and admired. It seemed as though the chief lawyers of the day were standing an examination, and were candidates for some high honour, which each was striving to secure.
The Dublin papers were full of the trial; no other subject, could, at the time, either interest or amuse. I doubt whether any affair of the kind was ever, to use the phrase of the trade, so well and perfectly reported. The speeches appeared word for word the same in the columns of newspapers of different politics. For four-fifths of the contents of the paper it would have been the same to you whether you were reading the Evening Mail, or the Freeman. Every word that was uttered in the Court was of importance to every one in Dublin; and half-an-hour's delay in ascertaining, to the minutest shade, what had taken place in Court during any period, was accounted a sad misfortune.
The press round the Four Courts , every morning before the doors were open, was very great: and except by the favoured few who were able to obtain seats, it was only with extreme difficulty and perseverance, that an entrance into the body of the Court could be obtained.