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main to attest the misconduct of both parties during the rebellion.-In traversing the plains of Kildare, and viewing the huge perpendicular stones which every where seem to grow out of them, I comprehended the reason why our ancient chroniclers assign this part of Ireland as the place from which the British enchanter Merlin transported the Choir of Giants, as Stonehenge was anciently called*, to the neighbourhood of Amesbury.
I arrived at the town from which this letter is dated yesterday in the afternoon, upon a visit to a respectable friend of mine who is much known and as generally beloved throughout this country. During my short stay here, as well as during the past fortnight in other places, I have remarked and admired the sense of piety and zeal for religion, which always has been the most distinguishing character of the Irish . This, I know, you and other Englishmen call superstition. But what is superstition?
that they had "burnt down whole villages a
at a time, as the shortest way of destroying whatever arms might be concealed in any part of "them." See a Letter to the Archbishops and Bishops of England and Ireland, by Philip Howard, Esq..
See Silvester Giraldus, Topogr. Hib. 1. xi. c. 18. ad An. 490, &c.
+ Floddoard, a French writer in the tenth century, says of Ireland: "Omnibus vicinis gentibus fide præpollet." Vita St. Helleni. Baronius, Bozius, Surius, Benedict XIV. and other writers of the first authority, testify to the same effect with respect to later ages.
"Ask: Where's the North? At York 'tis on the "Tweed;
"In Scotland at the Orcades; and there,
"At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where*."
You Church Protestants reproach us with superstition, because we often sign ourselves with the sign of the cross, (though not half so often as the first Christians did †,) and because we bless holy water. The Dissenters reproach you with superstition, because you sign your children with this sign in baptism, and because you bless earth, buildings, and military ensigns. The Quakers reproach the Dissenters with superstition, in pretending to bless one particular class for the exercise of the ministry§. The fashionable religionists of the day, the Deists, reproach all descriptions of Christians with superstition, in pretending to any revealed mode of blessing at all. I say this, Sir, to prevent your assuming as a fact, the question, upon which you are not yet qualified to form an adequate idea. If you will single out any particular tenet or practice of our religion which you think superstitious, I will undertake to refer you to a score or more learned priests of my acquaintance on this side of the water, any one of
Essay on Man, Book ii.
Tertullian, who lived in the second century, describes the Christians as signing themselves with the cross on almost every occur. rence of their lives.
See De Laune's Plea, &c.
whom shall give you complete satisfaction upon it in convincing letters, that shall also prove the writer to have received a good education; or, if you should decline this correspondence, I am sure you will be satisfied by reading Bossuet's Exposition of the Catholic Faith, or Bishop Challoner's Catholic Christian Instructed, with his Grounds of the Old Religion.
I know, Sir, that you have a particular objection to the ceremonies of our Church, which you are accustomed to term "cumbersome, supersti"tious, and destructive of true devotion.”— Without going far into the matter, remember that the Dissenters bring the very same objection against your Church, and that our religious ceremonies are not a tenth part so numerous or cumbersome as those of the ancient people of God were, which nevertheless were minutely prescribed by the Almighty himself *. I grant you, that ritual ceremonies and exterior observances are not of themselves devotion; but reason and experience prove them to be highly beneficial in exciting it; just as the leaves of a tree are not the fruit, and yet they are necessary for the formation, the growth, and the preservation of the fruit.
In like manner I am aware that many of our English Catholics, who agree with me on the subject of religious ceremonies in general, are unjust to their brethren, the Catholics of Ire
* See the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, &c,
Land, in supposing that, for want of proper instruction, they place too much confidence in exterior observances. These persons should reflect on the caution which the great O'Leary gives, "not to judge of the Irish by St. Giles's "or Wapping, but to go and see them in their "own country *." In fact, the only equitable way of forming an idea of a people, is to view them in their own country and in the mass. Were any nation to be judged of by its emigrants (as for example, our own by the adventurers and swindlers who formerly crowded Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk), it would evidently be the height of injustice as well as folly. In opposition then to this prejudiced opinion, I can' take upon myself to say, that the Irish Catholics are as well instructed as the English are, not to trust to any things, as the conditions of salvation, but the merits of Christ, and their keep ing the commandments. It is true, indeed, speaking of them in general, and as a people, that they are strict in observing the precepts of the Church, as to fasting, abstinence, prayer, and the sacraments, but this every Catholic must commend. Thus no distance of place, no badness of the road, or of the weather, prevents them from attending divine worship on the days prescribed; and if, as is frequeutly the case, there is not a
* The Rev. Arthur O'Leary's Address to the Lords Spiritual and Temporal.
roof to shelter them under whilst this worship is performed, they will stand the freezing blast and the pelting storm, till that duty is complied with. The chapels in the towns are crowded on working days, as well as upon Sundays and festivals, and the behaviour of the people, during the service, bespeaks their faith and devotion: certainly it was a subject of edification to me. I may add, that I seldom was present at a mass on any day on which several persons did not communicate. Another circumstance edified me in this people, and would have edified me if I. had been of a communion different from theirs, I mean a vein of morality and religion which seasons their discourses. Instead of those horrid oaths and curses which interlard and eke out the language of our English labouring poor, whereever we hear it, in the streets or upon the roads, my ears are now habituated to the language of piety amongst the lowest orders of the people. Thus, for example; a poor blind man being relieved by me, he expressed his gratitude in the following prayer: "May God grant you a holy "life and a happy death." On a similar occa-sion a poor woman returned thanks in these terms: May health, wealth, and heaven be "given to you."
It is not, Sir, the consequence of superstition and bigotry, as witlings have pretended, but of nature and reason, that those who love and respect religion should also love and respect its