Irish History to 1900.
Written by T.D. Thursday, 23 February 2006 16:07
Brief History on the Irish Struggles.
To truly understand the reason for the turmoil existing in Ireland in the nineteenth century, one must first understand the basic history between England and Ireland. For Ireland, this began in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The neighboring kingdoms saw a chance to take over the island. Ireland, however, similar to several other nations during this time, was only concerned with internal affairs and ignored the rest of the world. Their monarchy at the time was set up as Kivinces of Ireland: Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht. The High King of Ireland ruled over these four kings.
The Norman Invasions of Ireland that occurred in 1170 must be recognized as an event that would eventually lead to the massive immigration caused by the rebellions against the British Empire in the 1800s, as the English disrespect for the Irish people would create long lasting animosities. This particular invasion of Ireland occurred over a century after the Normans took over England. The invasion of Ireland was a joint invasion between the Anglos and Normans of England. However, this was only a partial conquest. The reason that the conquest of Ireland was unsuccessful was because the Normans only conquered half of it, and as a result England would never completely control the Irish. Ireland would not be completely taken over until the 1600s under Oliver Cromwell.
The Norman conquest of Ireland was only the start of the animosities between the Irish and English, which would reach a peak during the nineteenth century. In 1520, Henry VIII, sent an English earl, Thomas Cromwell, to Ireland to get the Irish to cooperate with England. Soon thereafter, Thomas Cromwell, rose to a position of power. Thomas Cromwell wanted England to be extremely powerful and he felt that meant they had to dominate Ireland. Cromwell and Henry VIII, would finally finish what the Normans did centuries prior, by conquering Ireland. Henry VIII was initially worried about an invasion of Ireland as his predecessors tried numerous times to subdue the island. Soon, the English would instill a parliamentary system in Ireland strongly based on that of the English Parliament. Before long, Henry VIII started the reformation when he divorced his wife against the will of the church and founded the Church of England. Forcing the newly conquered Irish into Protestantism would be an extremely difficult if not impossible task. The Irish Parliament, with several prominent Catholics, was forced to make the Church of England the official church of Ireland, and Henry VIII the head of the church. Forcing a religion or beliefs on anyone causes great hatred for the enforcer, and that occurred with the English forcing their church on the Irish.
In the late 1500s, Ireland began to rebel under the reign of Elizabeth I. The Earl of Tyrone, openly flaunted his power at Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth, in response, supported several other groups in Ulster which thus began the tide of rebellion that occurred in Ireland for centuries.
Queen Elizabeth and parliament initially put someone of their choice to replace the Earl of Tyrone as the new earl, but this was not the only thing the English did. The English also enacted legislation to create an army of Ireland, and required tenants to pay for land in cash and not in services. They also removed all chieftains from power in Ireland, eliminating the last position of power of the more traditional Irish government. Queen Elizabeth also strictly barred many Catholic traditions. Because of Elizabeth's acts, the Irish instituted even more rebellions against the English. The main battlefield for these Elizabethan insurrections was in the province of Munster, which had trading ports that were often used by the Spanish and the French, who were natural rivals with the English. The English feared they could use these trade ports for larger insurrections and rebellions throughout Ireland. This invasion was thwarted by the English; however, it created many allies for the rebellious groups throughout Ireland. One such group was the O'Neill's of Ulster who led several key rebellions against their English overlords. Eventually, after successful invasions from the British and the creation of key fortresses and garrisons throughout Ulster, the rebellions of the O'Neill's would end.
The English also created even more animosity towards the English when they began a plantation system. This was when the English would install Protestants from England and Scotland as plantation owners in Ireland. This process was done by taking the land of Irish Catholics and then giving the land to the Protestants. They felt this was the best way to keep Ireland well connected with England.
In 1607, the Flight of the Earls from Ireland occurred when the Earls of Ireland fled the country fearing for their own lives. This would result in even more land being available for plantation establishments in Ireland.
In 1613, the English created several new parliamentary seats in the Irish Parliament, and these seats were filled with Protestants, as they feared any Catholic administration of Ireland. Another rebellion occurred again in 1641, after even stricter legislation aimed at making Ireland an obedient protestant state under England. These uprisings were very bloody and were somewhat successful for a time, as the English fearing their own parliament-crown struggle of the time, refused to send a large army for fear it would support the crown over the parliament.
