Thomas Moore, Memoirs of Captain Rock, the Celebrated Irish Chieftain, with some Account of his Ancestors, Written by Himself [3rd Edn.] (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green 1824), 376pp.

Note: Extracts based on a misbound text with a missing folio in my possession. [BS August 1999.]

The ROCKS are a family of great antiquity in Ireland; as old, at least, as the “ancient family of the Wrongheads” in England.

That we had made some noise, even before the memorable period, when Pope Adrian made a present of Ireland to Henry II., there is every reason to believe; but under such wise monarchs as Ollam Fodlah, Dubhlachta, Flabhertach, Brian Boromhe, &c., whose laws, as Mr. O’Halloran assures us, were models of perfection, it was difficult even for the activity of the Rocks to distinguish itself. Accordingly, for the first 1100 years of the Christian [4] era, we hear but little or nothing of the achievements of the family. (pp.[3]-4.)

With respect to the origin of the family name, ROCK, antiquarians and etymologists are a good deal puzzled. An ideal exists in certain quarters that the letters of which it is composed are merely initials, and contained a prophetic announcement of the high destiny that awaits, at some time or other, that celebrated gentleman, Mr. Roger O’Connor, being, as they fill up the initials, the following awful words, - Roger O’Connor, King! [Scholarly persons referred to in this discourse incl. Francis Hucheson & Mr. Hamilton.] (p.6.)

Discord is, indeed, our natural element; like that storm-loving animal, the seal, we are comfortable only in a tempest; and the object of the following historical and biographical sketch is to show how kindly the English government has at all times consulted our taste in this particular - ministering to our love of riot through every successive reign, from the invasion of Henry II down to the present day, so as to leave scarcely an interval during the whole six hundred years in which the Captain ROCK for the time might not exclaim,

Quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?

or, as it has been translated by one of my family:-

Through Leinster, Ulster, Connaught, Munster
ROCK’s the boy to make the fun stir!

It has usually been the policy of conquerors and colonists to blend as much as possible with the people among whom they establish [12] themselves, - to share with them the advantages of their own institutions, to remove all invidious distinctions that might recall the memory of their original invasion or intrusion, - in short, to sow in their new neighbourhood the seed of future shelter and ornament, instead of perversely applying themselves to the culture of poison, and sitting down, like witches, with a plantation of night-shade around them.

Had our English conquerors adopted this ordinary policy, the respectable Family of ROCKS might never have been heard of; a few dozen rebellions would have been lost to the page of history; and Archbishop Magee would not, perhaps at this moment, have been throwing six million people into convulsions with an antithesis.*

[*Ftn: See the celebrated charge of this prelate, where, after asserting that the Presbyterians have a Religion without a Church, his Grace balances the antithesis, by adding that the Catholics have “a Church without a religion ” - thus nullifying, at one touch of his archi-episcopal pen, the creed of not only six sevenths of his fellow-countrymen, but of the great majority of the whole Christian world. Never did a figure of speech produce a more lively sensation.’ [13] (pp.12-13.)

[...] that spirit, which has always watched over the Anglo-Irish councils, never suffering them, in a single instance, to deviate into right, prevailed as usual, and the result was as follows [...] Up rose the O’s and Macs again, and again did the flame of war extend as before [...] and so weakened were the English by the hostility they had thus provoked, that (as the historian remarks) “it was only the want of concert and [27] among the Irish that prevented them from demolishing the whole fabric of English power. ” (pp.26-27.)

[Ftn. quotes Leland to the effect that in the reign of Edward III “pride and self-interest concurred in regarding and representing the Irish as a race utterly unreclaimable ”, and Swift to the effect that ‘it was the fashion in England, “to think and to affirm that the Irish cannot be too hardly used ”; Moore remarks, ‘A hundred years hence, perhaps, the same language will be repeated’ (p.27.)]

The pestilent bigotry, with which England was infected after the Reformation, has been represented exclusively as a Catholic disease - and for no other purpose than to justify Protestants, in appropriating all the remains of the virus to themselves. Luckily, however, the lion has taken his turn to be painter. Dr. Lingard, an able Catholic divine, has established beyond doubt the melancholy fact, that the spirit of persecution was equally busy on both sides; and that Cranmer was the author of the Penal Code against Heresy, under which himself and others were so cruelly sacrificed afterwards. (p.47.)

[On Wood’s halfpence and Swift’s Drapier’s Letters:] The best and most patriotic men of the time were but (as Swift styles Molyneux, and, by implication, himself) “Englishmen born here”. Swift’s own patriotism was little more than a graft of English faction upon an Irish stock - fructifying, it is true, into such splendid produce, as makes us proud to think it indigenous to the soil. How little his views of toleration expanded beyond the circumference of those about him, appears from the violence with which he always opposed the claims of the Dissenters; and for the misery and degradation of his Roman Catholic countrymen (who constituted, even then, four-fifths of the population of Ireland), he seems to have cared little more than [123] his own Gulliver would for the sufferings of so many disfranchised Yahoos. (p.124.)

