There were several Bob Carews and three of them were members of the House of Lords but to an observer of the 19th century one of them towers over the others: Robert Shapland Carew, made a peer of the Irish House of Lords in 1834 and a peer of the British House of Lords in 1838; his son and grandson succeeded to these distinctions by hereditary prerogative. Bob Carew would have been weary of the endless adulation that engulfed him all his life: while it was an era when men vied with each other to idolise the high-born and the elite the incessant laudation of the Carews transcended the lip service and vacuous outpourings of opportunists seeking to curry the favour of their betters. Besides, those who praised Bob Carew the loudest were the old world priests of pre-famine Ireland; a priest in South-West Wexford told him in February of 1829:
“Your hereditary, your constant and uniform efforts, to raise the land of your birth to her pristine glory, by ridding her of her unmerited chains, beget in the minds of your constituents here, the most endearing recollections.” The legendary schoolmaster Hugh O’Neill and one of his most successful pupils Ned Carroll (a native of Courtnacuddy who became a distinguished agriculturalist) wrote reiterated praises of the Carews and another of O’Neill’s pupils Pat Kennedy dedicated his most famous book to the second Lord Carew. There is no doubt that the Carews were radical but the conundrum is this: they were not excessively so and on a number of issues their limits of their radicalism was reached. And one part of the myth of the Carews contradicts the other: if that old story of the father of Lord Carew (the first one) refusing bribes and ordering Lord Castlereagh from the steps at Castleboro and voting against the Act of Union is true (the best stories are always fictitious) then his descendants differed from him on this most fundamental matter. Bob Carew his son and first Lord dedicated his life to the British Constitution and regarded this unwritten document as the basis of liberty; his son lost his seat in Parliament representing Waterford because of his objection to the movement to repeal the Union. His grandson (and third Lord) seems to have had little interest in the affairs of Ireland.
In a letter written at Castleboro on February the 1st 1828 Bob Carew, then a member of the House of Commons, succinctly defined the core of his and his family’s radicalism:
“And I shall be an apostate from the principles of my family, if ever I shall cease to be the uncompromising friend of the great principles of civil and religious liberty.” These principles (their hereditary ones so to speak), held by generations of the Carews, are the basis of the Carew radicalism and up to the time of the famine they represented a bracing and spirited challenge to the existing order: in the post famine Ireland the process of reform, beginning with the relief Acts of the 1770ies which lessened the legal disabilities faced by Catholics, the Emancipation Act of 1829 which allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament and the emasculation of the Tithes in the late 1830ies rendered the radicalism of the House of Castleboro redundant. To some extent the life of Bob Carew ended in failure as in 1852 (four years before God took Bob Carew to himself) his well meaning but less than charismatic son failed to get elected for the Co Wexford constituency due to his deficit of radicalism. The Carews had not got less radical but the definition of radicalism had mutated into a variant that spelled a menacing message for the likes of the Carews.
Bob Carew, the later first Lord, reached his zenith in tandem with the effective resolution of the Catholic issue, one that he constantly pronounced upon. The emancipation of the Catholics and especially their admission to Parliament struck at the heart of the confessional and theocratic principle that—in theory at least—underlined the British Empire: all authority was derived from God and civil and secular rule replicated that of the heavenly hegemony; the Church itself, the Reformed Church, was a branch of that authority. The challenge faced by the campaigners for the extension of liberties to Catholics was to, objectively, diminish the threat posed by this development to the Constitution and conversely to camouflage the risk as paradoxically a boon to the Empire. The expectation that the Catholic Church could be made a parallel Established Church with the Reformed Church, so central to the aspirations of the Gallican element within the Catholic Church, represented a minimisation of the threat to the Constitution. Bob Carew would have been sympathetic to that expectation: in a speech to the House of Commons in January of 1828 he stated that he was not “pronouncing any opinion on the co-operative merits of two religious systems originally springing from one source.” The implication of two Churches in parallel progression seems to be present in this utterance. His son, the young Bob Carew, at his birthday banquet on Robinson’s lawn in August 1839 spoke of twin lines of Apostolic succession! This mode of analysis blithely ignored the bitter and lethal hostility between the two religions; this duality arose because of a fundamental quarrel at the heart of Christendom and not because of a mere taking of separate paths as, possibly, implied by the Carews.
