seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)

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Patrick Darcy Delivers His “Argument”

dublin-castlePatrick Darcy, a prominent constitutional lawyer who wrote the constitution of Confederate Ireland, delivers his famous Argument during a conference on June 9, 1641.

During a conference held in the dining room of Dublin Castle, Darcy delivers his Argument. Published in 1643 and reprinted in 1764, it is the first forceful and detailed statement of the rule of law in Ireland, articulating an effective constitutional position for her as England‘s colonial country. He is quoted arguing to William Molyneux that “no parliament but an Irish one can properly legislate for Ireland,” which is the central summation of his work.

In 1961, the American constitutional expert C.H. McIlwain says in compliment of Darcy’s Argument that it “constitute the first definite statement of the central point of the American opposition more than a century later. Patrick Darcy deserves a place in American constitutional history.”

The format of the 142-page Argument comprises a series of legal questions on the powers of the Parliament of Ireland in 1640–41. It refers to and suggests the extent by which the parliament’s general self-governing powers are superior to all ad-hoc (and possible illegal, unlawful or illicit) decisions by judges and royal officials in the Kingdom of Ireland. The relevant text nearest to the subject of Irish self-government is at page 130:

“Whither the Subjects of this kingdome bee a free people, and to be governed onely by the Common-lawes of England, and statutes of force in this kingdome. The subjects of this his Majesties kingdome of Ireland, are a free people, and to be governed onely according to the Common-law of England, and Statutes made & established by Parliament in this kingdome of Ireland, and according to the lawfull customes used in the same.”

(Pictured: Dublin Castle)


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Coronation of James II as King of England & Ireland

The coronation of James II as King of England and Ireland takes place at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1685. He is also crowned King of Scotland as James VII. He is the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The second surviving son of Charles I, James ascends the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II. There is little initial opposition to his accession, and there are widespread reports of public rejoicing at the orderly succession. The new Parliament that assembles in May 1685, which gains the name of “Loyal Parliament,” is initially favourable to James, and the new King sends word that even most of the former exclusionists will be forgiven if they acquiesce to his rule.

Members of Britain’s Protestant political elite increasingly suspect him of being pro-French and pro-Catholic and of having designs on becoming an absolute monarch. When he produces a Catholic heir, leading nobles call on his Protestant son-in-law and nephew William of Orange to land an invasion army from the Dutch Republic, which he does in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James flees England and thus is held to have abdicated. He is replaced by his eldest, Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

James makes one serious attempt to recover his crowns from William and Mary when he lands in Ireland in 1689. After the defeat of the Jacobite forces by the Williamites at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, James returns to France. He lives out the rest of his life as a pretender at a court sponsored by his cousin and ally, King Louis XIV.

James is best known for his struggles with the English Parliament and his attempts to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists, against the wishes of the Anglican establishment. This tension makes James’s four-year reign a struggle for supremacy between the English Parliament and the Crown, resulting in his deposition, the passage of the Bill of Rights, and the accession of his daughter and her husband as king and queen.


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First Known Meeting of the Parliament of Ireland

parliament-of-ireland-coat-of-armsThe Parliament of Ireland meets at Castledermot in County Kildare on June 18, 1264, the first definitively known meeting of this Irish legislature. There is some evidence to suggest that the word “parliament” may have been in use as early as 1234.

There is nothing new about parliamentary assemblies in Ireland. The Normans, who begin to settle in Ireland in 1169, are the first to give Ireland a centralised administration. The Irish legal system and courts of law are, in large measure, inherited from them. So too is the Irish legislature which is directly descended from the parliament which develops in medieval Ireland.

The Parliament of Ireland is formally founded in 1297 by the Justiciar, Sir John Wogan, to represent the Irish and Anglo-Norman population of the Lordship of Ireland. It exists in Dublin from 1297 until 1800 and is comprised of two chambers – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords consists of members of the Irish peerage and the bishops (after the Reformation, Church of Ireland bishops), while the Commons is directly elected, albeit on a very restricted franchise.

The main purpose of parliament is to approve taxes that are then levied by and for the Lordship of Ireland. Those who pay the bulk of taxation, the clergy, merchants, and landowners, naturally comprise the members. In 1541 the parliament votes to create the Kingdom of Ireland.

Over the centuries, the Irish parliament meets in a number of locations both inside and outside Dublin. The first meeting at Castledermot in June 1264 takes place some months earlier than the first English Parliament containing representatives of towns and cities. However, this Irish Parliament is a meeting of Irish nobles and bishops, not representatives of Irish people. Later, in the 15th century, Irish parliaments began to invite representatives of the people.

Among its most famous meeting places are Dublin Castle, the Bluecoat School, Chichester House and, its final permanent home, the Irish Parliament House in College Green.


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James I Ascends to King of England and Ireland

king-james-iJames VI of Scotland ascends to King of England and Ireland as James I on March 24, 1603. The kingdoms of Scotland and England are individual sovereign states, with their own parliaments, judiciary, and laws, though both are ruled by James in personal union.

James is born on June 19, 1566 at Edinburgh Castle, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, uniquely positioning him to eventually accede to all three thrones. He is baptised “Charles James” on December 17, 1566 in a Catholic ceremony held at Stirling Castle.

James succeeds to the Scottish throne at the age of thirteen months, after his mother is compelled to abdicate in his favour. Four different regents govern during his minority though he does not gain full control of his government until 1583. On March 24, 1603, he succeeds his cousin, Elizabeth I, upon her death, uniting the crowns of Scotland and England, while also gaining possession of the Kingdom of Ireland, then an English possession.

James continues to reign in all three kingdoms for 22 years, a period known as the Jacobean era, until his death in 1625 at 58 years of age. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, he bases himself in England, which is the largest of the three realms, and styles himself “King of Great Britain and Ireland.” He returns to Scotland only once in 1617. He is a major advocate of a single parliament for England and Scotland. During his reign, the Plantation of Ulster and British colonisation of the Americas begins.

At 57 years and 246 days, James’s reign in Scotland is longer than those of any of his predecessors. He achieves most of his aims in Scotland but faces great difficulties in England, including the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and repeated conflicts with the English Parliament. Under James, the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan literature and drama continues, with writers such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture. James himself is a talented scholar, the author of works such as Daemonologie (1597), True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), and Basilikon Doron (1599). He sponsors the translation of the Bible that is named after him – the Authorised King James Version.

In early 1625, James is plagued by severe attacks of arthritis, gout, and fainting fits. In March, he falls seriously ill with tertian ague followed by a stroke. He dies at Theobalds House on March 27 during a violent attack of dysentery. James is buried in Westminster Abbey but the position of the tomb is lost for many years. In the 19th century, following an excavation of many of the vaults beneath the floor, the lead coffin is found in the Henry VII vault.