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18th Century Ireland - James O'Coigley (1761-1798)



James O'Coigley was born in County Armagh and educated at the Grammar School, Dundalk. He was ordained on March 30th, 1785 prior to going to the Irish College in Paris in June, 1785. With the commencement of the French Revolution in 1789 O'Coigley went back to Armagh where he became alarmed at sectarian fighting and began preaching reconciliation throughout Ulster with a marked degree of success.
In 1797 O'Coigley's friendship with United Irishmen brought him to the attention of the authorities and Lord Castlereagh issued a warrant for his arrest. Reluctantly O'Coigley went to London where, it is alleged, he formed the Society of United Englishmen. O'Coigley met Arthur O'Connor. and together they planned to travel to France but on February 27th, 1798 they were arrested and charged with High Treason at Margate, Kent. O'Coigley was imprisoned in solitary confinement in the Tower of London until his trial at Maidstone on March 7th, 1798. It was alleged that O'Coigley had a letter from the Committee of United Englishmen to the Executive Directory of France in his luggage, a claim he vehemently denied. O'Coigley was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed at Maidstone on May 17th, 1798. This extract is from O'Coigley's pamphlet Life and Address to the People of Ireland (1798) which he wrote in Margate Prison and which was published posthumously.©

The awful sentence is past! - I thank God, I heard it as became that conscious innocence which I know will inspire me with the same fortitude to the last moments of my life. To show the chain of connection and high authority from whence the offer of life was made by the priest who attended me, If I would betray my fellow-prisoners, know, my friend, that the Lord Chancellor of England, when I was examined before the Privy Council, urged the same things, in very pointed terms: For, at my last examination, when I declined to answer any further questions, he said, that although I did so, the Privy Council would attend my summons at any time; And If I should be disposed to be more explicit, it would be attended with personal indulgence and other advantages which he could not then explain further!
Speaking of the Privy Council I cannot help expressing my surprise and horror at the production of my examination (in which that proposal with many other facts of consequence were omitted) as evidence against me; and I hope that my doing this will be a solemn warning to all men, not to be entrapped to answer any questions, if it should be their unhappy fate to fall into the hands of that Council. They warned me, it is true, before the examination commenced, not to answer any questions that might tend to criminate myself; but they cautioned me also, rather than deny anything that they should charge against me, to decline answering the question they should put respecting it; for if I denied what they could prove, that denial would be evidence against me; and moreover, they assured me, that the purpose of the examination was not to criminate me, but to give me an opportunity of clearing myself of the suspicion which hung over me.
Indeed Mr Dundas called the examination not an Inquisition, but an indulgence: Yet, my friend, this examination, which I was thus assured was not to criminate me - this opportunity of clearing myself, - this indulgence - yes, the very questions I declined to answer, with the fact of my declining to answer them - horrible to relate! were produced by Mr Ford, who took down the examination in his own way in writing, as evidence against me - need I say more, to deter others from sacrificing themselves and betraying their friends? May God grant them the good sense and the fortitude to answer no question, however trivial they may think it, to Privy Councillors or magistrates; for, if you answer their questions, 'out of your own mouth shall you be judged' and not by evidence given in due course of law. It will strike you with horror, my dear friend, when I tell you, that all the witnesses who swore against me, except five, perjured themselves, or at least swore to circumstances, which, although they might possibly think them true, were in fact utterly false...
Who are my prosecutors? The Men, the Ministers of this country, who, pending our trial, issued the warrant of arrest, under which Mr [Arthur] O'Connor, in the face of the Court, at the very instant of his acquittal, was again arrested, and who, so bent were they on blood, I am credibly informed, had another warrant out against me, in the event of my acquittal. Why so? Because EVEN THEY were conscious of my innocence, AND THEREFORE LOOKED FOR THAT ACQUITTAL! The judge thought fit to observe to the Jury, that although so many noble witnesses had been called to Mr O'Connor's character, not one, or only one, had been called to mine, who, he said, had merely proved it was a good moral character. It appears from the traitorous paper for which I am doomed to die, that it was intended to be taken to France by the person who had been the bearer of a former address of the secret Committee of England.
The judge, however, omitted to state to the Jury, that the only evidence in the cause of my having been in France was a passport, said to be found in a trunk, said but not proved, to be Mr Binn's with letters proved only by the infamous Dutton [Fredrick Dutton, a Newry informer] to be my hand-writing; and that passport proved no more than that I had been in France, not that I had been the bearer of any former address there; and lastly, that so far from proving me to be the bearer of any former address from any man or body of men in England or Ireland to the Executive Directory of France, it positively and expressly negatives that charge on the very face of it, for it states me to pass in the disguise of an American traveller.
Why? Surely not because I was an emissary from a secret Committee of England to the Executive Directory of France? That would be to disguise my best recommendation. My being such an emissary would perhaps have been a passport of itself... You will perceive, my dear friend, that in what I have here stated to you, I have contented myself with a simple relation of facts, accompanied with only a few short observations on the conduct and character of my prosecutions and their witnesses; leaving the rest of the reflection and judgment to my Country and posterity. When the prejudices of the day shall have passed away like the shadow of a dark cloud, justice, I doubt not, will be done to my memory and to theirs. Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

18th Century Ireland
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