Probably one of the biggest figures of hatred among the Irish was Oliver Cromwell. His mission was rather barbaric which was to murder the Irish-Catholics to ensure that Protestants ruled Ireland. Cromwell's experience in the English Civil War and the tactics and technology used guaranteed very easy battles for Cromwell's forces. Cromwell's Acts of Settlement were instituted in Ireland, as a reform for the older plantation system.His plan consisted of directly taking two/thirds of the Irish land. Unlike the older plantation system that was somewhat legal, Cromwell's plan directly took the land from the Irish and gave the land to the English to create plantations. After Cromwell's death and the restoration of the English monarchy, Charles II policy towards Ireland was to revert it to pre-Cromwellian times.
After Charles II's death, his brother James II rose to power during the mid to late 1600s. Unlike other transitions of the British monarchy, his transition to power was different inasmuch as James II was a Catholic. Protestants in England were disgusted and afraid of a Catholic monarch and invited James' cousin, William of Orange, to be King of England. William shortly thereafter took the throne. However, James would not give up and, with French and Irish supporters, he attempted to take back his throne. In this process, he allowed a parliament in Ireland to be made up of Catholics, who reversed all of the anti-catholic legislation that was put in the books prior. James swiftly took over most of Ireland and, after James seized the City of Derry, the situation drew William to Ireland. After several weeks of fighting, William defeated James in 1690. After that, William and his army began marching throughout Ireland to defeat smaller insurrections, eventually stating that some of the Irish-Catholics could flee Ireland to mainland Europe, known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. William took the remaining Catholic land and gave it to Protestant plantation owners. William of Orange would also lend his name to an organization called the Orange order in 1795. That is when the English set up a basic paramilitary groups throughout Ireland. Its main objective throughout history and continuing today is to try to keep the Catholics in Ireland submitted to the crown. They are a very anti-Catholic organization and would spark violence throughout Ireland. William of Orange's blatant ignorance for the rights of the Irish and his new policies would lead directly to an even larger hatred for the English.
The Penal Laws which had been enacted in 1692 were a piece of legislation that the English felt could finally subdue the Catholics of Ireland. All Catholic priests had to register with the English government. The Penal Laws also forbade Irish from working in the Civil Service. Education was strictly held in Protestant schools as Catholic schools were outlawed. However, during the early eighteen century, the Irish parliament began to work less with their English counterpart and created their own legislation. This ended with the Act of Union, which dissolved the Irish Parliament and gave the Irish 32 seats in the English Parliament.
The Irish economy suffered when there was a population explosion from five million in the beginning of the century to about 8 million by 1841. Since Ireland depended on an agricultural economy, it lacked several other industries that could support the population. With the population increase, Ireland could not export as much food as it could before. The standard of living of Ireland was far below the poverty line. This was especially deadly among the Irish-Catholics who lived close to starvation. The population increase also affected Protestant landowners in another way. The sons of a plantation owner soon found out that the land would be divided into even smaller plots of land, as the plantation owner had more children. This resulted in some of the children, at a somewhat early age, migrating to the Americas. Besides farming, there was no other way for a person to make an honest living. Some landowners did not care about the poor economic conditions of their tenants and refused to aid them in any way possible. This caused many to emigrate to escape the lack of food and the lack of money in Ireland; large numbers of surprisingly Irish-Protestants immigrated during this time.
To try to combat the poor economic conditions of Ireland, many proposed that Ireland be given a system of public works. It was a scheme to create another opportunity for Irish to make a living. The public works plans that were proposed included a full railroad system throughout Ireland, as some believed it could aid the plight of the economy of Ireland. However, the system of public works never came into practice. This was a result of the government's laissez-faire economic policies. Laissez-faire is a policy that the government should not interfere or influence the economic conditions of a state. It was viewed as unfavorable for the government to interfere with the Irish economy. The only thing to combat the terrible hardship of the economy of Ireland, was the extension of the poor law system to Ireland. It however, had little if any success on the Irish economy.
This terrible agricultural economy would also lead to the restoration of rebellion against the English. The poverty proved to many Irish-Catholics and other traditional Irish that the British crown was not supporting them in their hour of hardship and only cared about its own economy and political situation. Overall, there were twenty-five thousand British troops in Ireland to prevent insurrections and possible French invasions of Ireland.
