John Fitzgibbon [Lord Clare] (1749-1802)


Life
[“Black Jack”]; b. Donnybrook; son of barrister who conformed to the Anglican confession; ed. TCD; bar 1772; created 1st Earl of Clare and Attorney-Gen., 1784-89; appt. Lord Chancellor of Ireland. 1789-1802; opposed Patriot Parliament of Henry Grattan, throwing cold water on the idea of Irish independence; implacable opponent of concession to Catholics, warning ominously that the relief of Catholics would spell the end of the claim of Protestants to legal possession of the their properties, gained through confiscation;
 
he conducted an Attorney General’s Visit to TCD in search of United Irishmen, compelling students to appear before him for questioning on their associations; brought Lady Conoly and Lord Henry Fitzgerald to visit Lord Edward Fitzgerald in his last hour; foremost architect of the Union and its sponsor in the House of Lords, with Chief Secretary Edward Cooke; offered strong objections to William Pitt’s promises of Catholic Emancipation; d. at home on Ely Place, 1802; his funeral cortège was showered with dead cats by the populace. ODNB DIB DIH RR

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Works
  • A compleat refutation of the statements of Lord Moira respecting Ireland; being the entire speech of Lord Clare, lord chancellor of Irelnd, in the House of Peers of that kingdom, Monday, February 19, 1798 (London 1798);
  • The Speech of the Rt. Hon. John, Earl of Clare, in the House of Lords of Ireland on a motion made by the Earl of Moira, 19 Feb. 1798 (Dublin 1798). See also ‘On the Regency Question’, in Edmund Curtis & R. B. McDowell, eds., Irish Historical Documents, 1172-1922 (London: Methuen 1943)

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Criticism
  • Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.131-35; Terence de Vere White, The Anglo-Irish (London 1972), pp.94-110;
  • Robert Tracy, ‘Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan: Legality versus Legitimacy’, in Nineteenth Century Fiction, 40, 1 (June 1985), pp.1-22;
  • Ann C. Kavanaugh, ‘Lord Clare and his Historical Reputation’, History Ireland I, 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp.22-26 [alludes to Froude’s immoderate purification of Fitzgibbon].

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Commentary
Sir Jonah Barrington: ‘The life of Lord Clare is the history of Ireland’; further, ‘the mind and body [of Lord Clare] became too sympathetic for existence, and he sunk into the grave’ (Rise and Fall, p.37; here pp.183-84.) Connolly notes fictional productions based on Lord Clare incl. Lessons to a Young Chancellor; or, a letter from a mentor of Lord Jeffreys, Baron Petulant, of the kingdom of Barataria (Barataria Printed, 1792; quoted in Claire Connolly, ‘Writing the Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.184.)

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W. E. H. Lecky, History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century: Carlyle on Clare, ‘First Earl Clare (father), a Fitzgibbon, lawyer, Chancellor, did the “Union”, a sorry jobber (I supposed); son of a do., some squireen of trading talent. [p.174]. But Lord Cornwallis strenuously defends Clare, ‘It must be remarked, that in dilating upon the sanguinary violence of the principle persons in Ireland, Lord Cornwallis always made one eminent exception. In several passages [of his Corres.] he speaks of the conspicuous moderation and humanity of Lord Clare, ‘whose character’, he says, ‘has been much misrepresented in England.’ ‘Almost all the other principal political characters here are absurdly violent.’ The Chancellor, nothwithstanding all that is said of him, is by far the most moderate and right-headed man among us.’ [15]. Lecky, ‘the persistence with which Lord Clare maintained the system of parliamentary corruption and his steady opposition to all concession of political power to the Catholics, appears to me to have done very much to produce the rebellion.’ [15]; and Misgovernment and corruption, political agitation and political conspiracy, had done their work and a great part of Ireland was as miserable and desolate as any spot upon the globe.’ [BS 1979 MS Notes.]

