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THE History of England shews the great change produced in the minds of the people, during the sixteenth and preceding century, by the discovery of the art of printing, and also by that memorable event, the reformation of the church. Communication of ideas being thereby rendered more easy, and individuals being relieved from the dread of papal denunciations, they quickly began to feel their own consequence, and obtained more correct views of religion and politics; they also began to set a proper value on their civil and religious rights, and proceeded to adopt such measures as might secure those blessings to their posterity.
At the commencement of the seventeenth century, in the latter end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, O'Neill, Earl of Tir-Owen, with several other Roman Catholics of eminence in the province of Ulster, in the north of Ireland, rebelled against the Crown of England, but were finally subdued, and attainted of high treason; and their princely possessions, consisting of six counties, were, in the succeeding reign vested in the Crown by act of Parliament, as forfeited property.
As this part of Ireland was notorious for having always afforded shelter to rebellious subjects, King James the First, when he came to the throne, determined, in order to support his power, to make use of the reformed religion, as a means of establishing a settlement on the forfeited lands, composed of such English and Scottish Protestants, as he could induce to settle amongst a people so turbulent as the natives of this part of the country then were; and, with a
view to the formation of such an establishment, applied to the City of London, and offered to grant the citizens a great part of the forfeited estates, as an inducement for them to undertake the proposed plan of settlement. The citizens, accordingly, undertook the Plantation ; and King James, on the 29th March, 1613, granted them a charter for carrying the same into effect; and although they encountered great difficulty, by reason of the enormous expense which attended the measure, and the opposition they met with, yet they finally succeeded in accomplishing the intended object.
By this charter, the Irish Society were incorporated; and they acted under it 'till the following reign of Charles the First, when it was revoked, and declared void, by a sentence in the Court of Star Chamber; but in the reign of King Charles the Second, on the 10th April, 1662, a fresh charter was granted, which confirmed the previous charter of King James the First, and restored the Society to their rights; and under this latter grant the Society still act as a Corporation.
The Revolution of 1688, proved that King James the First had acted with great policy; for although his grandson, King James the Second, a professed Roman Catholic, was actually in Ulster, at the head of his Roman Catholic subjects, the citizens of Londonderry made so noble a resistance to his forces, that all his endeavours to obtain support in that part of Ireland totally failed.
Londonderry had before distinguished itself for the gallantry and perseverance with which it defended itself on two memorable occasions, in defiance of the greatest hardships and discouragements, namely, in the year 1641, when it was held by the English and Scots, in the King's name, against the rebels; and again, eight years afterwards, when it was held for the Parliament by Sir Charles Coote and the celebrated General Monk, who obliged the Lord of Ardes to raise the siege.
The achievements of the Protestant inhabitants of Londonderry, during the siege of 1689, undoubtedly secured to the subjects of the kingdom at large the possession and exercise of their civil and religious privileges. The inflexible bravery exhibited by them, furnished an example of the powerful energies which might, on similar emergencies, be called into action by opinion founded on the principles of natural justice. At that period, the contest on the part of James was not to become the sovereign of a free and enlightened nation, but to establish despotic rule, as well as popish tyranny, and thus completely to enslave the minds of his subjects; and the point at issue was, whether the arbitrary measures of a prince should supersede and counteract the general opinion, religious freedom, and happiness of the people. The result, however, demonstrated the impolicy of attempting to oppose a just public opinion by military force.
The glory which the inhabitants of Londonderry acquired by their exertions in the cause of civil and religious liberty, reflected a lustre on the parent institution, the Irish Society, under whose jurisdiction and auspices they were encouraged to defend themselves.
The object, therefore, of the following Work, is to enable the present and succeeding Members of the Society, who, according to their constitution, are changed every two years, to gain, with little labour, a knowledge of the duties which, under their charter, they are bound to perform; and the following chronological view of the proceedings of the Society, taken from the records now existing in the Irish Chamber, which have been recently recovered from the oblivion in which their mutilated condition, in consequence of fire, had placed them, will detail the original constitution of the Society, the nature of their general operations, and their present manner of conducting their business.