In 1803, Robert Emmet led a rebellion for an independent Ireland. Emmet purchased weapons and firearms from an American in Dublin and, with these armaments, Emmet began his insurrections. These insurrections were unsuccessful except for the fact that his death created a massive riot in Dublin, which created more support for a free Ireland. This political turmoil made some people afraid, especially Protestant landholders, who feared that these riots could potentially cause their demise and some, therefore, immigrated to America. The English, after they caught Robert Emmet, would kill him brutally, which only made him a martyr, and gave him even more support for his cause of freedom. This was only the beginning of the turmoil that would spread throughout Ireland in the nineteenth century.
In 1805, as a direct result of Emmet's rebellion, a pro-Irish man by the name of Grattan was elected to parliament. He tried to push legislation through parliament to give the Irish people more rights. One such proposed act would attempt to give Catholics emancipation. Grattan won over many parliamentary members, however, his bills never passed. These bills never passed because of the non-catholic people of Ireland, who feared giving the Catholics the ability to be full citizens. Laws about landownership and other such anti-Catholic measures would not be changed. This caused and even deeper rift between England and the Irish people.
Despite the political pushes for Catholic rights, nothing occurred until a man by the name of Daniel O'Connell became a public figure. O'Connell successfully pushed for an emancipation of Catholics as well as many other measures. He also brought the "Irish problem," to Parliament. O'Connell was against an arms rebellion, and he would rather obey the law and go the political way for a more free society in Ireland. O'Connell as a Catholic could not enter parliament to push for emancipation, so he had to go about it in a different way then his predecessor, Grattan.
To achieve this goal of emancipation, Daniel O'Connell created the Catholic Association. Their first action was to fund the MPs of parliament who supported Catholic emancipation. The Catholic movement was very massive and spanned the entire political spectrum of Britain. The British openly feared this, as they feared another large insurrection and thus outlawed the organization in 1825. However, O'Connell, being a political mastermind, recreated the organization, and created a constitution for the association, so it would technically be legal. Despite their political gains, a great setback would occur when the traditional conservative Tory government took power. O'Connell eventually won a seat in parliament after using a loophole to contest the election and eventually implant himself into the British Parliament. The British fearing the massive Irish organization, allowed him into Parliament and in 1829 which then granted emancipation to Catholics in Ireland. 28 Soon thereafter, O'Connell began another political pursuit with the Whigs party in England. The Whigs supported minor actions in Ireland such as granting nation-wide elementary education to Catholics in Ireland. The Whigs did not support further action as it jeopardized their political situation in the rest of Britain.
Daniel O'Connell would not stop there, however. He created the Repeal Association, an association aimed at breaking the Act of Union between Ireland and England. This was quite different from emancipation, as it meant direct defiance of the English Parliament. This eventually lead to many political protests throughout Ireland. This would lead to O'Connell and his closest supporters to being charged with treason. After this failure, O'Connell and some of other Irish thinkers broke their ties. This would later result in the Fenian movement in Ireland. Overall, O'Connell's years gave the Irish a less political motive to immigrate to America. However, the economy of Ireland was horrible during this time period so many still were still forced to immigrate to the United States.
The Great Famine, which hit in 1845, would have the greatest effect on Irish immigration, and be the central cause of the Irish to immigrate during the nineteenth century. The Great Hunger was caused by many previous factors, such as the high birth rate, the dependence on a single crop--the potato, and the lack of other economic options besides agriculture. The Great Potato Famine was more scientifically the result of a fungus, Phytophthora Infestans. This particular blight was far worse than any previous potato blights caused by fungus. The Irish population's diet intake was nearly sixty-six percent potatoes. Despite earlier failures of agriculture, the immigrations to America resulting from such previous failures would never reach such a wide impact as the Great Famine.
The great sufferings of the poor Irish-Catholics during the Great Potato Famine reached the political scene in Britain because of rather new ideas of romanticism in politics. Romanticism is showing care and need for your fellow human beings. However, the Romanticism movement met one of its staunchest opponents, pure capitalism. Some believe that this clash of ideological beliefs was one of the reasons nothing was done to aid the Irish in their hour of need. This catastrophic and famine would even further the divide the English and the Irish.
