Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bastards by Queen's Bench Decree

A great new controversy swept over Ulster in the last summer of 1841. At that time, John Martin was taking another trip, this time east to Europe. The insult to his Presbyterian religion which was causing great anger amongst his friends and neighbors was waiting when he returned. No need for him to abandon his time in Belgium, Germany, and Italy to return home.
Every August, summer court sessions, Assizes, took place across Ireland. No one foresaw the problems that would flow from a minor court case in the Armagh Assizes. A rather uncouth man named Samuel Smith was on trial for bigamy. The facts seemed straight forward. He had married Jane Gordon from Portadown in 1839. Since he had had married another woman 8 years before, the court case seemed routine. And it was except for the unique defense Smith mounted. He claimed that his first marriage was illegal as he was a member of the Church of Ireland, and any marriage with a Presbyterian, performed by a Presbyterian minister was forbidden, the exact conditions under which his first marriage had taken place.

The jury didn't accept his defense, and found him guilty. His sentence of transportation would leave 2 wives destitute. But his lawyer made a legal issue that should be heard separately. Presiding Judge Crampton ordered the issue to be heard at the Queen's Bench later in the year.

Presbyterians expected that the legal challenge would be dismissed, as such marriages had been taking place for generations. Still, John was following the subject closely. The Queen's Bench heard the case in Dublin on November 26, 1841. The arguments centered about precedents in Irish Common Law. Smith's lawyer argued that Common Law required couples to be married by someone in Holy Orders. No Presbyterian Minister held such elevated status, and therefore none had the right to perform marriages.

The Irish government assigned their leading law official to argue the case for the Crown. He argued that marriage was a civil contract under Common Law. Therefore, no minister of any kind was required. Whether or not the presiding clergyman had Holy Orders was therefore of no relevance.

The ten judges who heard the arguments took their time with the issue, so the decree wasn't issued until January 11, 1842. By a vote of 8 to 2, the judges voted that Presbyterian ministers had no right to perform a marriage where one of the participants was a member of the Church of Ireland. With that pronouncement, Smith became a free man, thousands of children born to these illegal marriages became bastards under the law. Men who believed themselves legitimately married could now abandon their wives. Settled inheritances could be claimed by others.

Presbyterians erupted in anger at this insult to their ministers who were now regarded merely as teachers, and to the insult to their religion. Meetings were immediately called at which resolutions making this fury very clear were voted and dispatched to Parliament. Uniformly, they demanded that Parliament undo the damage that had been done, and quickly too. For John, there was a personal element to the problem, as his Uncle James Harshaw had married Sarah Kidd, who was a member of the Church of Ireland. So their 10 children had become bastards too.

The new session of Parliament began on February 3rd with high Presbyterian expectations that Parliament would quickly vote to legalize the mixed marriages and validate the right of Presbyterian ministers to resume performing them. Daniel O'Connell raised the issue, pointing out all the legal problems that followed the decision.

Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel rose to speak. He assured Irish Presbyterians that he planned to introduce a bill that would remedy the problems. All existing marriages would soon be legal. However, he had yet to decide whether or not Presbyterian ministers would have their rights to marry mixed couples restored.

Local Presbyterians wanted their voices heard on this critical issue. A meeting of ministers and elders of local churches was held at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Newry to pass their own resolutions. John's uncle Harshaw was present and could provide a first hand account of what was said and done at the meeting. They demanded full marriage rights that extended into the future as well as correcting the threats to existing marriages. Rev. Mr. Weir, minister of the 1st Presbyterian Church, offered both appeal and veiled warning. "The link which the Presbyterians of Ulster formed in British connection-their well known respect for the laws, demanded and deserved this from the Government and Legislature of the Empire."
Sandys Street Presbyterian Church

Corrective legislation was introduced in Parliament ot Thursday February 24th by Lord Eliot, the current Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He claimed that Presbyterian marriages were performed in a "very irregular manner." There was no licence, no notice, and the ceremonies were often performed by "degraded ministers." This distressing situation would end with the passage of the legislation the Conservatives had written. All previously performed marriages would be recognized, but no more would be permitted. Though the Church of Ireland opposed even this moderate proposal, it quickly passed both Commons and Lords.