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C. L. Falkiner, Studies in Irish History and Biography (London: Longman & Co [1901]), discusses Edmund Malone on John Fitzgibbon, chiefly a letter in the life by Prior, misconstrued as a reference to the effeminacy of Lord Clare; Falkiner’s interpretation corroborated by private letter to him from Froude asserting that Clare’s private life was ‘a simple one’, p.105.

Rascality: Fitzgibbon is styled ‘the rascal, whose name was Lord Clare’ in Ben Kiely's A Poor Scholar: A Study of William Carleton (Tralee 1947), Chap. 10 [1972 rep. edn., p.88.]

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Maureen Wall, Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, Collected Essays of Maureen Wall, ed., Gerard O’Brien (Dublin: Geography Publns. 1989): Ogle supported by Grattan and Fitzgibbon on motion to remove the right to purchase and outright ownership leaving the lease period at 999 years (p.131); Fitzgibbon, who played a cat and mouse game - beginning by pointing out that the first clause of the bill threatened property established by the act of settlement - was considered the chief opponent of the measure by the Catholic party [see letter from Lord Kenmare to Burke: ‘Fitzgibbon at their head’] (p.137); Bushe, Yelverton, Ogle, and Hely-Hutchinson favoured the admission of Catholics to Trinity - and a proposal that the king assent to a Statute admitting them - in preference to their continuing to be going abroad to ‘regions of bigotry and superstition … to imbibe every idea hostile to liberty’ (as Fitzgibbon put it, on 1 March), opening another aspect of the question. (p.142).

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Julian Moynahan, Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination of a Hyphenated People (Princeton 1995), remarking on Elizabeth Bowen’s lengthy quotation from Lord Clare’s remarks on the Act of Union (which she characterises as ‘a bad deal ... a tragedy that puts uninformed comment quite out of countenance’: Bowen’s Court, p.219) in the final debate, called by Bowen an instance of ‘superb detestable realism’ (ibid., p.220); Moynahan comments, ‘Fitzgibbon’s summing up plays harshly on the deepest fears of the Anglo-Irish concerning the legitimacy of their power and position in Ireland; and it cruelly exploits the anomaly noted by such foreign observers as Alexis de Tocqueville that the Anglo-Irish are a ruling class sharing niether the religioin nor the ethnicity of the people they presume to lead. ... The saturnine Lord Chancellor may have actually enjoyed putting the fear of God into a lefislative body that must have included men who fancied themselves his social superiors for their families’ having changed their religion at some earlier period.’ (Moyn., p.8.)

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody: A Commented Biography of Edmund Burke (992): John Fitzgibbon, the Irish Chancellor, was hostile to Burke [and] had done more than anyone except Pitt to destroy Fitzwilliam’s [Irish] viceroyalty. He sent ‘two popish letters’ of Burke’s, apparently acquired at Dublin Castle, to [Lord] Auckland in order to damage his posthumous reputation in 1798. (q.p.)

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Thomas Bartlett, ‘Ulster 1600-2000: Posing the Question?’, in Bullán, 4, 1 (Autumn 1998), pp.5-18: ‘But if Pitt stressed dispassion, impartiality, and deliberation, his Irish supporters - or some of them - looked forward unashamedly to the Act of Union as a sort of new Penal Law which would block the way forward for Irish Catholics forever. John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, was perhaps the most outspoken in this regard. The events of the 1790s had convinced him that the existence of an Irish Parliament was a standing threat to the Protestant Ascendancy and that only in a union could the Protestants of Ireland find security. […] It was therefore vital for Irish Protestants to jettison their pretensions to a separate, sister-parliament and throw in their lot with the Protestants of Great Britain […]’; further remarks that the ‘most effective answer’ to Fitzgibbon came from John Foster, who held that no British government could be trusted to defend Irish Protestants. (p.12.)

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Quotations
Catholic Relief in 1793: ‘If the principle is once yielded [...] it goes directly to the subversion of all civilised government’ (The speech of the right honourable John, Lord Baron FitzGibbon [...] delivered in the House of Peers on the second reading of the Bill for the relief of His Majesty’s roman catholic subjects, 13 march 1793, Dublin 1798, pp.21-22; quoted in Dáire Keogh, ‘ Catholic responses to the Act of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.163; bibl. A. Kavanagh, John FitzGibbon, Earl of Clare, Dublin 1997, pp.262-81.)

