At the height of his activity Denys Scully was regarded by several well placed observers including informers employed by Dublin Castle as the real power in the movement for Catholic Emancipation, behind the rising star of Daniel O Connell. However, being no orator, by nature inclined towards working behind the scenes, best known for a book on the penal laws that was made obsolete by their repeal, his career cut short by a stroke at the age of fifty, he was already almost forgotten by the time of his early death.
With the presentation of his papers to the National Library of Ireland in 1983, after forty years of storage in England, the opportunity has now arisen to reassess his contribution. Augmented by material found in other collections, rearranged in chronological order and supplemented by notes which draw extensively on the official archives as well as other contemporary records, the papers are offered to the public in a volume containing 651 letters and other items.
The collection begins effectively with the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion when Scully, back from his law studies in London and two years at Cambridge University, is found moving in ascendancy opposition circles under the patronage of Lady Moira, at a time the attitude of Catholics to the approaching Union was one of the crucial questions of the day. It continues with an interlude during which Scully, having married a neighbour in Cambridgeshire of the new Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Hardwicke, appears as a Castle Catholic, urging the Irish in a pamphlet not to side with the French and conveying his father's offer to raise a reginment. Then at the end of October 1804, when he attended the revived Catholic Committee, all other interets were cast aside and the achievement of Emancipation became his life's work.
While this single issue covered a wide field - meetings of the Catholic body, canvassing of Protestant support, pressure on the Irish members of Parliament, the status of property and charitable bequests under the penal laws, Scully's own book and the prosecution of its publisher, the foundation of Clongowes Wood College - the bulk of the correspondence, conducted with prominent Englishmen and with Irish men in their capacity as parliamentarians, is dominated by the two subjects which give this book its title: the relations between the Irish and the English Catholics and the agitation of the Catholic question at Westminster.
The Catholic Question in Ireland and England 1798-1822 - The Papers of Denys Scully
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