The political condition of Ireland is, at present, grave; and, in the event of a war with the United States, would become menacing, to England.
Irish politicians assert - and it is partly admitted by their opponents - that, in the existing state of Ireland, three questions demand an immediate solution: these questions are, the Land Question, the Church Question, and the Education Question.
The tenant farmers of Ireland wish for fixity of tenure, and care but little for compensation for improvements, except as a means of obtaining a practical fixity of tenure; and they would, unquestionably, rejoice to see transferred to themselves, as occupiers of the soil, the rights now enjoyed by absentee noblemen and landlords. It is the opinion of many that the Land question cannot be settled without such a change of owners as would practically amount to a revolution.
With respect to the question of the Church, the more intelligent laymen of the Irish National party openly avow their wish to alienate the property of the Church, on the ground that its existence forms a barrier to the union of Irish Protestants with the Catholic majority in the formation of a truly National Irish party. It is asserted, and apparently not without reason, that if the Irish Protestants felt themselves cast off by England, and their Church endowments confiscated, they might become more willing to join their countrymen in an anti-English policy, which the rude breath of war might some day fan into a demand for an Irish Republic, under the guarantee of France and America. It is for English politicians to decide how far the advantages of religious equality would compensate for the risk of national disloyalty.
The questions of the Land and Church in Ireland will, doubtless, be fully discussed in the House of Commons by persons acquainted with those questions, and competent to do them justice; but it may be fairly doubted whether the question of Education in Ireland will be examined with as full a knowledge as will be brought to bear on the other questions. The following lines are written in the hope of adding a contribution of facts towards the discussion of one branch of the Education question - that which relates to University Education in Ireland.
My apology for writing on this question is, that I have been a Fellow of Trinity College for nearly a quarter of a century, during which time I have taken an active part in the educational reforms which have placed the Graduates of Trinity College foremost in all the competitions for the public services of India, of the Army, and of the Colonies. I am also entitled to be heard as a Clerical Fellow of Trinity College, holding in trust for his brother Protestants the precious gift of education based on pure religion, handed down to us by our forefathers, in defence of which all true Protestants are prepared, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives.
Two proposals were discussed, and a third was incidentally alluded to, in the summer of 1867, in the House of Commons, respecting University Education in Ireland; one of these proposals involves a betrayal of the religious base on which the Protestant College of Elizabeth was founded; and another involves a surrender for ever of the high literary and scientific standard of Dublin University, and a permanent lowering of high class education in Ireland. Against the one I feel bound to protest, as an earnest Protestant, and against the other as an advocate for the advancement of science and letters.
The proposals made in Parliament respecting University Education are all founded on the generally admitted fact that Roman Catholics in Ireland have not got the same facilities for University Education as the Protestants of that country, and that it is expedient at once to redress this grievance. In order to do so, it has been proposed to do one or other of three things:
- To secularize Trinity College, by throwing open its Fellowships and Scholarships to all Students, irrespective of religious qualification.
- To open the University of Dublin to other Colleges than Trinity College, thus transforming the University of Dublin into a National Irish University, on the model of the University of France.
- To grant a Charter and Endowment to a Roman Catholic University, in which the education given shall be based on religion, as in Trinity College at present.