Samuel Ferguson, “Dialogue Between the Head and Heart of an Irish Protestant” [Selection], Dublin University Magazine, Vol. II (Nov. 1833), p.586-93.

The ‘Dialogue’ is reprinted fully in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, pp.1177-85 [W. J. McCormack, ed., ‘Intellectual Revival’]. It is quoted in part - with slight orthographical variations deriving from the original - in Robert Welch, Irish Poetry from Moore to Yeats (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980), pp.119-21, and Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.23, et al. loc.

Heart: I am in a bad temper, and somewhat dangerous, but not unreasonable. Have I not good cause to be in a bad temper? here are we, the loyal Protestant gentry of Ireland, by whose attachment to the law, and the church, and the crown, this Island has for two hundred and fifty years (ever since its actual conquest) been preserved to the British Empire. We, by whom three dangerous rebellions have already been put down in this realm, and who would be ready to put down an other in the same cause, were it to burst out tomorrow. Here are we, I say, who are the controllers of popery; the safeguards of British connection; the guarantees of the empire’s integrity; the most respectable body of me for our members, in all Europe, whether we be considered with regard to wealth, industry, intellect, position, or absolute power; here are we, I say again, who in a word, are the arbitrers of Britain’s fate, deceived, insulted, spoiled, and set at defiance.

Head: Softly, softly, the Whigs still love our church, though they have been her involuntary spoliators. They cannot be such fools, as not to value our friendship […].

Heart: They have sacrificed no principle who never had nay. They have done nothing for our sake … Is it for our sake, that we are exposed to so much of the indignity of their bill … that we dare no more meet the mob? […].

Head: Surely it is something in our favour, to be able to lie down without the fear of our houses burned or our throats cut before morning. It is something for a man to be able to walk from his own door to his palace of worship, without risk of being sot at from behind his father’s tombstone. It is something for a man to get his rents, too; and the privilege of setting one’s lands to tenants of one’s own choosing, is also something. The bill was unconstitutional and galling: but it has had the effect desired. It has tranquillised the country.

Heart: Tranquillity: do you call it? The tranquillity of fear for an unjust power, is more than open violence. It is either manhood, prostrated, or deeper malice concealed. Yet you will never cease taunting me with our tranquillity. Go, taunt the plundered traveller, with the quiet comfort of his gag! (p.586).

Heart: “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum!”

Head: And if the sky did fall, let me ask who would be the “larks”? But away with the idleness of child metaphor. If revolution had, in Ireland, a successful issue, what would become of our estates, our liberties of conscience; our personal liberties; our lives? “Oh, we would respect the rights of property[”], says the Popish plotter, “and we would never deprive another of his religious liberty, after struggling so long, and so devotedly, for our own - all we would ask would be your co-operation in carrying into effect the decrees of our parliament, or to speak more clearly, we would only insist on your subjection and obedience (the necessary consequences, mark you, of minority in numbers, when universal suffrage and ballot of voting, shall have cast all the power of the nation, be it republic or what you will, into the hands of our own people.) They as to your church; if the Whigs leave her anything, we would of course apply that to national purposes; and you surely could not objet to a like appropriation of lands confiscated by their owners levying war against their country.” But what if I ask, what is meant by national purposes? “Why”, replies our jesuit, “the march of mind must be directed by an authority, competent to so high an office; and what authority, save the Church, has moral power qualifying it for the intellectual command of a whole people? the church, my friend, must be re-established. The spirit of heresy must be eradicated - You Protestants, my excellent fellow, must either conform or quit. This may seem hard, yet it is no more than the lex talionis. Times, Sir, are altered; you have had your day. ’Tis ours now.”

Heart: This talk of the nation, the republic, the levying of war, the forfeiture of estates, the seizure of church lands, alarms me. You do not seem to consider a repeal of the union, but to speculate on a violent separation.

Head: It is a separation on which I speculate. A repeal of the union, as the phrase is generally understood, I take to be a sham, a pretence, the mere shadow of a stalking horse; a thing [587] that has existence only in theory, like a Whig’s doctrine of the three estates. (pp.587-88).

Head: [I]f Catholic emancipation produce repeal, so surely will repeal produce ultimate separation; and so sure as we have a separation, so surely will there be war levied, estates confiscated, and the Popish church established.

Heart: In such a crisis we would be in a sad case - between the devil and the deep sea. […].

Head: I do not hesitate to avow it. Repeal can never take place until the Protestants of Ireland are disgusted by, and alienated from, the English Government. (p.588).