On the Right Boy Bill (1787): ‘I am now come to the clause which, upon the first reading, drew forth such a string of feverish epithets from some honourable gentlemen - the clause directing magistrates to demolish mass-houses at which combinatins shall be formed, or unlawful oaths administered. I am as unwilling as any man to abolish Christiantiy; for I know if religion is abolished, there is no longer any tie over the minds of men. I am unwilling as the right honourable gentleman to stab them through the sides of their God: but if they make their places of worshp places of combination, they should be prostrated; if they will pervert them to the vilest purposes, they ought to be demolished. However, though I should not press this clause, I am gald it has appeared in print: it will show the bulk of the people what they are liekly to draw upon themselves, by perverting their places of worship and it will rouse those who are most interested in their preservation to exert themselves for the prevention of combinations, and administering unlawful oaths in them. Nor can I give up the principle on which the clause is founded; for we are told, from the highest authority, that when the temple has become a den of thieves, the doors therefore were shut. Besides, I have known this very punishment inflicted in Catholic countries, and have actually seen churches shut up by an order of the king of France, for offences of political nature. However, I shall not press the clause, being convinced, that by appearing in print, it has answered the purpose intended.’ (Debates, Vol. VII, p.185.) Quoted in Thomas Davis's edition of the Speeches of J. P. Curran (1845, p.68.) Davis remarks that Grattan opposed the bill and that Curran spoke against it - as the ensuing report of his speech demonstrates.

People of Ireland: ‘For give me leave to say, sir, that when we speak of the people of Ireland, it is a melancholy truth that we do not speak of the great body of the people [...] the ancient nobility and gentry of this country have been hardily treated. The Act by which most of us hold our Estates is an Act of violence - an Act subverting the first principles of the Common Law in England and Ireland. I speak of the Act of Settlement.’ (Quoted in Joep Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fíor Ghael, 1986, p.412.)

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The Anglo-Irish: ‘[C]onfiscation is their common title, and from their first settlement they have been hemmed in on every side by the old inhabitants of the island, brooding over their discontents in sullen indignation’; further, sought to persuade the House that they ‘never had been, and … never could be, blended or reconciled with the native race.’ (Quoted in W. E. H. Lecky, A History of Ireland in the 18th Century, 5 vols., 1892; rep. NY: AMS Press 1969, Vol. 5, p.372; abridged by L. P. Curtis, Chicago UP 1972, p.463; cited in Robert Tracy, ‘Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan: Legality versus Legitimacy’, in Nineteenth Century Fiction, Vol. 40, No. 1, June 1985, pp.1-22, and rep. in Tracy Unappeasable Host, 1998, p.26.) Note, the passage is quoted at greater length in Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court, 1942, p.220, and copied in Julian Moynahan, Anglo-Irish, 1995, pp.8-9 [as infra]; see also Tracy, ‘Elizabeth Bowen: Rebuilding the Big House’, in The Unappeasable Host: Studies in Irish Identities (UCD Press 1998).

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The Irish Question: ‘What was the situation of Ireland at the Revolution? And what is it at this day? The whole power and property of the country have been conferred by successive monarchs of England upon [an English colony, composed of] three sets of English adventurers who poured into the country at the termination of three successive rebellions; confiscation is their common title, and from their first settlement they have been hemmed in on every side by the old inhabitants of the island, brooding over their discontents in sullen indignation [...] What was the security of the English settlers for their physical existence at the revolution? And what is the security of their descendants at this day? The power and and commanding protection of Great Britain. If by any fatality it fails, you are the the mercy of the old inhabitants of the island; and I should have hoped that samples of mercy exhibitied by them in the course of the late rebellion would have taught the gentlemen who call themselves the Irish nation to reflect with sooner attention on the dangers that surround them.’ (Quoted in Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court [2nd edn.], p.220 [as supra]; also in W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, Lilliput Edn. 1991, p.2, citing in Terence de Vere White, The Anglo-Irish (London 1972), pp.95-96; also cited in Julian Moynahan, Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination of a Hyphenated Culture, 1995, p.9.)