To combat the Potato Blight, in 1841, the Prime Minister Peel of England, imported one-hundred thousand pounds of corn meal from the United States and sent it to the Irish. This action was however, unsuccessful as there was no way to process that amount of corn meal. This action by Peel was viewed as disregarding the economic policy of the time, laissez-faire. Peel's government fell after the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Corn Laws were created in 1815 as a form of British protectionism and when repealed, it signified the move to free trade. The next Prime Minister of England, John Russell, would not lower the prices of food as he felt it would hurt the economy and free trade. He felt that the Potato Famine was only the result of overpopulation.
To understand the entire economic situation of growing potatoes in Ireland, you must first realize the economy's reliance on the potato in Ireland. Potatoes were the main crop of Ireland for several reasons. Food production for potatoes was about four times as great as more traditional grain crops, such as wheat and oats. Another reason the potatoes were eaten as the main, and many times the only, food of the Irish peasantry was the fact that they could be eaten without further processing. A few years prior to the Famine, the Devon Commission argued that the Irish economy would never improve until the current system of agriculture be replaced, as the smaller plots of land hurt the growth of agriculture in Ireland. However, these results were ignored paving the way to the destruction caused by the famine. These factors, combined with the fact that the Irish-Catholic peasants were extremely poor, led to their dependence on the potato as their main source of food.
The proprietors of the Irish tenants viewed them as sources of revenue and not as other property owners viewed their people as reliable income that could be invested in for years to come. This discrepancy between the tenant farmer and the landowner was caused by centuries of dislike for the other, which, of course, caused natural resentment on both sides. The popular dissent against the landowners caused sporadic violence, which led to even more resentment that plagued both sides. It also fully showed how much one side did not care and resented the other. The landowner class refused to lower the renting price of the tenant farmers. The refusal and ignorance of the famine, led to even more violence, with several prominent figures calling for the peasantry to rise up against the landowners. Many Irish Nationalists at the time, and many to this day, felt that it was nothing more than a mass-genocide caused by the British and the Protestant-landowners in Ireland.
The Potato Famine's effect on Ireland was extremely great. During the crop failures which lasted six years, the poor peasants and laborers would suffer immensely. The Potato Famine was especially deadly in certain areas. The counties of Fermanagh, Monaghan, Cavan, Roscommon, Sligo, and Mayo were the most affected areas in Ireland, mainly the western part of Ireland. The death counts in these areas were extremely large and records illustrate the death count was nearly five times larger in these areas than the Eastern Coast of Ireland.
However, during the Potato Famine, another disaster hit the people of Ireland and that was cholera. Cholera is an infection caused by the ingestion of contaminated food and water and is often fatal. Cholera caused the already unhealthy, hungry Irish to die, as they could not stave off the infection.8 Nothing was done to try and slow down the infection, just as nothing was done to end the famine in Ireland.
The Corn Laws, which was a form of British protectionism against the import of grain from non-British governed areas, was also a factor in the famine. The famine caused the British who imported tons of grain and other products from Ireland to not have a reliable food source and as such, pressure occurred to abolish the Corn Laws. The British basically exported every crop out of Ireland and sent it to England during this time period leaving the Irish without a reliable food intake. The English finally ended the Corn Laws, and began to import more grain to England from America despite the opposition from conservatives in England. None of this food, however, would reach the desperate Irish people.
It is held by many scholars that the English did nothing to aid the Irish from starvation as many English politicians saw the Irish as a problem and they figured the famine was "God's work," to correct the problem. Since they already disliked the Irish, and were practicing laissez-faire economics to begin with, they had no reason in their own minds to aid the Irish, who were technically part of their own kingdom. In fact, America donated more food than the English did. Also, landlords saw the Famine as an opportunity to make more profit as much of the overpopulated island was being wiped out by disease, hunger and immigration. Many images of helpless starving families being evicted and forced to lose their home, are commonplace in art and stories from this time period. This brought about an even greater desire for the native Irish to own their land and property. Economic conditions during the famine made the gap between rich Protestant Irish and poor Catholic-Irish even greater. Some who chose to stay in Ireland, felt that they could not take living under the British crown and began rebellious attacks for the independence of Ireland. Others, tired of fighting, hunger, poverty fled to the great promised land called America.