[Quotes a passage that] not only proves the inoffensiveness of this race of victims at that time, but is a specimen of the truly Spartan sang-froid with which even the patriot Swift [124] could contemplate such a system of Helotism. “We look upon them,” he said, “to be altogether as inconsiderable as the women and children. Their lands are almost entirely taken from them, and they are rendered incapable of purchasing any more; and for the little that remains, provision is made by the late act against Popery, that it will daily crumble away. In the mean time, the common people, without leaders, without discipline, or natural courage, being little better [125] than hewers of wood and drawers of water, are out of all capacity of doing any mischief, if they were ever so inclined.

The affair of Wood’s halfpence, upon which so much of Swift’s wit was lavished - “aere ciere viros” - though magnified at the time into more than its due importance, is interesting even now, as having been the first national cause, round which the people of Ireland had ever been been induced to rally. What neither Christian charity nor the dictates of sound policy could effect, an influx of brass halfpence brought about at once - and Protestant, Catholic, Presbyterian, uniting for the first time, opposed themselves to their English governors, and triumphed over them and their halfpence.

The danger of such a union - momentary and unimportant as it was - to the precious Palladium of the Protestant Interest, did not escape the observation of those who, as usual, founded that interest on the eternal division and disunion of the people. Accordingly, we find Primate Boulter complaining thus in a letter to the Duke of Newcastle: “I find that [126] the people of every religion, country, and party here, are alike set against Wood’s halfpence, and that their agreement in this has had a most unhappy influence on the state of this nation, by bringing on intimacies between Papists and Whigs, who before had no correspondence with them. ” [...T]he same principles which Swift asserted at this period, were echoed by Grattan at the glorious era of 1782, when the dream of both patriots was, for a short moment, realised. (pp.126-27.)

By the laws which existed when I was born, and for many years afterwards, Papists were declared to be incapable of purchasing estates, or of taking lands, farms, or houses, for a longer period than thirty-one years; and lest, under this short and precarious tenure, they might contrive to acquire a dangerous degree of competence, there was a clause in the Act obliging them to pay two-thirds of the profit-rent to the landlord, leaving them only the other third for the expense of tillage and subsistence. Upon any [142] infraction of these provisions, either from the lenity of the landlord, or from any private arrangement between him and his tenant, the whole property so situated became the prey of the first Protestant discoverer, who was lucky enough to detect the transaction, and bring it before the courts of law. [...; 142].

My father was one of those industrious Papists, who had managed to “deceive the Senate ” and make themselves easy and comfortable. He had even purchased privately a small estate, which he was about to transfer in trust to a poor Protestant barber, who had long made himself convenient to Roman Catholic gentlemen in this way [...; 145]

My unlucky brother, indeed (or rather half-brother, for he was by the second Mrs. Rock, and I by the third), formed a sad exception to this honourable character; and was altogether a convert worthy of a Church, which could take such means to recruit its ranks. In his double capacity of informer and proselyte, he entered into possession of all the earnings of many a long day of toil, and my father and the rest of the family were reduced to beggary.* [p.146]

[Ftn.: ‘*Mr. O’Connor, the learned Irish antiquary, used to relate, as his biographer tells us, that his father, after the Revolution, was obliged to plough his own fields, and that he would often say to his sons, “Boys, you must not be insolent to the poor. I am the son of a gentleman, but ye are the children of a ploughman.”.’

Here speaks of his father’s initiation in insurrection, and a ‘singular Prophecy’ to which he now clung:]

‘As long as Ireland shall pretend
Like sugar loaf, turn’d upside down,
To stand upon its smaller end,
So long shall live old ROCK’s renown.

As long as Popish spade an scythe
Shall dig and cut the Sasanagh’s tithe;
And Popish purses pay the tolls,
On heaven’s road, for Sassanagh souls -

As long as Millions shall kneel down
To ask of Thousands for their own,
While Thousands proudly turn away,
And to the Millions answer “nay ” -

So long the merry reign shall be
Of Captain ROCK and his Family.’ (pp.156-57.)

‘The exorbitant rise of rents and the severe exaction of tithes, were the grievances that, [292] in the year 1787, drove the wretched peasantry of Munster to my banners.

Lord Clare, who was then Attorney-general, and, of course, defended the Church, said, “he knew the unhappy tenantry were ground to powder by relentless landlords. ” - Mr. Grattan, on the other hand, proved that “the landlord’s over-reaching, compared to that of the tithe-farmer, was mercy. ” No wonder, therefore, that, between both, the wretched people were maddened, to the full pitch that Captain RIGHT (as I was then nick-named by my followers) required. Not that even those double scourges, middlemen and tithe-takers, efficient as they were, could have accomplished the object for me so completely, had not the Government, as usual, come in to their assistance, and, by its premature and unqualified severity, exasperated discontent into frenzy.’ (pp.292-93.)

