Saturday, November 05, 2005


Events of Shame - Penal Laws

I thought for today I'd do a new feature, this time highlighting significant events of shame in Irish history, and what better event to start with than the Penal Laws. The Penal Laws were imposed on the Irish people (my ancestors), in the interests of both the Protestant Ascendancy and English sovereignty. Let's outline what these Penal laws meant to the Irish people:

Laws applying to Irish Catholics

- No Catholic permitted to vote in parliamentary, county, borough or corporation elections.

- No Catholic permitted to stand for parliament, or for a county or borough or corporation.

- No Catholic permitted to hold a commission in the army or navy, or a post in the civil service.

- No Catholic permitted to be a member of a learned profession, except medicine, and in that only a chosen few.

- No Catholic permitted to open or administer a school.

- No Catholic permitted to teach.

- No Catholic permitted to carry a firearm without a license, seldom granted.

- No Catholic permitted to own a horse worth more than £5.

- No Catholic in trade or industry permitted to have more than two apprentices (except in the linen industry, which was to the Ascendancy's advantage).

- No Catholic permitted to manufacture or sell books or newspapers. (This included all printing.)

- No Catholic permitted to marry a Protestant.

- No Catholic estates permitted to be entailed.

- No Catholic permitted to take or grant mortgages.

- No Catholic permitted to take a lease for more than 31 years, and then at two-thirds the annual value.

- No Catholic priest permitted to enter the country from abroad.

- All Catholic archbishops and bishops must leave Ireland under the penalties for high treason. One priest only permitted to each parish, however large.

- All Catholics were made to pay special taxes.

- All Catholic owners of land were subjected to special restraints and disabilities.

- All of any Catholic's estates must at death be divided among all his children.

- No Catholic priest permitted to move one step outside his own parish.

Laws affecting Protestants

- No Protestant permitted to marry a Catholic.

- By conforming to Protestantism, a Catholic wife acquired the right to live apart from her husband and make him support her.

- By becoming a Protestant, a Catholic ipso facto made his father a tenant on that father's land, which the son could inherit entirely.

- Catholic orphans must be brought up as Protestants.

- Protestants were forbidden to take Catholic apprentices.

- A Protestant landowner lost his civil rights if he married a Catholic.

- A Protestant heiress who married a Catholic, forfeited her inheritance.

(It's worth pointing out that Dissenters were subjected to other disabling laws, mostly in Ulster)

In my previous post I took issue with the News Letter talking about "the tragic legacy of militant Republicanism". Perhaps now you can understand why because the real "tragic legacy" was the legacy of hatred and intolerance practised by the British occupiers here in Ireland.

They embarrassed my nation. They slapped the taste out of the mouth of the Irish people. They bloodied Ireland's nose.

Am I supposed to feel shame therefore that my country drove the British Army out by force? If you beat down a people you can expect a backlash. The backlash was consistent in one form or another for centuries and it was post-1916 that ultimately drove the British out of most of Ireland.

Considering what they done to my country (and my ancestors), I feel no shame in the Republicanism that was evident in Ireland in the 20th century.

These Penal Laws were what were really tragic!

Seeing as some unionists frequent United Irelander perhaps they could answer me three questions:

1. Were you taught about the Penal Laws in school as children?

2. Do you acknowledge that these Penal Laws were a disgraceful and ugly chapter in Irish history?

3. Do you accept that they played a key part in later generations wanting to make the British pay for their mistreatment of the Irish people?

I'd be interested in a unionist perspective. From my own perspective, these Penal Laws make me sick!


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