After the famine, the Irish economy slowly began to stabilize. With the loss of such a great number of people due to hunger, disease and immigration, the population was stabilized. As a result, the land could feed more people. Tenant farmers got larger plots of land and could diversify their farms with livestock and other products. However, with the agricultural technology found in the latter part of the nineteenth century, it burst the economic bubble that was created after the famine. There was less need for manual agricultural work and many Irish became unemployed. Also, the mass-market for American agricultural products in Europe caused a drop in demand for Irish agricultural products. In the 1880s and 1890s alone, the unemployment of Irish caused 313,680 Irish to immigrate to the United States. The same potato blight resurfaced in 1877 and 1878, and thus resulted in even more feeling the need to immigrate to America. The most important thing that the famine seemed to do was to re-instill in the Irish the sense of nationalism and the need for a free and independent Ireland which would have a lasting effect on the Irish, and the Irish diaspora around the world.
After the famine and the devastation brought by it, many politicians knew they could not ignore the Irish. If they ignored Ireland they felt the Irish would rebel against Britain. However, the major problem of the Irish nationalist movement was the fact that it did not have a leader. After, the death of O'Connell in 1847, no one took his place and the Irish desire for independence took a seat on the back burner of Britain.
Despite this sense of urgency by some British politicians, the Irish were ignored by the British because, at the time, they were concerned with India. They passed some legislation that really did nothing to improve the situation in Ireland in effort to pretend that they cared. These measures did nothing to quiet the storm that was brewing in Ireland. Many tenant farmers went on protest of the British government and their lack of involvement in aiding the troubles of the Irish. Rising from these protests was a group called the Irish Tenant Land League who fought politically to push for rights of the tenant farmers of Ireland. The Irish Tenant Land League would not succeed in their mission.
After the political ties were exacerbated, the more militant style of the Fenians rose to popularity. The Fenians were started by some of the Irish who immigrated to America, and used their stories of hardship and turmoil to raise monetary donations for the cause of the Fenians. The term Fenian derived from a mystical legend, Finn MacCool, who was a legendary warrior from many Irish myths.44 Most of the immigrants who donated already disliked the English, who they felt were the whole reason that they were in America, so many gladly supported the Fenian movement. Eventually, after the Fenians were well supplied, they formed the Fenian Brotherhood. The Brotherhood chose to go the more aggressive non-peaceful way of independence like their predecessor from years past, Robert Emmet. However, the Fenians did not move into armed conflict right away. The Fenians built up a strong core of leaders mostly in America. However, the Fenians would reach a roadblock in the form of the Catholic church who opposed any kind of armed conflict. Their movement was not yet ready. Soon followed the American Civil War.
Many Fenians went to America during the Civil War to participate in the war. The war taught many Fenians army tactics and expertise in arms. They then planned to use their newly found experience and expertise to liberate Ireland from England. The Fenians stated publicly that they had armed support of over forty thousand men and some British army sympathizers.
On March 5, 1857, the armed rebellion began. The Fenians throughout Ireland stormed police barracks, telegraph lines and other forms of British infrastructure in Ireland. Several ships full of arms were dispatched from America to Ireland during the Fenian rebellion. However, most of the arms failed to reach the Fenian Brotherhood. The leaders of the Fenian movement in Ireland would eventually be captured, however, their transport vehicle was attacked and the leaders were freed. However, a police officer was killed during the battle to retake the vehicle and four Fenians were arrested and charged with murder. These four Fenians would become Irish heroes and would be known as the Manchester Martyrs. Through their brutal execution, they instilled a sense of rebellion in many Irish, not only throughout Ireland, but the Irish who had emmigrated to the rest of the world, especially America.. During a jailbreak in London to free Fenian activists, a few people were killed. As a response, the British sent several squads of detectives who slowly destroyed the Fenian organization inside and out. The Fenians, although unsuccessful for a free and independent Ireland, instilled in many people, especially immigrant Irish in America, the need for a rebellion against the British forces in Ireland. The Fenians also caused more politicians in parliament to realize that they needed to support the Irish.