Bob Carew was, in modern parlance, a spin-doctor and if one may make a back-handed tribute to him he anticipated the benign hypocrisy that cements modern democratic societies. Stable society is not possible if all the conflicting demands of the myriad of groups that comprise a society are to objectively conceded to: the genius of a man like Bob Carew lay in his capacity to present muddled compromise and disingenuous argument as a perfect synthesization of opposites.
The furtherance of the interests of the Empire was the one great core principle of Bob Carew’s philosophy and inevitably he presented the issue of Catholic Emancipation as essential to the Empire. In October of 1828 he told the Wexford Independent Club::
“the Catholics have contributed equally well with the Protestants to maintain the present family upon the Throne. Their blood has been poured fourth as water and the plains of the Peninsula or the fields of Waterloo could attest, that in the hour of battle, patriotism and valour knew no distinction of religion.” One presumes that Bob Carew did not fully believe this statement himself! The young men who joined the British army did so because of grim economic necessity- the near certainty of starving in Ireland as against the lesser possibility of getting killed in Wellington’s army! If they had political feelings these may well have been ones of hostility to the British Empire. If the Rev. Jim Gordon the first rector of the Killegney parish is to be believed the local peasantry were not averse to insurrection should the opportunity occur. While it is true that large numbers of young Irishmen fought with Wellington’s army, as commemorated in the Bantry Girl’s Lament, one of Carew’s kinsmen and son of the estate agent to the Carews Jeremiah Fitzhenry fought as an officer of France in these wars.
The image of the youth of Ireland rushing into battle inflamed with passion for the Empire was a staple of Bob Carew’s concept of patriotism, Irish cum British. Assertions of this kind may have been intended not as objective observation but as an exhortation to such patriotic valour and as propaganda. On occasion he could resort to the cheap gimmick of attributing phoney super-human prowess to the fighting Irish:
“Lord Carew then proceeded to say that Irishmen had great interest in the war. Out of the numbers who fell at the Alma, 740 of them were Irish and nearly the entire of the Welsh Fusiliers were Irishmen and that was the regiment which suffered most severely. The 88th regiment, too, was a notoriously Irish one and they had lately received accounts that the very cheer of these brave fellows as they rushed to the charge, made the Russians fly for protection under their guns.” Lord Carew either ignored the horrors and sickening stalemate that usually characterise war or he was seeking to seduce the Irish youth to a potentially horrendous end (albeit for the Empire).
Bob Carew reiterated again and again one simple argument in favour of Catholic emancipation: the need to eliminate a prime cause of disturbance in Ireland, itself a threat to the stability of the Empire. In a letter of the 15th of February 1832 re the Tithes issue he stated that he yielded to no one “in a sincere wish for the final and satisfactory settlement of a question which has for so many years more or less disturbed the public mind in Ireland.” In late September 1828 he asserted that “The Catholic question is one of the greatest importance, and until that is finally and satisfactorily settled, Ireland cannot be tranquil.”
If Bob Carew spoke as an advocate of the Empire his mindset and indeed his diction imply as opposite influence: that of the enlightenment, rationalism and the ethos of civil liberty; his words point to serious amendment of the unwritten British Constitution to incorporate the libertarian principles then finding expression not only in Europe but in Britain itself. In France these principles provoked a violent sweeping away of the ancien regime. He may not have comprehended that the ideals he espoused presaged an end to the quasi-caste type prerogative that was the historical basis of the power of the House of Carew. In a letter of the 1st of February 1829 he wrote of the impossibility of holding back an inevitable human and historical progression (to insist on the inevitability of a desired objective was a stock-in-trade of 19th century rhetoric):
“it is quite impossible that the human mind can stand still or that any person or persons can long continue to restrain those feelings of constitutional freedom which are spreading themselves so rapidly and irresistibly throughout the civilised world.” In February of 1828 he had effectively urged an alteration of the British Constitution:
“The person whether Protestant, Catholic or other Dissenter who performs the relative duty of a subject and contributes the various exigencies of the state, is unjustly deprived of his rights as a citizen when he is debarred from the privileges of the Constitution in consequence or rather as a punishment for his peculiar religious opinions.” These words beckon towards the rationalist concept of the state where government enter into a pact with the governed; we are on the slippery slope towards government by consent!
