What's in a name?
Henry Grattan loved to walk alongside the Liffey, his thoughts given over to Ireland and her long enshacklement to England. By the rippling waters of the river he considered his political philosophy - the moderate course he steered between the agitators and revolutionaries on one side and the undying proponents of Protestant supremacy on the other - and in his own words he ‘grew convinced that I was right’.
Born a Dubliner, Protestant, wealthy and privileged in 1746, Grattan trained as a lawyer in accordance with his family’s wishes but became a politician at his own inclination and entered the Irish House of Commons in 1775. His maiden speech marked not the quiet debut of a political innocent but the assured performance of an orator, who while studying in London had trod the boards of his lodgings - to the despair of his landlady - emulating the great speakers of the day.
Ireland was then a country in despair, the Dublin Parliament lazily populated with self serving and unrepresentative men, in any case yoked to superior London by a 15th law and economically strangled by powerful British commercial interests. And all the while the coffers emptied into the purses of men and women who never set foot on Irish soil - the Irish pension list was, at that time, longer than that of England.
With mere words and his signature power of persuasion Grattan, a short man with long arms and a gangly gait, was instrumental in achieving free trade in 1780 and legislative independence for Ireland in 1882.
‘Grattan’s Parliament’ lasted for 18 years, during which time many of Dublin’s magnificent signature building and bridges were built. For much of this time, Grattan sat in opposition, agitating for concessions to Catholics and other political reforms, decrying the war in the American colonies, yet was also an establishment figure fearing the interference of the French and armed rebellion. He resigned in 1797 in protest at the lack of reform but returned in dramatic style - rising from his sickbed following his dead of night re-election - to oppose the Act of Union, an heroic effort which was ultimately in vain. He again retired but took a seat in Westminster in 1805 delivering speech after impassioned speech in the cause of Catholic emancipation.
Grattan’s individuality marked him out. He indulged in amateur dramatics, entertained the great Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean and the Italian opera star Angelica Catalini in his Wicklow residence, home educated his sons rather than send them to an English public school and like many a hero in Irish history fought a duel or two. He died in London in 1820, his last but undelivered speech on reform in his hands. He bequeathed to his country the memory of Grattan’s Parliament - a beacon of light through the long century and a quarter to independence.
The sword of state was delivered into the hands of Arthur Capell, Earl of Essex, on August 5th 1672 and thus he became the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. English born and bred, his family were staunch royalists, a cause for which his father was beheaded by the republicans in 1649. As a violent enemy of ‘popery’, his father had even refused Arthur the usual young gentleman’s grand tour of Europe for fear he would be corrupted by Jesuits and wicked priests in foreign parts.
Capell himself, while a young man, decided to forego the pleasures of London to study Latin and Mathematics, his education having been interrupted by the English civil war. Such a pedigree was ideal for the holder of the highest office in Ireland and there Capell, having honed his diplomatic skills in Denmark, was dispatched by Charles ll. Capell prized his honesty. He applied his considerable talents to the forensic examination of the Irish accounts, grilling witnesses under oath and ruffling feathers, including those of the influential Lord Ranelagh, who bore responsibility for Irish financial affairs.
Capell wrote - by necessity in code - to his brother of how ‘since the restoration the country had been rent and torn. I can only compare it to the flinging of the reward upon the death of a deer to the hounds, where everyone pulls and tears what he can for himself.’ This ‘plain man without artifice’ detailed the fraudulent acquisition of land, the inappropriate payment of pensions and the lack of oversight of the customs.
He contested the financing of the king’s mistress and the rebuilding of Windsor Palace from Irish taxes. He despaired at the state of the standing army in Ireland and opposed the Protestants’ grip on the corporations which effectively excluded Catholics. In London, Capell’s enemies, including Ranelagh, had the King’s ear. He was recalled in 1677. Capell died in the Tower of London in 1683 - imprisoned for his suspected involvement in the plan to assassinate the king and his openly Catholic heir James, to ensure a Protestant succession. The coroner found he had died by his own hand, his throat cut from side to side whilst others suspected a ghoulish plot.
Thus ended a life distinguished on Irish soil in the service of England.