Tory and Catholic relations in Liverpool in the early C19th.

This is taken from Tom Burke’s ” Catholic History of Liverpool “, 1910. He is not a disinterested party. He was Liverpool born and bred, with Irish parents. He was for many years, a magistrate, councillor, and Alderman on Liverpool City Council where he represented Vauxhall ward as a member of the Irish Nationalist Party. Liverpool Scotland constituency, which Vauxhall was part of, returned T.P. O’Connor as an Irish Party M.P. for 44 years between 1885 and 1929, the only constituency outside Ireland ever to return an Irish Nationalist Party MP. None of this really detracts from the power of Tom Burke’s writing, or his analysis of politics in the city. The rest of the post of his with the original footnotes from the book bracketed, and in italics, along with a couple of additional explanations of mine also in bracketed italics.

Princes Dock, Liverpool

It is extremely probable that a great number of Irish labourers found work in the year 1819, in excavating the Prince’s Dock. Most of the docks were constructed by Irish labourers, and other works of a similar character requiring muscle were so carried out by them. The Orangemen of the town appear to have had their political passions inflamed by the presence of a large Catholic and Irish population in their midst, and the development of church buildings as well as the marked tolerance of the Liberal party aggravated the situation. They began a series of attacks both wordy and physical on the Catholic Church and Ireland, which to them as to more enlightened persons were regarded quite erroneously as synonymous terms. Retaliation was inevitable. On the 12th July, 1819, when the Orange body celebrated the famous scrimmage “twixt a Dutchman and a Scot ” [See humorous squib, Dublin Leader, July, 1908.]  they were waylaid at the corner of Dale Street [The exact spot where the Holy Cross procession was attacked on May 9th, 1909.] and Byrom Street by a host of Irish labourers who made a desperate onslaught on them. Stones, sticks and other weapons were freely used, and both sides sustained severe injuries. It was the beginning of that wretched race quarrel on false issues which was assiduously kept alive by one political party in the city for the most unworthy ends, [the Tories] and continued to disturb the harmony of the citizens for half a century.

Caroline of Brunswick, c.1804.

The Irish Catholics of the early years of the nineteenth century were accused by interested politicians of disloyalty, an accusation which has not yet been discontinued. Strangely enough it was their loyalty to the unfortunate Queen Caroline which accounted for their first appearance in the political arena of Liverpool, the prelude to effective interference in much more important matters both of religion and politics. The sympathies of the great bulk of the Liberal party lay with the persecuted consort of a worthless Hanoverian, and when the news reached Liverpool that she had triumphantly vindicated her honour, they organised a huge public demonstration to express their delight, in November 1820. [Support for Queen Caroline meant opposing Lord Liverpool’s Tory administration who were siding with George IV ]In the public procession which wound up the festivities the Catholic and Irish Societies took no unimportant place. They had at length lifted their heads, and begun to realise the duty they owed to the city of their adoption.

An unfortunate incident occurred in the month of February 1840, which illustrated the delicate relations between the English and Irish Catholics of the town, and the ease with which the susceptibilities of the latter could be touched in a tender spot. The developments of the political situation in Ireland had gradually removed O’Connell from his great and influential position as a purely Catholic leader. Catholic Emancipation was one thing, Repeal of the Union another. The glamour of O’Connell’s personality had captured in any case the support of the Irish in Lancashire, whilst many Englishmen who were still under a deep debt of gratitude to him for his great services to the Catholic cause, had their doubts as to the wisdom of the new movement. Irishmen, on the other hand, failed to recognise the right of an English Catholic to his own views on important imperial political questions, such as the restoration of the Irish Parliament.

St Patrick’s, Park Place, Toxteth.

Friction was inevitable, and unfortunately the parish priest of St. Patrick’s was the central figure if not the actual cause. His strong personality refused to adapt itself to surrounding conditions and as the result he became at once unpopular, if not obnoxious, to his Irish congregation. A petition to Parliament demanding the repeal of the Union was placed outside the doors of St. Patrick’s Church for signature on a certain Sunday morning. Father Parker forbade the promoters to place the petition there on the ground that to act otherwise would be an infringement of the trust deed, and, secondly would cause dissension in his congregation. The more ardent Irish spirits declined to accept his explanation and attributed his action to pro-English prejudices. As a matter of fact this was far from being the truth, and had Father Parker not set up the groundless contention of violation of the trust deed the difficulty might have been smoothed over.

Daniel O’Connell

He then committed the mistake of appealing to O’Connell himself, which only seemed to irritate the Repealers, and the more so as O’Connell’s letter severely censured the opponents of the rector. It was a curious revelation of O’Connell’s views on the legitimacy of Anglo-Irish interference in the Repeal movement, to find Father Parker reminding him that during a previous visit to Liverpool they had both discussed the advisability or otherwise of pushing forward the agitation in Liverpool, and that O’Connell had advised the inexpediency of such a proposal, being of opinion that it would be illegal.

“Since that time,” wrote Father Parker, ” an association of Repealers has been started in a way calculated to do serious injury to the cause of civil and religious liberty.” O’Connell’s reply is not without interest : ” I am deeply shocked at hearing of the conduct of the Repealers in the vicinity of your chapel, and more disgusted than I can express at men using disrespectful language towards any of their respected clergy. The Repealers have no right to bring their petition into the vicinity of your chapel without your permission.”  O’Connell then goes on to say that the rule in Ireland, ” never broken,” was to ask permission from the parish priest, and concludes a vigorously written letter by emphatically declaring that he ” will not accept any support from Liverpool Repealers if they shew any further disrespect to the clergy of the town.”

Instead of following O’Connell’s advice, a Liverpool Repealer, also named O’Connell, entered into a lengthy correspondence with Father Parker, the net result being a widening of the breach, and though the strain was relieved to some extent later on, this painful display of want of confidence in each other s integrity had the effect of severing the Irish and English Catholics of the town from working harmoniously except on rare occasions, and in later generations helped to undo the fine work accomplished heretofore by united effort.

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