I think that in terms of the rhetoric used by him at least that Carew implied government by consent of the limited electorate (if not of the people). He stated in September of 1828 that “when he did not do his duty to his constituents, they had it in their power to select another member.” He did not address the consideration that most of these constituents did not have the power to vote as they wished; they were mindful of the need to vote as their landlord expected. Early in the nineteenth century it was noted in the Carew ledger that a tenant had voted against the proprietor’s wishes. It seems unlikely that the libertarian ethos of Carew extended to acquiescence in the improbable wish of any of his tenants to vote against him and his liberal principles; I note his promise of the 28th of November 1828:
“Whenever a day is appointed for a Session in Ross I will take care that timely notice is given about Castle Boro as there some tenants and other freeholders to be registered.” These words would then have seemed eminently practical and prudent as the registration of the freeholders about the Carew estate meant greater electoral support for the Catholic cause but this futuristic issue was not addressed: what if a candidate more radical on matters germane to these Catholic tenants emerged?
In August of 1841 Lord Carew as he then was outlined his concept of political order:
“In every well regulated society there is a head to rule over it and of necessity the people are the basis of that power. In this limited monarchy of ours the Crown is the executive power, the Peerage is the controlling power and the people have the power of voting the supplies” and added that the monies voted by Parliament are the sinews of war. Carew for all his faddish liberalism hearkened back to an older concept of government: waging is the business of an Empire and of a government; the duality of war and government ever transverses his mind. The British Empire had been one of many and they all engaged in violent contention with each other. His reference to the limited quality of the Monarchy is probably deliberate and designed to emphasise the rationalist character of the British system. His use of the word people is, at best, confused semantics: as previously noted only a minority of the people enjoyed the franchise and then by open ballot which exposed the voter to undemocratic pressures. But that is Bob Carew for ye; none of his pronouncements ever made total sense or were objectively and factually beyond query. The optimism and the liberality of his outlook is perhaps what matters: his words did beckon to a better society.
The fundamental principles of Carew derive from a compound of continental and English philosophies of liberty: his passionate advocacy of Catholic emancipation has to be placed in that broader context as he himself explained:
“As an Irishman and connected with our common country, by every tie of birth, of habit and affection, I give the first place as it is the first in importance, to the great question of Catholic emancipation; but there are many branches, all springing from the common parent, civil and religious liberty.” Carew, in the relativist mode typical of the era of the Enlightenment, insisted that a person’s creed was the outcome of a complex of historical, racial and social circumstances and by implication outside the control of the individual. In a powerful address at a meeting at the Catholic chapel at Wexford in late January of 1829 he seemed to amend the principles of the Reformed Church to accord with the rationalism of the Enlightenment or his words betray a subverting influence of the latter tendency; his speech was marked, also, by the incurable optimism (that sometimes blurred into disingenuousness) of the Carews.
“I will never despair while I find Catholic and Protestant laying aside every particular and religious feeling and joining in one common effort to procure one common objective—and why should I not call it not a common objective, it is because I as a Protestant and sincerely attached to what I esteem the pure and mild doctrines of the Reformed Church that therefore I should punish those who conscientiously adhere to their own faith, or the faith of their ancestors—let us be just; should I like it if circumstances had changed our relative situation—I feel that while the Catholic is depressed the Protestant and the country is not raised but injured in a word I am opposed to every system which shall make religious opinion the test of political merit.” Carew’s insistence that the Protestants were aligned with the Catholics is at best only partially true (some of the Protestant magnates such as Cadwalladar Waddy most vehemently opposed the Catholic cause): this vision of denominational amity not only reflects the inevitable Carew optimism but also indicates a diminishing of the status of religion—perhaps inadvertently—by the advent of Libertarian principles. In other words if religion is not an issue to contend over and if it is not the test of political merit then it is of less significance. The proto sociological character of Carew’s analysis of religious denomination defies (maybe not deliberately) the fundamental Protestant principle of the Elect, the theology that God chooses to save a select element of the human population. The obvious corollary of this theology is that the rest are not to be saved and that presumably would include the Catholic denomination.
