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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 171 (( This spirit of false chivalry,” adds Barrington, (( which took such entire possession of Hamilton Rowan’s understanding, was soon diverted into the channels of political theory.” The (( wrongs of Ireland,” real and imaginary, were not without their influence on a mind so susceptible of humane and honourable impressions. In 1782 he had participated in the memorable but short-lived triumph obtained for their country by the Volunteers, whom the emergency of the times called into existence j and he saw with equal regret the return of anarchy and disorganisation which so speedily followed that propitious effort of national unanimity. The spirit of democracy, so fearfully awakened in the Revolution of France, acted with talismanic effect upon the people of Ireland, where the patriotic exertions and eloquence of a Grattan and a Curran were expended in vain against the corruption of the Irish Parliament. In Hamilton Rowan the promoters of the societies of (( United Irishmen,” the first of which was held in Belfast in October 1791, found an influential and enthusiastic coadjutor. The first sitting of the Dublin Society was held on the 9th November following; the Hon. Sirnon Butler in the chair, and James Napper Tandy, secretary. Of this body Hamilton Rowan was an original member; but it was not till 1792, at the meeting on the 23d November, that we find him officially engaged in the proceedings. Dr. Drennan (whose talents as a writer have been much admired) was elected chairman, and Mr. Rowan, secretary. The views of the “ United Irishmen ” were ostensibly the accomplishment of political reformation-and probably nothing farther was at first contemplated ; but it soon became evident that measures as well as principles were in progress, which were likely to increase and streugthen in proportion as a redress of grievances was denied or postponed. That national independence was an event, among others, to which the United Irishmen looked forward, is strongly countenanced by concurring circumstances-although it ought to be borne in mind that the original political associations were entirely distinct from those subsequently entered into, bearing similar designations. Early in 1792 a body of volunteers were formed in Dublin, approximating in design to the National Guards of France-the leaders of whom were Hamilton Rowan and Napper Tandy. This body of armed citizens-who “wore clothing of a particular uniform, with emblems of harps divested of the Royal Crown ”-had hitherto met only in small divisions ; but a general meeting, to be held on Sunday the 7th September, was at length announced in a placard, to which was attached the signature of Mathew Dowling. Alarmed at this procedure the Government issued a counter proclamation the day previous, which proved so entirely authoritative, that the only individuals who appeared on parade in uniform were Rowan, Tandy, and Carey, printer to the Society. Immediately following this, the ‘( United Irishmen ” met in consdtationan energetic address to the Volunteers of Ireland, or rather the disorganised remains of that once powerful body, was agreed ob-and the Guards of Dublin were summoned to meet in a house in Cape Street, belonging to Pardon, a
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172 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. fencing-master, upon the 16th December. The gallery of this room was set apart for spectators, and the body of the apartment for those who were in uniform, about two hundred of whom assembled. Hamilton Rowan and Napper Tandy were conspicuous at the table-both read parts of the address, and were busily engaged in circulating copies among the audience. The address-to which the names of Dr. Drennan and Mr. Rowan were appended, as chairman and secretary-was of a character too democratic to escape the notice of Government. It began in the then obnoxious and revolutionary language of France : --“Citizen soldiers! you first took up arms to protect your country from foreign enemies, and from domestic disturbance. For the same purposes it now becomes necessary t,hat you should resume them.” It then went on to state the peculiar circumstances of the times-the existing grievances-enlarging on the necessity for reform-the blessings of liberty-and concluded with this appeal-“ The fifteenth of February approaches-a day ever memorable in the annals of this country, as the birthday of new Ireland ; let parochial meetings be held as soon as possible-let each parish return delegates-let the sense of Ulster be again declared from Dungannon on a day auspicious to union, peace, and freedom ; and the spirit of the north will again become the spirit of the nation. * * Answer us by your actions! You have taken time for consideration : fourteen long years are elapsed since the rise of your association : and in 1782 did you imagine that in 1792 this nation would still remain unrepresented ! How many nations in this interval have gotten the start of Ireland P Early in January 1793,a fewweeks after the publication of this address,Rowan and Tandy were arrested-brought before Justice Downes,’ and liberated on bail.’ Tandy made his escape, forfeiting his bond ; but Mr. Rowan boldly stood his ground, and almost daily attended the King’s Bench. At length finding “ no bills sent up to the grand jury against him, he moved the court by counsel, that the recognisances entered into by him and his bail should be vacated.” This step forced on the prosecution ; and after several postponements, the trial at last took place on the 29th January 1794. Curran was counsel for Mr. Rowan, and although he failed in procuring the acquittal of his client, made an admirable defence. The speech delivered by this celebrated barrister on that occasion has been often referred to as one of surpassing eloquence. Several passagesparticularly those on Catholic emancipation and the liberty of the press-have been often quoted, and must be familiar to almost every one. He described his client as “a man of the most beloved personal character-of one of the most respected families of our country-himself the only individual of that family-I may almost say of that country.” The Attorney-General and Prime-Sergeant replied to Mr. Curran, and the Lord Chief Justice (the Earl How many of your countrymen sunk into the grave !” 1 Afterwards created Lord Downes, with remainder to his son-in-law, S i Ulysses Burgh, the Dr. Drennan R-as also arrested and brought to trial, but acquitted, aa it could not be proven subsequent Lord Downes. that he waa accessory to the publication of the libel.
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