Head: Between the battle of Hastings and the days of Cressy and Poictiers, they had scarcely a longer time or better opportunity of making themselves a national mobility than we have had from the Battle of the Boyne to the present day. Yet what a difference! … Protestant ascendancy, which promised to make us another England, is, by the fraud and violence of traitors, rendered ineffectual for good or evil, and come after it what may, whether a Popish Establishment, a tolerating French philosophical morality, or Deism at large, Ireland never can be that which Protestant ascendancy might have made her. Yet stripped as we are of power and privilege, neither Whig tyranny nor Popish malice can deprive us of our birthright, which is the love of Ireland. (p.589).

Heart: I know not whence my blood may have been drawn, but it circulates with a swifter liveliness at the name of this country, and I feel and know that I am the heart of an Irishman. (p.589).

Heart: And ten to one the chances that your blood has been drawn from a source as purely Irish as that of O’Connor or O’Brien. […]. The Celt may have been expelled by the Nemedian, the Nemedian by the Firbolg, the Firbolg by the Tuatha na Danaan, the Tuatha de Danaan by the Scot, the Scot by the Anglo-Norman - but what of that? They were all Irishmen in turn, and WE are Irishmen now. Would that this were the only difference: but, alas! what are those curious distinctions of the genealogist, to the contending principles of Popery and Protestantism, that have made a thousand men murderers in one night!


Head: That the conversion of the Irish Romanists will yet be effected by a reformation as sudden as that in England, I am still fondly willing to expect. Meanwhile, the mere neighbourhood of Protestantism is gradually liberalising them. they are already disclaiming the juggleries of which, fifty years go, they would have boasted. The common sense of the times, too, is an active auxiliary among their better sort. (p.589).


Head: […] We will drive Popery by degrees from lie to lie, each one contested with the obstinacy of despair; but between the outworks of trick and legerdemain, and [589] the citadel of church supremacy what a wilderness of error inexplicable - what pitfalls, traps, and labyrinths - what sloughs and stenches of superstition! But, above all, and beyond all, what a rampart in the deluded people’s love? For the Irish hold the hearts of their seduced victims in even firmer bondage than their minds (p.590).

Heart: I confess were I myself the heart of an Irish Roman Catholic (and many thousands good as I beat in the hearts of Popish Irishmen,) it would claim all your influence to make me withdraw that support, however evidently misapplied. They have fasted for it, fought for it, suffered confiscation, exile, and death for it; through good and ill they have been constant and true to this; and the human heart cannot deny some charity to such devotedness.

Head: And were I the sympathising counsellor of such a will, I would conceive another rebellion of 1641. If you and I, then, can in speculation accord charity to priestcraft and humane motives to massacre and treason, think what a danger we are in, who are as one to five among those who feel in passionate reality that we have here confessed in cool imagination. You are, in this, culpably charitable.


Heart: Alas! What chance of success could they have? […] and their present scheme?

Head: Is to revolutionise England, that we, being disgusted, may join them in rebelling here … To put down Protestantism and proclaim the most catholic republic.


Mark you; when we passed the Six Acts we were as far advanced in civilisation as the Papists of Ireland are at this day. What we did then, they would do now.

Heart: Then let us never join them.

Head: If their designs come to maturity in England, it will matter little which side we take. If we save our lands from the Romish claimant here today, we lose them to the Deist confiscator there to-morrow; for Hume, Cobbett, and the rest would emulate Cromwell to the last. […]

Heart: Insufferable rogues!

Head: Say rather blind and over-weening braggarts; for, if England were revolutionised, her nobility and prime gentry dispersed, her yoemenry disaffected, her manufacturing towns thrown out of employment, her redundant population clamouring for Irish provisions and Irish absentees, and she herself, stripped of her colonies and reduced to her poor twelve millions of hungry citizens; then I would ask the authors of this tremendous gasconade, what would be their chance, although still two to one against an indignant, and for the first time united people?”


Again, the Protestants secured, we are to a man unanimous in any project anti-English; while the ghosts of those who fell at Marston Moor or Naseby, can prophecy what bloody discord would be the portion of our liberal coercers. […] Popery and Infidelity will hunt together so long as a Protestant Church and Aristocracy are to be run down, but let them once dip their muzzles in the blood of the last Bishop, and, with tusks sharper than wolves, they will turn and tear each others throats.

