March 17th marks Saint Patrick’s Day, a feast day of the Roman Catholic Church that has also become a secular celebration around the world. It celebrates Saint Patrick (ca. 387-461 AD), probably the most recognized of the patron saints of Ireland. The origins of the holiday can be traced to the early 17th century. The wearing of the color green has become customary on this day, as has the displaying of shamrocks; the simple clover which, according to legend, was used by Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans.
This Saint Patrick’s Day the Law Library presents three items, a trinity if you will, from our Rare Book Collection.
The year 1691 marked the beginning of a time known as the Protestant Ascendancy. A ban on Catholics, a majority of the population, from membership in the Irish Parliament was one form of institutionalized sectarianism during this era. Longstanding dissatisfaction with British rule in Ireland was the subject of this influential treatise published in 1725 by William Molyneux. The author argued “that Ireland should be bound by acts of Parliament made in England is against reason, and the common rights of mankind,” and concluded “it [is] highly inconvenient for England to assume this authority over the Kingdom of Ireland [and] to do that which may make the Lords and People of Ireland think that they are not well used, and may drive them to discontent.” Molyneux equated the Irish nation largely with the “great Body of the present People of Ireland [who] are the Progeny of the English and Britains, that from time to time have come over into this kingdom.” Yet his natural-rights liberalism and his defense of the right to live under laws to which one had given consent had broader, if unintended, implications in a country where Catholics, a majority of the population, were banned from sitting in Parliament until 1829.
In the late 18th century, liberals among the ruling classes, inspired by such Enlightenment principles and the examples of the American and French Revolutions, sought to form common cause with the Catholic populace to achieve reform and greater autonomy from Great Britain. In 1791, the Society of United Irishmen was founded in Belfast by a coalition of Roman Catholics and Protestants to promote such reforms. By 1797, it had spread throughout the country and had at least 100,000 members.
The Society was the main organizing force behind the ill-fated uprising against British rule known as the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which began on May 23rd and was crushed three months later on September 23rd. The event was chronicled (and strongly criticized) by Sir Richard Musgrave, Baronet of Ireland and a Protestant member of the Irish Parliament, in his Memoirs of the rebellions in Ireland … with the history of the conspiracy which preceded it, published in Dublin and London in 1802. It featured several maps, including this one, “A Map of Ireland to elucidate the Irish Rebellion on 1798.”
A few days after the outbreak of the conflict, one Mr. Wright, “a teacher of the French language” residing in county Tipperary, was suspected of having ties to the rebel United Irishmen and sentenced by the sheriff to receive 150 lashes. He filed a complaint, and on March 18th, 1799, the sheriff was tried for issuing the order. After hearing the charge by the presiding judge, “the jury retired and found a verdict for the plaintiff—500l. damages and 6d. costs.” The account of the case is presented in The trial of Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Esq.
Rare book service is available on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Access to rare materials is by appointment and we welcome your inquiries.
Special thanks to Dr. Meredith Shedd-Driskel, Law Curator, for selecting these items and contributing text to this post.