Bob Carew seems to have moved dangerously close (I speak ironically) to an appreciation of the dignity inherent in every human life, a factor enhanced by the spread of education. He told an educational self-help group in Wexford town in early 1829:
“The schoolmaster is abroad and as well might King Canute, in the impotent pride of power, say to the foaming wave “Thus far shall thou come and no farther” as that any person or power should attempt to arrest the march of intellect or fetter the swelling majesty of the human mind.” For once in his life Bob Carew spoke utter and objective truth, prophetic truth at that: the coming era of democracy and the vesting of power in the people required the demise of the great magnates like Lord Mountnorris, the Earl of Portsmouth, the Honourable Newton Fellows, Colonel Chichester, Grogan Morgan (the young relative of Bob Carew) et al; names called out by Carew in his roll-call of the friends of liberty (at the meeting at Wexford in1829). If it is the prerogative of majesty to rule then if the minds of ordinary men are informed by majesty they are entitled to hold sway.
Some of the Protestant advocates of Catholic emancipation engaged in sabre rattling, perhaps out of political opportunism; Anglo-phobia could win them Catholic support at the hustings! This is a sample of the bellicose rantings of Cadwalladar Waddy, made at the build-up to the granting of Catholic Emancipation:
“they shed their blood and the cry of bigotry and rage dare not to be raised up against them- England well knows that North and South America are dangerous states, that it would be policy in her, at this momentous crisis, to pacify seven millions of loyal subjects.” Waddy’s allusion to the threat of violent upheaval in Ireland is given elatedly: Bob Carew was wary of this risk and looked to the demise of unjust and irrational laws at the means to avert it, (to him) the ultimate horror:--
“Those laws once abrogated we should no longer have to fear that the strength of the British Empire would be broken, or that Ireland should become prey to the horrors of an implacable civil war.”
His reference to civil war is significant: Carew (he was a proto sociologist and social scientist) discerned in Ireland a duality of cultures, Protestant and Catholic and deemed that exclusively Protestant principles should not prevail without amendment. However he insisted that this amending process should come about as a result of constitutional action; he looked to education as a means of teaching “the peasant that the certain way to procure a redress of his wrongs is by following the legal and constitutional path, instead of attempting by violence to right himself.” Extending back to the rebellion of 1798 there existed a stream of Protestant sympathy to the more extreme solutions to Ireland’s problems, the purveyors of Anglo-phobia and libertarian zealots; John H. Colclough the brother-in-law of Jeremiah Fitzhenry of Boro Hill is an apt example. The mainstream Protestant disposition was that of allegiance to the British connection and as exemplified in the flat earth demands of the Brunswick Clubs certain sections of that community opposed any concessions to Catholic demands. Carew, as we shall see later disdained the diehard conservatives but he was himself an imperialist of a benign kind.
Carew’s paradigm of perfect order was that of fair and impartial law vindicating civil and religious liberty; in a laudation of the liberal minded Lord Lieutenant the Earl of Mulgrave in August 1836 he made this prescription:
“Wherever we had discontent and unhappiness, there is generally some reason for it; and on the other hand the existence of peace and tranquillity is an evidence that the laws are impartially administered and that the interests of the people are watched over and protected.” His reference to Mulgrave’s work in ending slavery in Jamacia, in the same address in another indication of the relative comprehensiveness of Carew’s liberal principles. In a letter to Mulgrave in January 1836 Carew asserted that Ireland had long sighed “for a government which would recognise no ascendancy but the law; no right save what flowed from the Constitution.” The unwritten British Constitution became the imagined basis of three important principles of democratic and liberal order: representative government, equality before the law (statute and written law) and the expectation that government should promote social improvement. This is the English liberalism of Bob Carew. This liberalism is not outright libertarianism and, perhaps, mindful of the hideous experience of the extreme expressions of revolutionary fervour in the French upheaval he cautioned:
“there is a certain restraint necessary to the well-being of society and the maintenance of civil order. Liberty when unrestrained degenerates into anarchy and the history of the world tells us that from the confusion and chaos which is inseparable from such a state tyranny and that of the most oppressive kind invariably proceeds-- the tyranny of brute and physical force.” The stability of societies based on much more liberal principles than Carew ever envisaged proves him wrong in this matter: the leaders of innovative models of society in that era resorted to brute force and autocracy precisely because all previous systems were like that! A society in which men like Bob Carew routinely used force to evict tenants from their homes was in itself tyrannical.
