Letter from JOSEPH POLLOCK to JAMES BARRY, written 2 December 1780, at Dublin

Source: MS James Barry Papers and Letters, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Joseph Pollock, who had visited Barry in London, was a Presbyterian lawyer from Newry in County Down, Ireland and a member of the Ulster Volunteers (Vincent Morley, Irish Opinion and the American Revolution 1760-1783 (Cambridge, 2002), passim). Pollock was described by Martha McTier as 'a very sensible fellow'; William Drennan thought him 'proud and easily made very sore, but this temper is often attended with many amiable qualifications' (The Drennan-McTier Letters, 1776-1793, ed. Jean Agnew (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1998), pp. 79-81).

Pollock had published anonymously a radical pamphlet in which he stated, 'If ever there was a moment of time big with the very fate of any nation, the present is that moment for Ireland' (Letters of Owen Roe O'Nial ([Dublin], 1779), p.3). He supported reforms in Ireland based on three main grievances, inadequate political representation, the excessive influence of the crown, and religious discrimination in the laws between Protestants and Catholics (Stephen Small, Political Thought in Ireland 1776-1798 (Oxford, 2002), p. 223).Why Pollock should write to Barry as he does is explained by Danny Mansergh's comment that Pollock 'had been fascinated from the start at the possibility of recruiting the Catholics to the nationalist cause' (Danny Mansergh, Grattan's Failure: Parliamentary Opposition and the People in Ireland 1779-1800 (Dublin, 2005), p. 75).

Pollock was a member of 'a kind of Patriot Club', the Monks of the Order of St. Patrick, more popularly known as 'Monks of the Screw', set up in Dublin in 1779. This is the Society to which Barry had been elected an honorary member, seemingly without his knowledge. The Society reflected the growing sense of Irish patriotism during a period when the British Government was offering but modest commercial and political concessions to Ireland and the rebel colonists in America, whom Barry admired, were gaining the upper hand in the American War of Independence.

Although the Monks of the Screw came in for unfair criticism as more interested in drinking than political reform, many of its members were active in politics, notably Barry Yelverton (1736-1805) and John Philpot Curran (1750-1817) who, like Barry, had Cork connections. There were some 56 members, several of them noted for their strong support of constitutional reform and self-government for Ireland. Meetings of the 'monks' were chaired by either the 'abbot' or the 'prior' and members wore a habit. Other honorary members were the former Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, George Townshend and the Catholic Franciscan writer, preacher and priest Arthur O'Leary (1729-1802) (see their individual entries in the DNB for their involvement in the Monks of the Screw).

The election of Barry to honorary membership and the comments on certain of his works indicate that he was well reputed among certain influential people in Ireland at this time as sympathetic to the patriots' cause. The Society was most active in 1779-80, after which time its influence quickly diminished.

Full display


Dublin. Dec.r December . 2. 1780.

I am at a loss in what manner to announce to you a compliment which has been now near a year ago paid to you by a Society in this City where I had the honour of first proposing you as a member. Why it has not been sooner announced I can scarce tell you. It should not come officially from me, but as either much business or idleness, consequent on the total want of business, has prevented the Sacrist of the Convent1 from paying you his respects in due form, I beg leave to do it myself in the form that occurs & to assure you that I am confident the negligence has not proceeded from any want of that respect for youfor you which all the Brethren seemed to feel on your admission -

The Resolution runs in these words – I think I recollect them precisely; but the omission of a particle or two is a matter of small consequence – It passed in January or February last -

Convent of St. Patrick &c -
“Resolved, That our Countryman James Barry Esq. of London be admitted a Brother of the order of Saint Patrick; and that not so much on account of his eminent Talents & Abilities as because those Talents have been uniformly exerted in the cause of Virtue Liberty, Toleration & Virtue.”

You will easily understand, if you have not already been acquainted with the fact by your Friend Hoare,2 that this is a kind of Patriot Club. It boasts for its' alumni the first minority names in this Kingdom. I need not say then that My Lord Charlemont, Mr Grattan, Mr Yelverton & Mr Daly are of the number.3

Lord Townsend4 was complimented with an honorary seat. I suppose those who proposed it knew why. I believe he is the only man out of the Kingdom who has d received the name of Brother besides yourself. Whether this will make you vain or not I cant tell. I am only giving you the fact. I once hoped that the virtue & spirit of this sacred band, connected by the closest ties & warmed by the divinest enthusiasm, would bear a considerable share in the immortalization of our Country! - I could not believe bring myself to believe thatbring myself to believe that what I knew had often happened […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 2] would happen with us ! - “Emancipation to the Island of Saints from the usurped authority of a Foreign Parliament” - could not, I thought, raise such a flame in every eye & cast such an ardor into every heart, - as we rose from our seats in festive devotion 5– all this, I thought, could not be, & the eye soon languish, the heart soon sink into apathy! -

