THE IRISH CHURCH AND THE RIFLE BRIGADE.
IREL&ND is the only country in the world in which the national endowment for religious teaching is exclusively devoted to main- tain the clergy of a church to which the vast majority of the people do not belong. The Scottish Establishment, since the re-
cent secession of Free-Birk men, does not, we believe, number among its adherents a majority of the population ; but before that event, it undoubtedly could rest its claims to be the established church upon that natural, and, if any establishment is to be kept up, equitable basis. But the Irish anomaly dates centuries back, and has been aggravated in its exasperating effects upon the tem-
per of the people by insolence, tyranny, and general bad treat- ment, on the part of the Imperial Government, or the minority who governed Ireland in its name and under its protection. There can be little wonder that it has formed one of the standing griev- ances of Irish malcontents, and even of Irish patriots. But it is one thing to acknowledge an injustice, and quite another thing to remedy it. Remedy in this case has even ceased to occupy of late the minds of English politicians ; not perhaps without good reason, since the Whigs in 1835, by their adoption under peculiar circum- stances of Mr. Ward's Appropriation-clause, pledged themselves to stand or fall as a Government by their power to modify if not wholly remove the grievance, and so, in the eyes of men made wise by experience, consigned the question to the limbo of unac- complished facts. Symptoms of its emergence have, however, lately appeared ; symptoms so striking in the estimation of some, that a writer in the Daily News ventures to say, "the future of the Irish Church question is clear." We wish our vision of the fu- ture were as -clear as that of our prophetic contemporary, or that we could feel any confidence that while from his watch-tower he fancies
"He sees the sacred morning spread The silent summit overhead,'
he is not really misled by the first flash of lightning from the thick darkness, foreboding only tempest and collision of the angry elements. In plain prose, the first trumpet of attack upon the Irish Church has been sounded from Tuam ; and a division of the gentlemen whose Parliamentary phalanx we have taken the liberty to rechristen—by a slight alteration adapted to.their present scheme of what the polite call " conveyancing "—the Rifle Brigade, has met in Dublin, and formed a committee to organize the friends of religious equality into an acting force. If Dr. M`Hale's letter to Lord Derby may be considered as an exposition of the ultimate objects of this projected and incipient agitation, they reach to the " annihilation' of the Protestant Establishment, in order that " restitution may be made " to his own church, and that, in brief, it may take exactly the place of the Protestant Establishment as regards revenue, but retain its present perfect independence of the secular authority—Parliament and the Crown. These symptoms do not, we confess, seem to us to promise a speedy or an easy practical solution of the Irish Church difficulty, but rather on the one side to embarrass a question already sufficiently perplexed with elements of exaggerated pretension and defiant insolence, and on the other to exasperate national and religions prejudices, to jar rudely upon personal conviction and historical tradition, to come in the train of previous offence, giving a character of sharpened ani- mosity to the -" contest with Rome," and incalculably to magnify the obstacles to a wise, statesmanlike, and conciliatory dealing with the Irish question in its aggregate.
Onr reasons for this conviction are twofold. In the first place,
the time chosen for a movement which, whatever may be its ulti- mate effect, has the appearance of an attack upon Protestantism and a corresponding concession to Popery, is singularly unfortu- nate. Since the Stuarts were discarded, mainly for the Popish tendencies of the last King of the line, never was the English and Scotch feeling against the religious beliefs, the ecclesiastical polity, and the civil conduct of those who lead the Irish Papists, stronger or more bitter than it is now; and never, we will venture to say, were such feelings more natural and more provoked. The conduct of the Papal Church abroad, too, wherever it has the upper hand, is such as to recall the worst days of its history, in alternating imposition, arrogance, servility, and cruelty. Englishmen are more alive than they have for long years been to the fact that the Papacy is, whatever its theory may be, a huge everywhere-rami- fying conspiracy against civil liberty, national independence, and individual progress and happiness ; and this conviction must and ought to have its weight in their treatment of and dealings with that branch of the conspiracy which is unfortunately located among them. But not only is the time ill chosen ; the persons who have set the agitation going, and will of course take the lead in its management and direction, are enough to sink the most buoyant cause that ever floated to success on the swelling waves of the popular breath. Irish priests, or nominees (and boasting them- selves to be nominees) of the Irish priesthood, they will inevitably and irreparably damage by their contactnot only the cause they advo- cate, but those who have the temerity, if any such should be found, to embark in the same boat with them. The Whigs injured them- selves and tarnished their reputation by bargaining with O'Con- nell, far beyond the value of any temporary retention of office they owed to his support.; and any party that seeks by alliance with this lower development of O'Connellism, and by dallying with its schemes, to purchase two score votes in the House of Commons,
will soon have occasion to repent its bargain, in the loss of public estimation and of the power which rests upon it. Were we sup- porters of Lord Derby—did we think it for England's good that he should have an indefinitely extended lease of power—we should hail the first symptoms of support lent by any section of English Liberals to this Irish crusade as the surest augury of our accom- plished object. Did we wish the injustice of the Irish Church perpetuated, we should ask for no greater certainty of having our wishes than would be afforded by a union of English Liberals and Irish 'tillers in an attack upon the revenues of the Irish Establish. ment. But we expect no such thing. The policy of the Irish priests is as profound as their views are patriotic. They do not attempt to veil their intention of simply transferring the endow- ment from one church to the other ; and, with true Hibernian naivete, they invite the cooperation of friends of religious equality ! Religious equality needs no such advocates; its interests are sure to be injured by such contradictory alliances, and its friends are not so blind as to swallow the bait when the trap is paraded, as if those who set it, besides the advantage of catching the game, wished for the additional amusement of holding up their victim- confederates as palpable gulls to the ridicule and contempt of the world.