[Sir] Lawrence Parsons

1758-1841 [2nd Earl of Rosse; son of namesake, q.v.]; ed. TCD; MP for Dublin University, 1782; engaged in parliamentary exchange with Henry Grattan which nearly came to a duel, ; disclaimed party politics but opposed Act of Union; inherited title, 1807). his figure is included in engraving of the Irish House of Commons of 1790, now preserved in Bank of Ireland (College Green). ODNB



Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies, Vol.II [of 2] (London & Dublin 1821)

Regarding Grattan’s speech of 11 Feb. 1789 [recte 3 March], censuring the Lord Lieutenant for his refusal to forward the Irish Parliament’s loyal address to the Prince Regent to London:

‘Scarcely had Mr. Grattan concluded his speech, when Mr. Parsons rose; he was interrupted by Mr. Grattan’s observing, that if the honourable gentleman rose to second his motion, he would withdraw it. Upon which, Mr. Parsons instantly launched out into a most infuriated {245} philippic against Mr. Grattan, and his whole political conduct. To this Mr. Grattan made the following reply: “Sir, the speech of the honourable member has been so disorderly and extraordinary, that the House will permit me to make an immediate reply. He talks of simple repeal, he does not understand that question; he does not know whether that measure was right or wrong. He speaks of renunciation; of that he is equally ignorant. The merits or demerits of either question, or of both questions, surpass his capacity. He has arraigned my conduct, but his observations are as feeble as they are virulent. The member is a melancholy proof, that a man may be scurrilous who has not capacity to be severe. He speaks of the public grant of £50,000; and he says, I got that for bungling, what the patentee was so fortunate to complete. He says so, but why he should say so, or on what grounds he talks, he is totally unable to explain; he repeats a sentence which he has heard, but the force of meaning, or foundation for the sentence, the member cannot set forth; the jingle of a period touches his ear; and he repeats it, and he knows not why. The calumny urged against me by the member, is not his own, (Dublin Evening Packet.) Mr. Higgins has said it better than the honourable gentleman; the Freeman’s Journal has stated it better, and with much more ingenuity than the honourable gentleman: but Mr. Higgins is a liar; the Freeman’s Journal is a liar; it is not unparliamentary to say, that the authority from which the gentleman draws his argument, is a liar, a public, pitiful liar! He said, he did not mean that the honourable gentleman was a liar, but that the paper from which he had borrowed his authority, was a liar, a positive liar!” Here Mr. Parsons rose, and stepping towards Mr. Grattan, made use of some words, which, for the honour of parliament, are not reported. Mr. Grattan sat down. The House immediately called out, “a custody! custody!” and the Speaker ordered the galleries to be cleared: it was near two hours before order was completely restored.

Note that the ‘dramatic clash’ with Henry Grattan which ‘almost resulted in a duel’ is assigned to 3 March 1789 in the entry on Parsons [2nd Earl of Rosse] by James Quinn & Patrick Geoghegan in the Dictionary of Irish Biography Dublin: RIA 2009) - online. As in Ryan’s telling, Parson’s “phillipic” was occasioned by Grattan’s threatening to withdrawn his motion if Parson seconded it. Quinn & Geoghegan cite R. B. McDowell, Henry Grattan: A Life, Dublin: Lilliput Press 2000 [recte 2001], p.78.)

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House of Commons Speech (1790) - answering Henry Grattan: ‘Boast of the prosperity of your country as you may, and after all I ask: what is it but a secondary kingdom? An inferior member of a great Empire without any movement or orbit of its own. ... We may pride ourselves that we are a great kingdom, but the fact is that we are barely known beyond the boundaries of our shores. Who out of Ireland ever hears of Ireland? Who respects us? Where are our ambassadors? What treaties do we enter into? With what nation do we make peace or war? Are we not a mere cipher in all these, and are not these what give a nation consequence and fame? All these are sacrificed to the connection with England. ... A suburb to England we are sunk in her shade. True we are an independent kingdom; we have an imperial Crown distinct from England; but it is a metaphysical distinction, a mere sport for speculative men. ... It is asked why, after all the acquisitions of 1782, there should be discontent? To this I say that when the country is well-governed the people ought to be satisfied but not before. ... It has been the object of English ministers ever since to countervail what we obtained at that period, and substitute a surreptitious and clandestine influence for the open power which the English legislature was then obliged to relinquish ...’ [Cont.]

House of Commons Speech (1790) - cont.: ‘Those concessions on the part of the English Parliament I grant were as ample as they well could be for they were everything short of separation. Let ministers then beware of what conclusions they may teach the people if they teach them this, that the attainment of everything short of separation will not attain for them the good government. . . . Where, or when, or how is all this to end? Is the Minister of England himself sure that he sees the end? Can he be sure that this system, which has been forming for the coercion of Ireland, may not ultimately cause the dissolution of the Empire?’ (Quoted in Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1972, p.37, citing W. E. H. Lecky, History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, Vol. III, p.7.)

Note: Kee remarks on the ‘bleaker frankness’ of Parsons, who as ‘emotionally as loyal to the principle of the connection as Grattan himself’ [p.37], and speaks of his latter remarks as ‘prophetic clarity’ while calling Theobald Wolfe Tone - ‘a young Protestant middle-class lawyer, already showing a slightly erratic interest in politics’ - a ‘friend’ of Parson.

Query: It seems likely that the speech given here is the one to which Grattan responded on as above - the date being a little adjusted to the year following in Robert Kee’s account. [BS 10.01.2024]

To his diary (on the Irish Volunteers): ‘The whole nation in a few years was thus arrayed. That is, every Protestant capable of bearing arms ... But their spirit rose with their armament and discipline. And, beginning only to assure themselves, and proceeding to protect the country against France, they concluded by vindicating their constitution and liberty against the aspiration of England.’ (Quoted in Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959), p.19, citing an unpublished diary quoted in Stephen Gwynn Henry Grattan and His Times, p.59.)

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