One such leader during Victorian politics who began to be interested in Irish matters was William Gladstone.Gladstone would try several initiatives in Ireland to try to stop any future uprisings. One such act was limiting the power and influence of the Protestant Church in Ireland. Gladstone felt that since only 700,000 Irish belonged to the church making it official was useless.Gladstone would take away the land of Protestant Church, excluding the land directly used for worship. The Irish Land Act, as it began to be known, tried to create a value of cooperation between the Irish tenant farmers and their landowners, however, it failed because it did not recognize the rights of the tenant farmers.
During this time period, another more greater political force would rise in Ireland. That political force went by the name of Home Rule League. The Home Rule League fought for an Irish Parliament. The League viewed the British Parliament as ineffective and used the famine as an example of why the British Parliament is ineffective. The Home Rule League in 1874 would win several seats in the British Parliament. Many English politicians felt threatened by the request for an independent parliament in Ireland.
The biggest change since the Fenian movement came when Charles Parnell, a protestant, became an MP. Parnell was a protestant Irish Nationalist; which shows that the Irish conflict was not a religious conflict but a more political one. Parnell used a tactic to make the British Parliament system unworkable. He felt that he and other Irish nationalists in the parliament could stop the entire parliament. The nationalists began a campaign of long speeches, useless legislative bills and created several divisions of parliament to stop the function of parliament. Parnell also created an alliance between him and the Fenian supporters in America, which put fear into the hearts of many parliamentary politicians.
During the 1870s and 1880s, during a time of economic troubles, many tenant farmers took up arms against their landowners. This radicalization of the tenant farmers caused another organization to be formed, the Land League. The Land League ensured that all tenant farmers would not be evicted from their lands, usually using brute force to pressure the landowners into submission. Soon the Land League began to put aside its militant ways in favor of boycotts against evictions and also against the Irish who took the land of those evicted. Parnell eventually became the president of the Land League. This underground "Land Army" would be a useful tool for Parnell to use against the British politicians.
By the end of 1880, much of Ireland was deemed ungovernable.The British, therefore, created the Coercion Acts, which did nothing to cause the Irish climate to become more peaceful. With more tenants losing their land, it caused an even greater conflict. Parnell was eventually arrested and charged with being an agitator and sentenced to Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. While in jail, Parnell worked out a deal with Gladstone and that was the Land Act. The Land Act settled many claims of the Irish Land League and many people left the league after its passage. However, some remained to form the Irish National League.
In 1886, Home Rule was a major issue in Ireland. The politicians of Ireland who supported the liberal Gladstone, stated that they would not support him if he did not put Home Rule on the floor of parliament.This bill broke apart the English Liberal Party as some became unionists who supported the union of Ireland and mainland Britain. This returned the conservatives to power, which meant that the Irish Homeland and Parnell could no longer shape parliamentary affairs. Soon thereafter, Parnell lost power and the remaining part of the nineteenth century was that of few political actions occurring for the Irish.
After the political failure of the late nineteenth century, the Irish began to rebel socially. The Irish cause of freedom became illustrated through many social outputs and the rejection of British social values. One such example is the Gaelic Athletic Association. The GAA taught many young Irish the traditional sports of hurling and Gaelic football instead of the English sports. This, in itself, was a form of rebellion against the English institution. Other organizations include the Gaelic League which tried to restore traditional Irish customs and language.
As one can see, the social, economic and political situation in Ireland led many Irish to flee their native shores and immigrate to America. The immigration hit a peak during the Potato Famine, when over one million Irish emigrated.However, the other economic factors for immigration were widespread throughout the nineteenth century, with many leaving Ireland for more income and by some leaving Ireland to sustain their own livelihood and the lives of their family. Immigration continued well after the famine and political skirmishes.
In the 1880s, nearly all of Ireland, excluding Dublin, had a population loss in the double figures. In the time between 1880 and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, over two and a half million people would leave Ireland. Most of these immigrants headed for the United States. The oppression by the British and their complete ignorance to the problems of Ireland led others to immigrate to America, where they felt they would be better off. Others immigrated for fear of their lives from rebellion and hardship caused by the British in response to rebellions. Proof of this is the fact that many immigrants held that millions of their fellow Irish people were starved and executed by the British and that they feared for their own lives.
Coming Soon... The creation of the republic of ireland to the troubles and present day Ireland.