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Curran And The Informer

Irish Humour Home

The following is an extract from Curran's speech delivered before a
committee of the house of Lords, against the Bill of attainder on Lord
Edward's property:--

I have been asked, said he, by the committee, whether I have any
defensive evidence? I am confounded by such a question. Where is there a
possibility of obtaining defensive evidence? Where am I to seek it? I
have often, of late, gone to the dungeon of the captive, but never have
I gone to the grave of the dead, to receive instructions for his
defence; nor, in truth, have I ever before been at the trial of a dead
man! I offer, therefore, no evidence upon this inquiry, against the
perilous example of which I do protest on behalf of the public, and
against the cruelty and inhumanity and injustice of which I do protest
in the name of the dead father, whose memory is sought to be dishonored,
and of his infant orphans, whose bread is sought to be taken away. Some
observations, and but a few, upon the evidence of the informer I will
make. I do believe all he has admitted respecting himself. I do verily
believe him in that instance, even though I heard him assert it upon his
oath--by his own confession an informer, and a bribed informer--a man
whom respectable witnesses had sworn in a court of justice, upon their
oaths, not to be credible on his oath--a man upon whose single testimony
no jury ever did, or ever ought to pronounce a verdict of guilty--a kind
of man to whom the law resorts with abhorrence, and from necessity, in
order to set the criminal against the crime, but who is made use of for
the same reason that the most obnoxious poisons are resorted to in
medicine. If such be the man, look for a moment at his story. He
confines himself to mere conversation only, with a dead man! He ventures
not to introduce any third person, living or even dead! he ventures to
state no act whatever done. He wishes, indeed, to asperse the conduct of
Lady Edward Fitzgerald; but he well knew that, even were she in this
country, she could not be called as a witness to contradict him. See
therefore, if there be any one assertion to which credit can be given,
except this--that he has sworn and forsworn--that he is a traitor--that
he has received five hundred guineas to be an informer, and that his
general reputation is, to be utterly unworthy of credit.

He concludes thus:--Every act of this sort ought to have a practical
morality flowing from its principle. If loyalty and justice require that
those children should be deprived of bread, must it not be a violation
of that principle to give them food or shelter? Must not every loyal and
just man wish to see them, in the words of the famous Golden Bull,
'always poor and necessitous, and for ever accompanied by the infamy of
the father, languishing in continued indigence, and finding their
punishment in living, and their relief in dying?' If the widowed mother
should carry the orphan heir of her unfortunate husband to the gate of
any man who himself touched with the sad vicissitude of human affairs,
might feel a compassionate reverence for the noble blood that flowed in
his veins, nobler than the royalty that first ennobled it, that, like a
rich stream, rose till it ran and hid its fountain--if, remembering the
many noble qualities of his unfortunate father, his heart melted over
the calamities of the child--if his heart swelled, if his eyes
overflowed, if his too precipitate hand was stretched forth by his pity
or his gratitude to the excommunicated sufferers, how could he justify
the rebel tear or the traitorous humanity? One word more and I have
done. I once more earnestly and solemnly conjure you to reflect that the
fact--I mean the fact of guilt or innocence which must be the foundation
of this bill--is not now, after the death of the party, capable of being
tried, consistent with the liberty of a free people, or the unalterable
rules of eternal justice; and that as to the forfeiture and the ignominy
which it enacts, that only can be punishment which lights upon guilt,
and that can be only vengeance which breaks upon innocence.

* * * * *

Curran was one day setting his watch at the Post Office, which was then
opposite the late Parliament House, when a noble member of the House of
Lords said to him, Curran, what do they mean to do with that useless
building? For my part, I am sure I hate even the sight of it. I do not
wonder at it, my lord, replied Curran contemptuously; I never yet
heard of a murderer who was not afraid of a ghost.

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