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Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Date Posted:

‘Into The Guts Of The Enemies Of The Holy Father’ — Raising The Pope’s Irish Brigade

Rome and Irish Patriotism – Part 1
Dr Clive Gillis

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 Garibaldi.

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 him”.

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’s worries

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”.

General Lamoriciere

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 article DV.

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