Sheil’s Speech of 1837 (Lampson, 1907)

1.481-82. G. Locker Lampson, A Consideration of the State of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, (London: Archibald Constable & Co., 1907), pp.195-96. BL 9508.d.13

Part of a speech delivered in the House of Commons in 1837 by Richard Lalor Sheil, extracted from G. Locker Lampson, A Consideration of the State of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century.

Having first set the scene, Lampson here quotes at length from a speech made in the House of Commons by Richard Lalor Sheil in February, 1837. An attempt to prick the consciences of many of those listening – Wellington and Lord Lyndhurst in the gallery in particular – by way of its concluding vision of a union of the martial dead betrayed by the living and opening by playing up the idea of the emptiness of endless English protestations of good intentions, Sheil’s speech was on one level a response to Lord Lyndhurst’s warning to the Government in the House of Lords shortly before not to let Irish governance fall into the hands of “aliens in blood, in language, and religion” (the Irish Catholics, in other words). Lampson comments that Sheil’s speech was “more than fine rhetoric. It was the pent-up feeling of a life-time — pain at the intolerance, the injustice, the ignorance, the want of common manliness that the rulers of Erin had exhibited in their government of her.” The claim that British ‘agenbite of inwit’ is profoundly historical seems to be very much Stephen’s position.

From the day on which Strongbow set his foot upon the shore of Ireland, Englishmen were never wanting in protestations of their deep anxiety to do us justice; even Strafford, the deserter of the people’s cause — the renegade Wentworth, who gave evidence in Ireland of the spirit of instinctive tyranny which predominated in his character — even Strafford, while he trampled upon our rights, and trod upon the heart of the country, protested his solicitude to do justice to Ireland. What marvel is it, then, that gentlemen opposite should deal in such vehement protestations? There is, however, one man of great abilities, not a member of the House, but whose talents and whose boldness have placed him in the topmost place in his party, who, disdaining all imposture and thinking it the best course to appeal directly to the religious and national antipathies of the people of this country  — abandoning all reserve, and flinging off the slender veil by which his political associates affect to cover, although they cannot hide, their motives — distinctly and audaciously tells the Irish people that they are not entitled to the same privileges as Englishmen, and pronounces them in any particular which could enter his minute enumeration of the circumstances by which fellow-citizenship is created in race, identity, and religion — to be aliens — to be aliens in race — to be aliens in country — to be aliens in religion. Aliens! [raising his voice to its highest pitch, and looking straight to where Wellington and Lyndhurst were sitting]. Good God! was Arthur, Duke of Wellington, in the House of Lords, and did he not start up and exclaim, ‘Hold! I have seen the aliens do their duty’? The Duke of Wellington is not a man of excitable temperament. His mind is of a cast too martial to be easily moved; but, notwithstanding his habitual inflexibility, I cannot help thinking that when he heard his  Roman Catholic countrymen — for we are his countrymen — designated by a phrase as offensive as the abundant vocabulary of his eloquent confederate could supply — I cannot help thinking that he ought to have recollected the many fields of fight in which we have been contributors to his renown. The battles, sieges, fortunes that he has passed ought to have come back upon him. He ought to have remembered that, from the earliest achievements in which he displayed that military genius which has placed him foremost in the annals of modern warfare, down to the last and surpassing combat which has made his name imperishable — from Assaye to Waterloo — the Irish soldiers, with whom your armies are filled, were the inseparable auxiliaries to the glory with which his unparalleled successes have been crowned. Whose were the arms that drove your bayonets at Vimiera through the phalanxes that never reeled in the shock of war before? What desperate valour climbed the steeps and filled the moats of Badajos? All his victories should have rushed and crowded back upon his memory — Vimiera, Badajos, Salamanca, Albuera, Toulouse, and last of all, the greatest. — Tell me, for you were there — I appeal to the gallants soldier before me [Sir Henry Hardinge], from whose opinions I differ, but who bears, I know, a generous heart in an intrepid breast — tell me, for you must needs remember, on that day when the destinies of mankind were trembling in the balance, while death fell in showers; when the artillery of France was levelled with a precision of the most deadly science, … tell me, if for an instant, when, to hesitate for an instant was to be lost — ‘the aliens’ blenched? And when at length the moment for the last and decisive movement had arrived, and the valour which had so long been wisely checked, was at last let loose — when, with words familiar but immortal, the great captain commanded the grand assault — tell me, if Catholic Ireland, with less heroic valour than the natives of this your own glorious country, precipitated herself upon the foe. The blood of England, Scotland, and of Ireland flowed in the same stream, and drenched the same field. When the chill morning dawned, their dead lay cold and stark together; in the same deep pit their bodies were deposited; the green corn of spring is now breaking from their commingled dust; the dew falls from heaven upon their union in the grave. Partakers in every peril — in the glory shall we not be permitted to participate? And shall we be told, as a requital, that we are estranged from the noble country for whose salvation our life blood was poured out?