He definitely sought to represent the disparate views of his constituency: in a letter written from Castleboro in April 1841 that he should always throw open the doors of Parliament to any petition “respectfully worded” and that he presented many petitions himself “with the prayer of which I have disagreed.”
The veritable Carew courtship of the Catholic clergy seems to exceed the mere requirements of the principle of religious liberty and is possibly derivative of the more benign variant of British Imperialism in which a determined effort was made to integrate local and native elites into the governing system. In May of 1848, in reference to his role as County Lieutenant (another hereditary role of the Carews) he spoke of co-operating with “very many of these excellent guardians of order, the Catholic clergy.” In the time of Bob Carew’s youth this aspiration would have been completely attainable but in the embitterment and despair of post famine Ireland such reliance could no longer could be placed on the younger clergy; on his own estate while old Tom Furlong venerated the House of Carew he had for the closing years of his life (after his nephew Fr Denis Hore went to Gorey) a radical Curate at Poulpeasty, the young Denis Doyle who became the scourge of the Carews.
There is no doubt of the deliberate, intense and systematic courtship of the Catholic clergy by Carew; the most dramatic example of this courtship is Bob Carew’s reverential address to Fr Tom Furlong the Parish Priest of Killegney at the celebration of his son’s 21st birthday on August the 2nd 1839 on Robinson’s lawn:--
“In your presence Reverend Sir, it would be indelicate to say all that I feel, or that your neighbours appreciate as to your extensive kindness and charity which knows no bounds.” It was not an unrequited love as Tom Furlong spoke of Bob Carew’s “transcendent virtues as a landlord”, “his practical love of country and firm adhesion to her interests” and “the virtues of his distinguished ancestors.” Amidst all this tedious Gallican speak there was one very positive aspect: the proto-ecumenical emphasis of Fr Furlong’s contribution as he anticipated “good will and harmony between all classes of Christians” and his praise of the Rector of Killegney the Rev. Mr Carpenter.
In the manner of modern politicians (and he was a proto-type of them) Bob Carew deigned to ignore realities that contradicted his paradigm and thus insist, by implication, that this vision was becoming the reality, that Clonroche was as much a part of the Empire as Finchley. Bob Carew described himself as an Irishman on several occasions but that patriotism was always in the context of the British Empire; a comparison could be made with the nationalism of John Redmond in 1914 and his direction to the youth of Ireland to go wherever the firing line extended. He may have thought of Ireland in the abstract and of Irish nationality as transcending race and creed: there is a quasi-tone ring to his anticipation of “when Protestants and Catholics shall feel they have a common country and a common interest in its welfare.”
All democratic politics favour – to speak metaphorically—the chameleon: failure to blend with the current fads, fashions and issues invites demise. The Carews operated to a sense of their own destiny; the building and re-building of the mansion at Castleboro reiterated this message of a family intended by providence to rule. Bob Carew rightly understood that every absolute statement must be qualified by the consideration that it is so only for the time at which it is spoken. Space must be left for subsequent revision as required by electoral exigencies! Writing from London on February the 25th 1833 he asserted:
“I have always considered a Repeal of the Union impractical. I have the fullest confidence that ministers and a reformed Parliament will do substantial justice to Ireland, for the real interests of the two countries can never be separated.” The basis of Carew’s argument here rested on the anticipated capacity of Westminister to respond to Irish grievances. The history of the 19th century to some extent proves that thesis. A subsequent statement by Carew, a few weeks later, is slightly more nuanced:
“If the question of Repeal should ever be brought forward, it shall meet from me that deep consideration which so important a subject deserves; but I must say in general terms that I prefer justice from an Imperial legislature to justice from a local legislature because with the one you secure the British connection, with the other the risk of mutual hostility. The two countries have a natural interest in connection.” There is a shiftiness there—a hint that if the political survival of the Carews required it he might acquiesce in the setting up of a Parliament in Dublin.
On the issue of the secret ballot he opted for a wait and see strategy: the answer was blowing in the wind:
“I have not made up my mind on the subject of the ballot—there is much to be said for and against the measure and my vote will be very much influenced by the discussion which will take place. The arguments have I think been over-stated; nor do I believe that it will be found to all the good effects which the friends of the measure anticipate or the evil effects which are apprehended by those who disapprove.” Carew’s aversion to polarised positions is evident in these words as is his determination to empathise with both sides; he tended always to emolliate passions rather than to inflame them.