Yet, Mr Barry, it is but too much so. - The Monks of S.t Patrick, the Monks of “the Hesperian Star” - those from whom their humble Lay-Brethren & their still humbler Visitants seemed to catch a momentary inspiration, - they are at length, I think, as a body, l sunk into their original dignity & name – the monks of the Skrew! Sic transit gloria !6 - I am perhaps rather offending in these revelations to one who has only been deemed worthy of Salvation, but has not yet had even a sight of the promised land, & has never entered the Sanctuary; but I only give it you as a peep into our political world, that you may not indulge too flattering visions, & dream of returning to your Country on the Resurrection of hir her Liberty. - I fear W.C7_ will be whose name I have seen immortalized amidst underunder a festoon of chains, may here tootoo erect some Triumphal Arch, & dedicate it “to the First Ab---te8 Emperor -” I am sure if he does not, it will not be owing to the obstinacy of the jolly monks, - tho' tho' "The Phenix Phoenix" 9 rises over their Chimney & all America seems to expand before them as if to prompt to noble daring! The Pensive Locke seems to ruminate in vain.10 Nor Marvel nor Milton11 lends them fire. - Sidney12 streches13 his fruitless arms, nor does his Sword, “hostile to Tyrants”14 flash one hint upon their Souls! -

Ever since Guatimozin 15 (who is still a Monk) (who is still a Monk) dedicated a few sentences to Lords N. & H.16 I have looked upon our Society as gone.

Individuals remain steady; but suspicion if it doesif it does cloud s the Assembly, makes it appear insignificant or farcicalmakes it appear insignificant or farcical & the Jackanapeses who had crept in as Lay Brethren either either because some Friend thought them harmless or the Brethren praised their voices in the Choir, now begin to chant - “Now, prithee, dont don't be unreasonable! - has not England done enough! - What would you have? Would you bring America across the water? &c. ''

There is a Worthy Man, Mr Yelverton, who bestrides the Convent as a Hobby, & I should ride with him, as one, with all my soul, but one or two of our Professed dont don't , I think, deserve countinance countenance (even that which an humble associate can give) & interest, or good nature, d or jocularity, or festivity has introduced a number of Lay Brethren, some of whom are gaping after the Mystery, & the most contemptible of the set are often the best attenders. - I have had it in my mind, therefore, to retire in conscious dignity from our social devotion, till there is some purgation made; […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 2] & in the mean time am growling my discontent, as you see, & assuming the Cato 17 amidst my Brethren. -

However be of good heart still – perhaps we may do something against next Session. - All is not dead that seems so. -

A very delicate question came on some time ago among the Volunteers18 of this County – as to admitting R. Roman Catholic Corps in their line – they have been rejected, I hear, on the principle that those Gentlemen are disqualified by the Law, & the Associated Corps would not wish to break the Law -

The Prejudices of […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] our People & the suspicions that rise from them will, I fear, ruin us. The Minister may do as he pleases, if he takes the way. Nothing but much liberality & a noble contempt of possible danger in the Protestant Volunteers can unite thethe parties & by giving them one interest, disappoint the Enemies of both.

What will be the consequence of this rejection, considering that perhaps the majority of the Southern Vs. Volunteers are R. Catholic, I know not. Unless the rejection be accompanied by some declaration of principle & the offer of admitting […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] all who take a certain political test (which again might alarm the Northern Dissenters) its' its consequences may be very bad. - The less this is spoken of the better till we see what will be done. I mention it to you as interested in the affair. -

I have several times been highly gratified by shewing the few sketches of yours which I brought over – Even in the frozen North19 I have found uneducated men who could admire them – Your Philoctetes20 I am often ashamed of having passed over till you threw it in to me, with some others, on a punctilio. I think I never saw so much in a single figure – The Whole History of the Hero is written in it. A thousand ideas of the pathetic & the sublime seem to croud crowd into his countenance. - You will excuse me for this – As I have nothing but my own natural taste, you will, without suspecting me of intending flattery, allow me to express my natural feelings – It is among the things thatI lament that the underling situation of Ireland excludes

us from even a hope of being gratified
by the daily exhibitions of taste
which England boasts. - Why should
any men but those bound to the
soil by poverty or connections, or
warm in the pursuit of some money-making

profession, live in Ireland? -21

I have got married since I saw you & am therefore not so moveable as formerly. - Unless next Session of Parlt Parliament however, gives us a prospect of being continuing what we have commenced - a nation, I shall be tempted to carry my poverty & my family to another Climate. - If I do I shall call at London, where perhaps I may get company.

You will see in today's papers a blast from some of the Northern Volunteers22 – I fear it is but a blast. - It is but the spirit of a few Leaders! Allow me to say that I am, dear Sir, with very sincere respect & esteem

Your obedt Serv.t obedient Servant .

Joseph. Pollock -

- I dont don't know whether I am strictly prudent in speaking to you so freely about a certain order. But as you are a Brother, you will make only your own use of it, without disclosing it to the prophane23. -