‘The constancy of our State Doctors to their old remedy, the bayonet, is miraculous. Having exhibited it in 1787 with their accustomed vigour and success, they continued so to administer it, at convenient intervals and with increasing exacerbation, till 1798 - when it brought on that violent, but imperfect, crisis, the Rebellion. They then resumed the same course of physic immediately after the Union, and have persevered in it, only with a greater frequency of doses, down to the present day. - Martial Law and the Insurrection Act having been in force fourteen years out of the four and twenty that have elapsed since that measure. It would take a whole page to enumerate the various forms and names, under which this one, sole specific for all the evils of Ireland has been administered, viz. Peace Preservation Acts, Seizure of Arms Act, [194] Secret Society Acts, Constabulary Acts, &c., &c., &c., &c., &c. But, as Doctor Ollapod says, “Rhubarb is Rhubarb, call it what you will; ” and there is no disguising by any change of name or phrase, that the bayonet is the sole, active ingredient in all these various formulas.

When Molière was asked by Louis XIV. what use he made of his physician, he answered - “Nous causerons ensemble; il m’ordonne des remedes - je ne les prends pas, et je guéris - but, when a mischievous physician, who orders steel in all cases, has the power also of compelling his dose to be swallowed, what is the unfortunate patient to do?’ (pp.294-95.)

‘As the concessions of 1763 form the sum total of the liberty of the Catholics at present - notwithstanding the promises held out to them at the Union, and broken as magnanimously as every other promise - let us see whether the liberality of the “Thousands ” to the “Millions, ” at that period, was such as to alarm CAPTAIN ROCK for the continuance of his “merry reign; ” - always recollecting that those liberalities were brought forth in a moment of panic; and that most of them have been since so checked and stunted by their unnatural parents, as to resemble the curse-stricken progeny of the countess of Hainault - numerous, but abortive, and mere lusus naturae of legislation.’ (p.335.)

‘Permission to enter into the Profession of Law was another of the privileges accorded in 1793: [...] But here, as every where else, he is stopped in the propylaeum of the temple. He may raise his voice to ask for justice to his fellow slaves, but from the inner shrine, where it is dispensed, he is utterly excluded. He can neither be Judge, Attorney-general, King’s counsel, Mastery in Chancery, Recorder, nor any one of a long list of near 200 offices, from all of which the express letter of the Statures excludes him.’ (p.345; cites John Dutton on judicial bribery; p.344n.)

On the Union: “In the first place, by your adoption of this system, we shall none of us be disappointed in our rebellion - neither the Faction of the ROCKS, [354] whom centuries of defeat have no discouraged, not the Faction of the Ascendancy, whom centuries of triumph have not satisfied. In the next place, by lashing up the lowest of the populace, into a fury as blind as that of the Cyclops in his cave, but only the more ferocious for being unenlightened, you will throw the tarnish of bigotry over the banner of Freedom, and bring disgrace for ever upon the cause of the people in Ireland. In the third place, by the opportunity of abundant blood-letting, which the popular inflammation you have provoked will furnish, you will be enabled to cool down the temperament of the country, into a state tame enough for a reception of the Union-and, [355] finally, by that Act, will deliver up Ireland, bound hand and foot, into the fangs of Captain ROCK and the Ascendancy, to be their joint prey through all succeeding times.

Such was the advice dictated by the truest spirit of Rockism [...] (pp.355-56).

Captain ROCK is apprehended and tried under the Insurrection act, but there being willing to identify him, he is ‘found guilty only of the transportable offence, namely, that of being out by moonlight, [and] is this moment on his way to those distant shores, where so many lads “who love the moon ” have preceded him. (p.371.)

The Captain was dressed, on the morning of his embarkation, in an old green coat - supposed to be the same, but without the yellow facings, which was made up for Napper Tandy, as an officer of the Irish National Guard - a pair of breeches, the colour of which the reporter unluckily could not ascertain, and stockings, of the staple manufacture of Mr. Dick Martin’s Kingdom of Connemara. (p.372.)

[Editor receives letter from Captain Rock:] “[...]For the safety of the ROCK Dominion in Ireland, to which my son, now invested with the title of Captain, succeeds, I see but little in the measures or projects of our present rulers to alarm me. On the contrary, it appears to me, that I leave every thing most comfortably calculated, to render the reign of my son as tempestuous and troublesome as my own. [...; 373];

[...] with Mr. Peel, Lord Eldon, and the Duke of Wellington in the Cabinet, to answer for the complexion of their future measures, I may safely, I think, reckon upon a continuance of the ROCK Dynasty, through many a long year of distraction and tumult; and may lay my head upon my pillow at Botany Bay, with the full assurance that all at home is going on as prosperously as ever.’ (p.375.)

‘As I know you are one of those who have sincerely set their hearts, upon the conversion of the Irish Roman Catholics to Protestantism, I will - to show you how little I am under the influence of bigotry - mention the only mode that has ever occurred to me, as affording even a chance of attaining that object. Let an Act be passed, transferring to the Roman [375] Catholic clergy all the Tithes that are at present paid to the Protestant Establishment; and, if that does not alienate the whole body of Roman Catholics from the Pastors, the case is desperate, and you must be content to let Ireland remain Popish. Yours, my dear Sir, very truly, DECIMUS ROCK, Late Captain of All Ireland.’ (p.376.)

[Ends beseeching the Editor not to reveal his whereabouts since, ‘having hanged so many dozens of wrong CAPTAIN ROCKS, they might possibly now take it into their heads to hang the right one.’

The End [sic; p.376.]

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