In 1796 Porter published a satirical chapbook entitled Billy Bluff & Squire Firebrand, which consists of a series of eight letters to a fictitious newspaper editor in which he criticised religious bigotry. The satire was very popular and in 1798 Porter was tried for Treason for having written the piece and was publicly hanged outside the Presbyterian Meeting-House in Strabane.
Billy Bluff & Squire Firebrand was reprinted many times in the 19th century and was frequently performed as a play in rural Ireland. This prophetic extract is from the first letter in Porter's Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand (1796).
21st of May, 1796
By your leave, Mr Editor - if you please, a corner of your paper for this my letter, the first that I ever wrote for print, and probably will be the last. I am in danger of being hanged or put in jail, perhaps both. I want your advice like an honest man God help us, what is the world going to come to at last? I'll tell you the whole affair, and the cause of it. Billy B, my neighbour, was up yesterday at the Squire, with his duty hens.
'Well Billy? What news?' says the Squire.
'Troth, Sir, plenty of news, but none very good,' says Billy.
'What's your neighbour R (meaning me) about now?'
'Why please your honour, he's at the old cut; railing against the war, against the tithes and against game laws and he's still reading at the newspaper. He is a d___d villain and must be landed fast, by G_d':
'But what more do you know of him Billy?'
'Why bad enough and please your honour him and the popish Priest drank together last market day, till all was blue with them again. They shaked hands, so they did, drank toasts and sung songs'.
'Pretty work by h____ns! Did you overhear them?'
'Ah that I did so and listened like a pig.'
'What were the toasts?'
'First the Priest drank, Prosperity to old Ireland, and'
'Stop Billy! The toast is infamous; the word old never was and never ought to be appointed to any country but England; and he who would apply it to Ireland is a rebel, and ought to be hanged.'
'He ought and please your honour as round as a hoop.'
'Well, what toast did the villain R drink?'
'He drank, Union and peace to the people of Ireland.'
'Worse and worse Billy; a d___d deal worse; he who wishes union, wishes ruin to the country; I say ruin to the government and that is ruin to the country. Union, forsooth! That is what never was, and what never must prevail in this country; and as to peace, 'tis flying in the face of government to speak of it; the d___l send the ruffians peace, till their betters choose to give it to them.'
'Then Sir the Priest drank, Here's Every man his own road to heaven'.
'That Billy is a toast that no man would drink, but a republican and sinner; for it supposes all men to be on an equality before God and supposes that a man may go to heaven, without being of the Established church, which is impossible.'
'God bless your honour, I know that and that is the reason I turned to church. Then the toast R gave was - liberty to those who dare contend for it'.
'Impudent scoundrel, the signal of the rebellion, anarchy and confusion. To contend implies opposition; opposition implies resistance; resistance implies war; war against the established orders; war against man and the Godhead, as the great Grattan expressed it. But tell me, what other toasts did they drink?'
'Several that I can't remember now.'
'Did they drink to the success of the French?'
'No an' please your honour, but they drank - Success to the righteous'.
'That's near as bad - Did they drink - No more Kings?'
'They did and shook hands upon it; My neighbour R gave the toast -
'No more Kings, says he, No more Kings to France'.
'To France Billy! The villains had another meaning. I know what the hypocritical villains meant, I know it perfectly; D__n_t__n to my s__l but they shall both be hanged.'
'Certainly please your honour and the sooner the better.'
'What songs did they sing?'
'Why the Priest sang Patrick's Day In The Morning and then R sang Paddy Thwack; then the Priest sang Grawny Wail* and then R sang Oh For a Union of Parties'.
'D__n Union and d__n Grawny Wail and Paddy Thwack and Patrick's Day in the Morning. They are all impudent, national, seditious songs. What more did you hear?'
'Please your honour, after the songs they began to talk about religion and so I came off and left them.'
'You have done very well Billy, very well; Go to the kitchen and I will order you a drink of small beer. See and get me more news and I will get you a job at the roads next summer.'
'G_d prosper your honour.'
'But Billy, you'll take care and be ready to swear when called on.'
'E'dad a pretty story and please your honour if I could not swear what I would say or what your honour would please.'
* Grawny Wail, a song about Gráinne Bhaoil, the 16th century head of the O'Malley family of Connaught.
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