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Maintaining Protestants: ‘[I]t is essential to the peace of this country that all parties should be satisfied of the determination of the British government to maintain and defend the remant of politic strength which is left in the hands of the Protestants of Ireland. I hope that such is their determination, else they never can preserve this country to the British Empire.’ (Clare to Auckland, 18 May 1795, PRONI, Sneyd Papers, T3229/1/9; quoted in Gillian O’Brien, ‘Camden and the move towards the Union 1795-1798’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.123.)

Position statement: ‘I shall in as few words as possible state my position. And first I maintain that the crown of Ireland and the crown of England are inseparably and indissoluble united. Secondly, I do maintain, that the Irish parliament is perfectly and totally independent of the British parliament. / The first position is our security; the second is your freedom, and when gentlemen talk in any other language than this [...] they invade either your security or your liberty [... &c.]’ (John Fitzgibbon, Lord Clare, on the Regency Question, in Edmund Curtis and R. B. McDowell, eds., Irish Historical Documents, 1172-1922, London: Methuen 1943, p.225.)

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A true Irishman: ‘I hope I feel as becomes a true Irishman for the dignity and independence of my country. I would therefore elevate her to the proper station in the rank of civilised nations. I would advance her from the degraded post of a mercenary province to the proud station of an integral and governing member of the greatest empire in the world.’ (Cited in Lecky, History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, q.p.)

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The Catholic Question: ‘an inexhaustible source of popular ferment, a common topic of discontent and irritation to rally to old inhabitants of the island.’ (q.source; ?Lecky.)

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Rebellion of 1798: ‘A deluded peasantry aided by more intelligent treason.’ Note: this interpretation is challenged by Jim Smyth in The Men of No Property (Macmillan [?1992]), following the trend to regard the movement as the result of a widespread emergence of new political habits at the cross-roads between traditions of plebian self-assertion and new imported republican ideas, a space cleared by the language change and the spread of literacy. [Review, Sean Connolly, Fortnight, May 1993]

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Reference
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, quotes (under John Wilson Croker): ‘I can well conceive why Lord Clare would have strangled papist privilege at its birth; why he feared to make the first plunge down the declivity of concession; why he refused power to the numerous and dangerous’ [see Croker, supra.]

Cathach Books (Cat. 12) lists The Speech of the Rt. Hon. John, Earl of Clare, in the House of Lords of Ireland on a motion made by the Earl of Moira, 19 Feb. 1798 (Dublin 1798), with map of Ireland.

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Notes
Oliver Goldsmith’s The Haunch of Venison, a poetical epistle to Lord Clare (London: G. Kearsly & J. Ridley 1776) is presumably addressed to an earlier holder of the Irish title.

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Francis Plowden: Plowden quotes the Protestant Attorney-General Fitzgibbon [Lord Clare] as describing the poor of Munsters as ‘being in a state of oppression, abject poverty, sloth, dirt and misery not to be equallyed in any part of the world.’ (Plowden, An Historical Review of the State of Ireland from Henry II to the Union, London 1803, Vol. II, p.157; quoted in Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1972, p.22.)

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Dead cats: According to the account of the funeral of Lord Clare given by W. J. Fitzpatrick, viewed through the eyes of Lord Cloncurry, his coffin was showered with dead cats in response to an unpopular allusion that he had earlier made to Irish catholics as having no more importance that the cats in the streets. (See Fitzpatrick, The Life and Times and Contemporaries of Lord Cloncurry, Dublin 1855, p.264; cited in Claire Connolly, ‘Writing the Union’, in Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, ed. Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, Four Courts Press 2001, p.183.)

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Portrait of John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, by Gilbert Stuart (see Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits, [Cat.] Ulster Mus. 1965) .

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