In 1861 Queen Victoria visited Ireland to see her son, the Prince of Wales, “undergoing military training at the Curragh in County Kildare”.
The Prince had enlisted in the Second Battalion of the
Grenadier Guards at Curragh Camp. It was “anticipated that the Prince would be
promoted a rank every fortnight so that by the end of the period he would be in
a position to command a full battalion before his parents”. And when the Royal
family arrived in Ireland the Queen found the crowds “friendly and
enthusiastic” as she went to see her son review the troops. This was at a time
when Queen Victoria’s great Protestant Empire inspired patriotism amongst her
fighting men at endless drumhead altars across the globe.
Pius IX ‘ridiculous’
Pius IX’s hand picked protègè in Ireland, the romanising RC Archbishop
Paul Cullen, had been in power about en years when the opportunity arose to
divert patriotic feeling away from Victoria to Pius IX.
This is how he did it. In those days the backward
Papal States still existed as a band across the middle of Italy, and Pius IX was their despotic ruler. He was isolated and ridiculous. The Papal
States were regarded as the worst ruled part of Europe. The King of Sardinia
joined forces with Napoleon III to drive the protecting Austrian troops out of
Piedmont and Lombardy in the north of Italy and they then encroached on the
Papal territories. Sardinia gained control in the Romagna close to Rome. Thereby forwarding the aspirations of the Italian patriots under Cavour and
Odo Russell was an unofficial British “spectator” in Rome. Pius confided to Russell those things that he wished the British Foreign Office to
know. He flattered Rusell calling him “caro mio Russell” (my dear Russell) and
Pius revelled in the fact that the British found him, Pius, sufficiently
powerful to require such scrutiny. Russell first met Pius on 14th
January 1859 and immediately the pope insisted, defiantly, that Britain’s impression of the Papal States as despotically governed and backward was “erroneous”. He
added, “We are advised to make reforms and it is not understood that those very
reforms which would consist in giving this country a government of laymen which
would make it cease to exist. It is called the ‘States of the Church’ and that
is what it must remain … we cannot yield to outer pressure … this country must
be administered by men of the Church”.
Smiling Pius terminated the interview with vitriol:
“It is lucky Lord Palmerston is not in office, he was too fond if interfering
in the concerns of foreign countries and the present crisis would have just suited
Lord Palmerston acts
But Lord Palmerston, though defeated in
1858, was back as British Minister only months after this remark. Palmerston
immediately recognised Sardinia’s annexation of the southern portion of the Papal States. He further determined to pursue a policy of support for the unification of Italy.
In the allocuation Ad Gravissimum of 12th
March 1860 Pius thundered out a great excommunication of the King of Sardinia
and all who had associated with him in seizing the Romagna. Meanwhile Pius
prayed that “God would exterminate the new Sennacheribs”. He then set about
arming himself to the teeth despite the poverty of his people.
Necessary to salvation
Back in England RC convert Henry Manning
contended, rather lamely, for the inviolability of the Papal States and even
predicted that the Papal; States and even predicted that the pope’s temporal
power would in time become a dogma of the faith, necessary to salvation! This
damp squib earned him the Archbishopric of Westminster but little else.
Meanwhile in Ireland Cullen was determined to shame
the English Roman Catholics. He had been beating the drum for the Pope and
blatantly opposing both Queen and Prime Minister for some time and had
surprised himself by the extent to which stirring this particular hornet’s nest
had aroused patriotic feeling amongst the Irish.
Enemies of the Holy See
Cullen’s campaign began in August 1859
with the Irish Bishops formally notifying their flocks of “the machinations of
wicked men … enemies of the Holy See … seeking to disturb the peace of the
pontifical states”. Cullen circulated a long aggressive pastoral letter in
defence of the pope’s temporal power. He granted that “poverty misery and
crime abound” in the Papal States and mercenaries are required keep the people
“in obedience”. But, he sniped, “even the British Empire is not exempt from
such evils. Lately it has been considered expedient to repress them in India (the Sepoy Mutiny 1857) by fire and sword, pillaging great cities even blowing unfortunate
soldiers to pieces from the mouth of the canon”.
Cullen overreaches himself
Cullen success was greater than he bargained for.