Presbyterians' religion had been denounced and degraded. They had no intention of acceding meekly to such an injustice. Rev. Henry Cooke, minister of the May Street Presbyterian Church in Belfast spoke for the offended religion. How dare Parliament remove rights that ministers had held for 200 years.  How dare the Church of Ireland and its leaders in Parliament treat their ministers as mere teachers.

Rev. Cooke spoke to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Belfast to amplify his objections. "It was necessary for the friends of Presbyterian honor and rights to stiffen the sinews of war, for they were employed in carrying on a great warfare. They were fighting for their ancient 'status' and for their precious priviledges and rights, civil and religious."  These words reflected the spirit of the Ulster Presbyterians. Rev. Cooke expected that they would be sufficiently threatening to prompt Parliament to revisit the issue and undo the damage of the previous legislation.

There were other warnings as well, one from John's friend George Henderson, editor of the Newry Commercial Telegraph. "We tell them that they must promptly change their policy, else they will lose for ever the confidence of the Conservative party in this country and alienate the affections and sympathies of the best, the most orderly, the most loyal and the bravest of her Majesty's subjects-men who, should troublelous times arise, would stand side by side with England in the quarrel, and cheerfully face every danger, and peril life and limb in the maintenance of the Union."

Despite these strong words, the British government felt confident that Presbyterians would never align themselves with the Irish Catholics in opposition to Union with England. And in this supposition, they were right. No action was taken until 1844, and there was no Presbyterian revolt in Ireland. Rev. Cooke continued to talk to Prime Minister Peel, and helped work out the legislation that finally ended the dispute. Ministers would be able to perform mixed marriages but with restrictions that didn't apply to the clergy of the Church of Ireland, such as published notice of intent, and longer waiting periods. They would not be allowed to marry a Presbyterian to a Catholic. The bill passed in August 1844, but the hard feelings lasted much longer.
Robert Peel

To John, this was just another example of the kind of legislation that the English inflicted on the Irish. Before the legislation passed, John had taken a step that changed the whole course of the rest of his life.

Sources: The Newry Commercial Telegraph; Hansard Parliamentary Debate; 1844 Marriage Act and Its Consequences: Political-Relgious Agitation and Its Consequences for Ulster Genealogy, Brian T. McClintock.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Death In Ballyroney

Daniel O'Connell (
Just as John Martin was visiting Washington DC, an  event that would change his life was taking place in Ireland. Daniel O'Connell, the Irish leader who had led the battle to end the English Penal Laws which had kept Catholics in subjugation for generations, began a new organization, the Repeal Association. The goal of this new effort was to repeal the Act of Union of 1800 which made Ireland a part of England. This was an effort that interested John, but didn't distract him from his duties as an Irish landlord, at least for a while.

On Christmas Day of 1841, an event took place a short distance each of John's home in Loughorne that would take him a step closer to a life in politics. This was one of the few days of rest for Irish farmers and they made the most of the holiday. One group of men had gathered for a horse race in the townland of Ballyroney. Not far away, a group of young Protestants had gathered together to shoot off their guns. This was an opportunity to show off their firepower to the local Catholics who were not allowed to have guns.

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When these separate activities were over, each group hurried to their favorite pubs. The racing fans gathered at a pub owned by John Copes. The shooters were about a mile away at a pub owned by a man named Green. The drinkers at Copes Pub were a mix of Catholic and Protestant. And about 4 PM, as the lanterns were lit, a fight broke out between a Catholic named McKeown, and a Protestant named McRoberts. With the help of a powerful Catholic farmer, Hugh McArdle, Mr. Copes was able to stop the fight quickly and restore order. Lawrence McKeown was ejected and peace restored.

Unfortunately, Thomas Scott witnessed the start of the fight, and raced away to Green's Pub for reinforcements without witnessing the quick end to the ruckus. A few minutes later, Mr. Copes was standing at the door of his pub, when he saw the Protestant boys running in his direction. He hurried inside in an effort to bar the door, but the angry mob, led by Thomas Scott and his friends William Andrews and William Stewart were not to be deterred.