Heart: You do me an injustice. Had I not been loyal as yourself, you might feast the carrion crows to-day from a gibbet - but I am tormented and enraged by the condition to which our loyalty as brought us. - Deserted by the Tories, insulted by the Whigs, threatened by the Radicals, hated by the Papists, and envied by the Dissenters, plundered in our country-seats, robbed in our town houses, driven abroad by violence, called back by humanity, and after all, told that we are neither English nor Irish, fish nor flesh, but a peddling colony, a forlorn advanced guard that must conform to every mutinous movement of the pretorian rabble - all this, too, while we are the acknowledged possessors of nine tenths of the property of a great country, and wielders of the preponderating influence between two parties; on whose relative position depend the greatest interests in the empire. - I love this land better than any other. I cannot believe it a hostile country. I love the people in it, in spite of themselves, and cannot feel towards them as enemies.

Head: ‘Yet it is one of the necessities of your existence that they should feel as enemies towards you.’

Heart: Well, well, I would not call them my countrymen if they could not remember and resent an injury.

Head: We did them no injury. If there be any country on earth which should thank another for having rescued it from bloodshed and barbarism, it is Ireland, and that other is Great Britain. Is it injury to establish peace where, for a thousand years preceding, there had been unabated war?
  Is it injury to fix the rights of society where, from time immemorial, no man could call a single acre his own? Is it injury to extend the mild influence of just laws over men who else could hardly separate right from wrong? or is it injury to introduce the religion of the Bible for the fictions and traditions of designing man?

Heart: I cannot argue. I only feel that, in the heart of a mere Irishman, I would have rebelled against the forced valour.

Head: It is fair and natural that, all gallant spirits should sympathise with one another; nor can I blame the brave man who recognises as admirable a courage in Shane O’Neill as in Harry Percy - so was Hugh Tyrone; perhaps as good a captain as Claverhouse or Montrose. Owen Roe was a famous general, and a brave gentleman; but I beseech you, had they succeeded, we had not been here. Had they succeeded, the Irish to-day [591] would have been fit rivals of the Greeks or Portuguese - as it is, they are a great part of a great empire. So much for the injustice of English interference.

Heart: It is not of English interference they complain. their great outcry is against English misgovernment.

Head: that is because they have not the candour or the courage to declare the true cause of their indignation. [… T]ill the time of Elizabeth Ireland possessed no where either the will or the power of governing herself.


Heart: Protestant ascendancy is indeed a noble scheme …. yet … even from its overthrow .. I can extract some comfortable solace … which … will justify us to the world, and if it succeed will benefit our country.


After all, they are neither steam-engines, rail-roads, nor canals, that make a great people. The Romans were the nation of the gown before a stone was laid in the via Appia. […] Our own volunteers are not at all eclipsed - by the trades’ union, even though, in these unenlightened times, no empty truck-boat, crossed once a week the utilised Bog of Allen. The men and the cause make the great people an instrument so worthy as the strong hand.

Head: If the question were to be so arbitrated, come two to one, and welcome; but our enemy’s boast is, that that day’s gone by. We must fight our battle now with a handful of types and a composing-stick, pages like these our field, and the reading public our arbiter of war. Yet even here, although the odds are so fearfully against us, we will take out stand upon [592] the sacred mount when Luther and Calvin thrust down the baffled thunders of Rome and at the foot of which the traitor and the treason lay crushed, and once despairing under the virtuous energies of Burke.

Heart: Well said! you enlarge and gratify me. I burn with an ardour as holy as that which might have filled me on the embattled banks of Boyne. … Nay (for mere defence of our assaulted principles is far from satisfying my enlarged desires,) - advance your standard into the very middle of the enemy’s camp, plant it on every hill in Ireland, and I will inspire and support you to the last.

Head: Where are not your Popish sympathies?

Heart: Here; warm as every, I cannot give up the nature of humanity, but I were unworthy of the heart of a Christian could I not submit to some self-sacrifice for the Lord’s sake. I still love my Popish countrymen. I love them so much, that I would bear the pain of seeming their error’s persecutor (and they and error are so closely linked, that such a character were little different from what the world calls an oppressor), for the sake of being able to love them absolutely as free loyal, and united Protestants.

Head: Yet these have been the feelings of all the men who have been called Ireland’s misgovernors, and these are not the feelings of all of us whom the Irish Papists hate as their priests hate truth, and whom, until both priest and people know and love the truth of Protestantism, they will continue to hate, if it were till doomsday. (p.593; end.)

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