Irish Roman Catholics were roused to fever pitch. Angry meetings were held in
every large town and city and were well attended by the young. Palmerston
became an object of hatred. When asked what they would do with arms if they
were provided, the cry went up, “Into the guts of the enemies of the Holy
Father”. Inevitably, ‘arming the pope’ could not stop at talk but had now to
be made a reality. Between March and July 1860, Cullen and his hierarchy
arranged a vast collection for the pope which, with patriotic spirit flowing,
raised £80,000 pounds - £5 milion today – exceeding pro rata in its
weekly totals anything O’Connell had managed to raise in his heyday for the
Catholic Rent. Poor young Irish Romanists could not give, but they were
certainly spoiling for a fight.
Far thinking Cullen demurred. He had gained the power
he possessed by outstripping his contemporaries in guile. He was well aware of
the Foreign Enlistment Act which made it illegal to recruit Her Majesty’s
subjects into foreign armies. But not wishing to appear disloyal in Rome he
reported to Kirby with a sidestep; “It is nonsense to talk about getting men in
Ireland – it would require two years to train them – they could to nothing”.
Hence the pope also demurred.
Odo Russell reported to the Foreign Office: “The pope
received many letters from Ireland offering him any amount of soldiers for his
army. He foresaw two reasons against organising Irish regiments: first the
cheapness of wine in Italy which might prove fatal to the Irishmen; and
secondly the laws of England which might involve the Pope in difficulties with
Her Majesty’s Government.”
Bishops enjoy subterfuge
Such niceties tend to be ignored by men
of action. An extremely pro-papal and incensed Austrian nobleman rejoicing in
the name of Count Charles McDonnell, a man much in love with the romance of his
Irish roots, appeared on the scene and swept all objections aside in a country
wide recruitment campaign. So successful was he in recruiting “men and big men
too” that it would have caused widespread unrest to deny them. Rome had somehow to evade the law. The plan was to sue some of the collection to cover
the cost of sending these men to the Papal States as migrant labourers. One
suggestion was that they should be “navvies on the railway”. Once there they
would be free to enlist in the pope’s army. It is on record how much this
bishops “enjoyed the subterfuge”.
Cullen more insightful than his
subordinates was still worried, and rightly, as events proved. He cautiously
set up an “Emigration Committee”. Experienced military men were labelled
“students” on all official documents. Cullen himself used the code name Dr
Placido on all related correspondence. But Cullen still worried about the
legality of the transition from workers to soldiers once the men arrived in the
Papal States. He finally solicited a legal opinion via the Romanist MP for
Limerick who reported back: “I have looked carefully at the Foreign Enlistment
Act and have taken a good opinion … No one may accept a military Commission in
any foreign service or enlist as a solider or sailor therein or go abroad with
the intent to enlist or to endeavour to procure any person to enlist – but
anyone may go into foreign service as a policeman. In other words a police
force that exists in Ireland might be formed by Irishmen at Rome without
offending the law.” This would be a brigade of Irish policemen.
Without shoes or clothes
Cullen sent the MP’s findings out to
Kirby. The next day government posters appeared in Dublin on every street
forbidding young men enlisting in foreign armies. Cullen sensed disaster but
it was too late. “I fear many will go out warm friends and return enemies”.
The proclamation simply acted as publicity to spur even more young men to go,
many “without shoes” or clothes and hence with nothing to lose. Precise
numbers are unclear but about a 1,000 men had gone by July 1860. Despite all
the schemes to disguise the brigade, Russell reported from Rome that “a large
body of Irishmen that are come to Rome disguised as pilgrims (!) … to enlist as
fast as they arrive”.
Cullen meanwhile gloomily reflected that,
“the whole affair will end up a fiasco – like some of the Crusades”. And back
in Rome these sentiments were shared by the man at the sharp end, the pope’s
high command, General Lamoriciere. He knew from hard previous experience that
being the pope’s mercenary would be tedious. He had upset the whole Vatican from Antonelli downwards by insisting “on free admission to the pope at any time
and complete independence of all violet Monsigniori and purple Eminences”. In turn
the curia were obstructive and treated him “like ice”. This was hardly the
basis for an effective campaign. The papal army was so run down that the
Romans quipped “Torlonia (a Roman noble attempting to reclaim land and prevent
malaria) did not succeed in draining Lago di Fucino but Lamoriciere would
certainly succeed in emptying the papal exchequer”.
The outcome was more horrendous than even
these difficulties suggest and is possibly the most tragic-comic episode in the
whole story of the romanisation of Ireland. This will be covered in the next