The mob battered the door open, and rushed in, demanding that McKeown be turned over to them. When Copes told them that all was well, and that McKeown had been sent home, they should have left peaceably. But instead they began fighting with everyone in the pub, and seemed to have a special interest in attacking Hugh McArdle.

Realizing what was happening, Hugh fled from the pub, and took shelter in the home of friends. There were 4 witnesses to what happened next, the owner Peter Ward, his wife and daughter, and Hugh's son Arthur. The only weapon they had to defend themselves against the armed mob who followed him there was a dung fork, known as a grape.

The terrified occupants had no time to prepare before the door burst open and the mob rushed inside. They grabbed the grape from Arthur, and used it to knock Hugh senseless. They dragged Hugh outside, and a second later, someone fired a gun.

As the sounds of the mob faded, the survivors cautiously opened the door and peered out. Hugh lay dead on the ground just outside the door. He had been shot once in the chest at such a close range that his shirt was on fire.

There was no secret as to the identity of the perpetrators. They were all local residents well known to all the witnesses. The men who had rioted at Copes Pub and then trailed and murdered Hugh were arrested and held at Downpatrick Jail for trial to be held in February 1842.

This murder brought to mind the murder of Samuel Duncan on Rathfriland Road. Then it was a Protestant  murdered by Catholics. Though identification was suspect, five Catholics were hung for the crime, and 2 more transported for life. This time, the victim was a Catholic, the murders Protestant. John Martin was far from the only neighbor who wondered whether or not with the situation  now reversed if justice would be done.

The doubt as to whether a Protestant jury would convict McArdle's killers was expressed by the editor of a Belfast newspaper, Charles Gavin Duffy, who would later become one of John's good friends. "It is a fact, which would fill Englishmen with amazement and horror, that a vast proportion of the people of Down, while they have no reason to doubt the guilt of the prisoners, for the murder of McArdle, are perfectly confident that they will escape all punishment. This belief is shared by Protestants and Catholics alike, and depends upon the assumption that an Orange Jury will acquit them, though their guilt be as  certain as a mathematical demonstration. The state of public feeling, where the people are exposed to the fury of the assassination on one side, and the perjury of the partisan Juror on the other, may be conceived."

The trial began on February 28th, with William Mathews, William Andrews, William Stewart and Thomas Scott all charged with murder. Jury selection was all important, and immediately a legal trick prevented any challenges of the jury. At the last minute, a different trial was scheduled and jury panel seated. Then the defendant was released, but the jury was carried over to the McArdle trial. As it was already empaneled, no challenges were allowed.

When the evidence had been presented, Judge Crampton recounted the testimony and the strength of it. "in my opinion I can't understand the crime as amounting to anything short of murder...If you believe the evidence for the Crown, especially that of Peter Ward, no doubt that the four, or three at least, of the prisoners are guilty of the crime laid in the indictment."

Such a strong statement from the judge brought some hope to the Catholic community that there would be justice for Hugh McArdle and for them. The jury deliberated for less than an hour and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty."

Though the verdict was expected, it was still a shock to those in the Courthouse. Judge Cramption ordered the Court to be immediately cleared. The crowd of angry Catholics and triumphant Protestants rushed outside to continue their battles on the Courthouse steps and down the hill. Sadly, Catholics learned once again that there would be no justice for them under English law. Protestants learned that they could look to English law and the English government as their protectors no matter what they chose to do.

Even members of Parliament were surprised and concerned about the issue of justice in Ireland. A major debate on the general subject of justice in Ireland. R. L. Sheil, an Irish member, stated the case. "I am well aware that English gentlemen feel some surprise at the constant complaints which are made by Roman Catholics that in the north of Ireland juries are almost exclusively composed of Protestants, and that we should attach importance to the religion of those who are to arbitrate upon our lives."

In the government response, Lord Robert Peel, who was the Conservative Prime Minister, avoided the issue of the McArdle murder, instead focusing on the fairness of the Englishmen who were in charge of Ireland and its legal system. No action was taken to make the jury system of Ireland a fair one. By the time John Martin first faced an Irish jury a few years later, nothing had been done to improve Irish juries.

Sources: The Newry Commercial Telegraph, January 1, 1842 to April 7, 1842; Debates in Parliament, Hansard, July 18, 1842.