The Tithe, as the 1830ies progressed, became a source of bitter contention: these taxes were levied on both the Catholic and Protestant communities on the crazy theocratic principle that the clergy of the Established Church ministered to the needs of the entire Irish society. Bob Carew identified with the hostility to the system as it stood; it was he declared “one of the most fruitful sources of discontent that their country laboured under.” The popular demand required an end altogether to the system and that eventually came with the dis-establishment of the Reformed Church. But Bob Carew hummed and hawed about the appropriate resolution of the issue! There must be a total change of the system he thundered on one occasion but he cautioned against a misunderstanding of his position; his logic is bizarre:
“When petitioners talk of abolition, no one can believe that the land is to be wholly relieved from that assessment to which it is liable by law—Such an abolition would be only giving to the landlords that which they have no right. The landlord purchased his estate and the tenant takes his lease subject to such assessment. Besides, it would be a gross injustice, if the present incumbents were not to receive their incomes subject to such fair deductions, as a change in the system may make expedient But, I for one look with confidence to a reformed Parliament to make hereafter such changes as may be beneficial to all parties. Attached as I am, on conviction to the Protestant religion, I am quite certain that the Establishment requires reform and that hereafter each individual should be paid in proportion to the duties which he performs and I would also pay the Catholic clergy a fair proportion.” This is a most disingenuous statement. The real difficulty here for the Carews was the risk of loss to themselves if the Tithes were abolished since they initially owned the Tithes on the demesne at Castleboro and later on of the Parish of Chapel; the Carews took little heed of Jim Gordon when he whinged in the early years of the century about the Carew ownership of the Tithes on the demesne reducing his income! His proposition to pay part of the tithes to the Catholic clergy is consistent with the Carew courtship of the Catholic clergy and the ideal of integrating local elites into the imperial system. The Carew propositions would make the system more logical but they were unlikely to be popular and went against the drift of the developing libertarian philosophy. They were in line with the older Gallican aspiration of a duality of established Churches, Catholic and Protestant.
As Co Lieutenant Bob Carew held responsibility for the maintenance of security in the county, a responsibility that he discharged with relative tact and diplomacy; he did not take a hard line Protestant stance. The menace posed by the Whitefeet, a loose organisation of naïve but dangerous agrarian terrorists in the early 1830ies, required extra provision of security and temporary extra-legal measures. The latter left Carew uneasy as he stated that he lamented “measures beyond the law” and he hoped that they would be of the shortest possible duration; “ a necessary but temporary departure from the Constitution”.
Carew however was firm on this issue of a strong response to the Whitefeet as is evidenced by his forthright reply to a complaint from a man in Tachumsane in south Co Wexford about the extra-legal measures:--
“You should direct your indignation against those midnight assassins who have made it necessary to enact extra measures to protect the honest and well disposed.” The security measures of the time did not brook an excess of compassion or sensitivity as this report of the death of young Tom Gregory indicates:--
“The night of Saturday the 26 ult. as the Clonroche police were on their usual patrol they came into collision with a party of Whitefeet, about thirteen, who were on their way from plundering a house of arms in the neighbourhood of Rathurtin. Although the night was dark, the police had been enabled to observe their course from the flashes and report of several shots which they fired in their progress, and with admirable precision, met them just as they came out on the road leading from Enniscorthy to Ross, at the fort of Ballough.
The lawless wretches who seldom make a stand against any determined opposition, being challenged to surrender, soon gave way; in fact the first fire made them all run off, leaving one man dead and others supposed to be wounded, as was evident from the traces of blood observable the next day” Gregory “was killed within a few hundred yards of his own house…a young unmarried man, with his mother on two or three acres of land…but of previously bad character.” An inquest composed almost entirely “of Roman Catholic farmers and neighbours” found in favour of the police. The jurors may have been under pressure from their landlords to return this verdict. The probability is that the police version is spin-doctored as it is most unlikely that even the Whitefeet could be so naïve as to discharge their guns in the manner referred to; I presume that the police simply took and shot Gregory because of his reputation as an agrarian terrorist.